MANATEE — Both houses of the Florida Legislature on Wednesday took up budget proposals, with the Senate unanimously passing a $69 billion-plus budget, while the House continued to discuss its proposed $67.2 billion plan.
House leaders plan to call for a vote today, officials said.
The Senate’s effort drew a thumbs-up from state Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton.
“It’s a starting point,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of negotiations with the House; it’s a record for getting it out so early, a record because it was pretty much unanimous.
“I think everybody recognizes the fact that we’re in tough times, we tried to get a little in there for everybody,” Bennett said late Wednesday, referring to the $2 billion difference between the two.
“We’ve got to start negotiations with the House, then it will go to conference; we’ll try to put together a budget that will work.”
The House’s budget omitted hundreds of millions of dollars that might be available from an unapproved Indian gaming agreement, and about $800 million in extra federal money that the Senate had included, said House Speaker Pro Tempore Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton.
Reagan said the House was “making great progress” in its effort, noting that lawmakers are probably a week or two weeks ahead, compared to last year.
“We’re trying to get it done as quickly as possible, and go to conference,” Reagan said.
“Our goal was to have a little extra time.”
Asked whether there was anything in the budget he violently opposed or passionately hoped for, Reagan replied, “I believe, while we’ve had to cut some areas like health care, overall we’ve done a good job.”
“Ultimately, our budget’s going to be closer to reality, due to we don’t believe we can appropriate money we don’t have,” he added.
However, House Democrats, those representing the minority party, expressed dismay.
“What I had hoped for was more spending on economic growth and job creation, particularly job creation,” said state Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St.Petersburg, whose district dips into Manatee.
“I had hoped for a budget that didn’t continue to raid trust funds, and one that would make fiscally responsible cuts without long-term negative consequences, but the budget we currently have as being proposed, it totally threatens and destroys areas of public education,” Rouson said.
He contended that “it hurts our retirees by changing pension plans and benefits, which will delay retirement for a number of people; it also disrespects our public servants, like firefighters, police officers, school teachers and other public employees by attacking retirement and health benefits.”
— The St. Petersburg Times/ Miami Herald Tallahassee Bureau and The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.