By Diane Rado
Years ago, legislative reporters used to say that the only thing that really needs to get done during a legislative session is to craft a state budget for the state of Florida.
In the 2021 legislative session, lawmakers built a budget for 2021-22. After a three-day waiting period, the Legislature is scheduled to vote on the budget on Friday.
Unfortunately, not everything is perfect in this state budget, in part because billions of federal dollars sent to Florida under the Biden administration weren’t touched. Lawmakers decided to allow more than $3 billion to sit around in a pot of reserves, instead of doling out money for key initiatives and programs that could help Floridians.
As Florida Phoenix reporter Issac Morgan writes:
“With just a few days left in the 2021 legislative session and COVID-19 still infecting and killing Floridians, the Legislature will not fully utilize federal coronavirus relief funds from the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan.
“About $3.5 billion will be used to bolster the state’s reserves rather than provide programs and initiatives to help Floridians, according to budget documents.
“Democrats in the Legislature, as well as the Democratic Party of Florida, have been pushing to use the federal dollars for everything from Medicaid expansion to relief from evictions to affordable housing.
But overall, the GOP-controlled chambers agreed on only $6.7 billion out of the $10.2 billion available.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis has extended an executive order that allows public schools to remain open and “to protect Floridians from being required to produce a so-called vaccine passport as a condition of participating in everyday life.”
Wednesday, Phoenix reporter Laura Cassels writes about the mammoth toll road projects through rural swaths of Florida that were pushed by former Senate President Bill Galvano. But in the 2021 session, the Legislature decided to scrap and repeal the controversial projects.
But as Cassels writes: “The repeal isn't exactly a total repeal: The legislation still authorizes new toll roads and highways, including expansion and ‘road upgrades’ along 130 miles of scenic U.S. 19 between Citrus County and I-10 in north Florida, which could impact sensitive parts of Florida.”
The repeal legislation is now in DeSantis’ hands.
The state budget for Florida includes $43 million for boosting pay to $13 per hour for the lowest-paid state employees. However, the state employee workforce has more than 100,000 employees, and the vast majority already earn more than $13 an hour, according to state salary data.
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden is pushing $15 an hour for the minimum wage for federal contract workers. Please read:
With a few days left in the 2021 session, lawmakers are scurrying to get approval for House and Senate bills that can be prepared to go to the governor for a final review.