Weekly Florida Roundup: Gearing Up for Session
TALLAHASSEE — As the start of the 2024 legislative session nears, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo this week rolled out high-profile proposals.
DeSantis on Tuesday released his proposed “Focus on Florida’s Future” budget, which lawmakers will use as a starting point as they negotiate a spending plan for the fiscal year that will start July 1.
The governor’s $114.4 billion proposed budget would be a decrease from the state’s $119.1 billion spending plan in the current year.
DeSantis touted the proposal as “respecting the taxpayers of this state.”
“We are living within our means. We are even paying back expenses. We’re reducing the size of government. We’re cutting taxes. We’re eliminating more of our state debt. Yet, we also have record investment for education, record support for infrastructure, support for environmental restoration,” the governor said during an appearance in Marco Island.
The governor wants to boost spending to $27.8 billion for the Florida Education Finance Program, which is the main funding formula for public schools and voucher programs. The increase would represent a $175 bump to per-student funding in public schools over the current year. DeSantis also called for a $200 million increase, to a total of $1.2 billion, for raising educator pay.
DeSantis also wants to provide $1.1 billion in tax breaks, including holding six sales-tax “holidays” on such things as back-to-school items. The governor also is seeking $5 million to continue funding a controversial program that has transported undocumented immigrants to Massachusetts and California.
Republican legislative leaders praised the proposed budget, which came a little more than a month before the Jan. 9 start of the 2024 session.
“I thought the governor had a lot of really important things there, things that we can be supportive of, and we’ll work through the details,” House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, said.
Senate Minority Leader, Lauren Book, D-Davie, said the package offers “hope” that people, rather than the insurance industry, will be prioritized. But she expressed concerns that it would cut jobs, slash funding for arts and culture and direct money toward “unnecessary litigation.”
DeSantis’ proposal includes $14.5 billion for transportation projects, with $630 million eyed for the second year of a $7 billion program dubbed “Moving Forward Florida.” The program is aimed at speeding 20 projects across the state.
The exclusion of Florida State University’s undefeated football team from the college football playoffs also has caught the attention of DeSantis and other state leaders. The governor is recommending lawmakers set aside $1 million for potential legal expenses related to the Seminoles being left out of the four-team playoff system.
WHAT’S UP, DOCS?
Passidomo, R-Naples, debuted a wide-ranging package that seeks to expand access to health care, with a focus on increasing the number of doctors in Florida.
The plan calls for spending nearly $900 million to, among other things, shift patients away from emergency rooms, offset hospitals’ training costs and help doctors pay off education debt.
Saying the plan includes “very creative concepts that will help address the workforce needs,” Passidomo pointed to projected population growth as she spoke to reporters Thursday.
“As you know, about 1,000 people a day move to the state of Florida, many of them are older. Everybody needs health care. In Florida today, we do not have enough health-care personnel to take care of the Floridians that are living here,” Passidomo said. “And so our whole goal is, how do we grow our health-care system in Florida, our workforce, and that’s how we started.”
As an example of proposals to expand the health-care workforce, the package includes making it easier for foreign-trained physicians to practice in Florida.
It also would expand loan-repayment assistance for doctors and dentists who remain in the state after graduating. Recipients of the assistance would have to commit to serving Medicaid patients and providing volunteer services.
The plan does not include expanding Medicaid eligibility for Floridians, something Democrats have long sought — and Republicans have long rejected.
“That (expanding Medicaid) is just a talking point. Everybody’s gonna get seen. We just want to make sure they get the quality — efficient, effective and economical,” Passidomo said.
House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, called the plan disappointing.
“Every Floridian deserves the freedom to be healthy, prosperous and safe, and that certainly includes the ability to have access to high-quality, affordable health care,” Driskell told reporters. “And in Florida, that necessarily means Medicaid expansion. For our Republican colleagues to refer to it as simply ‘a talking point that wouldn’t do anything’ is utterly unserious.”
Higher-education continues to be a hotbed of controversy in Florida, and on Wednesday the American Association of University Professors released a report criticizing “political interference” in the higher-education system.
The 53-page report focused on measures approved by the Legislature and DeSantis during the past several years, actions taken by higher-education officials and an effort by conservatives to remake New College of Florida.
For example, the report took issue with several laws signed by DeSantis in 2022, including a law that made changes to tenure reviews for faculty members and required universities to periodically change accreditors.
In a concluding part of the report, the committee wrote that shared governance in Florida’s university system “stands in mortal danger” because of “legislative and governing board interference in fundamental matters of curricula and faculty status, including tenure,” that the group said should be under the purview of faculty.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday pitched a $114.4 billion budget for next fiscal year that includes a variety of tax cuts and spending on such things as teacher salary increases and police recruitment bonuses.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “We have more students graduating from medical schools in Florida than we have residency slots. That makes no sense. So then they have to leave the state. The minute they leave the state, they meet somebody, they get married, and then they don’t come back.” — Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples
Other stories you may want to read: