State House, Senate budgets are only 0.1% apart, but their disagreements are broad

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Florida’s House and Senate both passed competing budgets on Thursday that, while not far apart on the money, are philosophically opposed about how to pay for schools, hospitals and affordable housing.

The House passed its $87.2 billion budget on a vote of 85-27 after a highly charged partisan debate that foreshadowed bigger election-year battles ahead, mostly on education.

Republicans cited a $100-per-student increase in public school spending, a larger Medicaid program and more money for state colleges, foster care and hurricane-related improvements, without raising taxes.

In the upper chamber, senators passed an $87.3 billion budget on a 33-to-1 vote, with state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, the lone holdout. Both budgets are roughly $4 billion more than last year.

At this stage, the budgets reveal less about how the state will spend taxpayer money next year and more about what House Republicans, led by Speaker Richard Corcoran, and Senate Republicans, led by President Joe Negron, are willing to bargain with over the coming weeks.

Senators slammed the brakes on Corcoran’s top priority, a massive rewrite of education policy that Corcoran tried to strong-arm through the House by tying it to passage of the budget.

Senators used procedures that break the House from linking the two. The move forces the Senate to slow the momentum of the bill, House Bill 7055, and requires it to pass through multiple Senate committee hearings.

“The House understands that the Senate would prefer to have these policies move through the traditional process, and not linked to the budget,” Negron said.

Rep. Amy Mercado, D-Orlando

Rep. Amy Mercado, D-Orlando, said the budget was crafted to promote the political ambitions of Corcoran, a possible gubernatorial candidate.

“What we’re witnessing is election year entertainment,” Mercado told the House.

Perhaps nothing this session has stoked more outrage than HB 7055.

The bill includes a provision that threatens teachers’ unions, which Democrats are strongly against. It includes one of Corcoran’s top priorities, “Hope Scholarship” vouchers to allow bullied students to move to different schools, criticized as another gift to private schools at the expense of public schools.