In the third week of the 60-day legislative session, the Florida House and Senate moved closer to finalizing their respective proposals for the $67-billion 2010 – 2011 budget. Appropriations committees met throughout the week to get their proposals in a position to be considered by the top budget-writing committees, the Full Appropriations Council in the House and the Ways and Means Committee in the Senate. The two chambers have different approaches to dealing with the $3-billion budget shortfall.
The House plan will include a three percent overall reduction in state employees' salaries and benefits, which would save approximately $80 million. The proposal would not, however, require state employees to pay any additional costs for health insurance. The plan also proposes education funding cuts, including a $30-per-pupil cut in public school funding and reductions in funding for higher education. The House also would use affordable housing and transportation trust fund money to cover some of the budget gap.
The Senate is expected to make cuts to Medicaid by shifting approximately 250,000 recipients into HMOs, which would save $28.6 million in 2010 – 2011 and up to $100 million a year in subsequent years. The Senate also is considering eliminating the Healthy Families program, cutting reimbursement to health care providers, and eliminating state funding for public libraries.
The Senate proposal would include a $151-per-pupil increase in public school funding, but that increase would depend on county school boards' approval of a 0.25 mill increase in local property taxes. The Senate would increase funding for the Bright Futures scholarship program, but would phase in an increase in program eligibility standards.
One of the more controversial budget issues concerns the use of a potential $1 billion of additional federal Medicaid funding. Sen. Durrell Peaden (R-Crestview), who chairs his chamber's Health and Human Services Appropriations Committee, has asked that any additional federal money be used to offset health funding cuts. However, Senate President Jeff Atwater (R-North Palm Beach) has said that the federal money could support tax and fee cuts, including a cut in the corporate income tax rate, a rollback of some of the fee increases enacted by the 2009 Legislature, and restoration of a back-to-school sales tax holiday.