TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Florida lawmakers on Friday voiced bipartisan support for a record $112.1 billion state budget proposal that includes pay raises for state workers and a gas tax suspension before the November election.
The Republican-controlled legislature is expected to approve the budget Monday.
Lawmakers were forced to extend the 60-day legislative session because of lengthy budget negotiations and state rules that require a 72-hour cooling-off period before they can vote on the spending plan. This year’s session has been dominated by bitter debates on legislation involving abortion, critical race theory, and education about sexual orientation and gender identity.
The budget raises the minimum wage for state workers to $15 per hour and all state workers will get a 5.38% pay raise to account for inflation. It would also give public defenders and assistant state attorneys a $5,000 to $10,000 pay increase, boost the minimum salary for state law enforcement officers to $50,000 and raise the minimum salary for teachers to at least $47,500.
"This budget invests in the workers who serve our state and her people," Republican Senate President Wilton Simpson said in a statement.
The budget bill hits on many of the priorities laid out by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in his budget proposal made in December, in which he pushed for worker pay raises and a five-month pause on the state’s gas tax. He said the gas tax suspension was needed to offset rising gas prices and inflation he blames on President Joe Biden, a Democrat.
Lawmakers instead agreed to suspend the gas tax for one month, in October, and plan to recoup the lost revenue with federal coronavirus stimulus dollars. Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel said lawmakers chose October, just before the election, because there are typically fewer tourists in the state at that time.
Proposals to suspend gas taxes have gained momentum nationwide recently as gas prices rise to record highs after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
DeSantis, who is running for reelection and is considered to be a potential 2024 presidential candidate, has the final say on the budget bill.
Democrats focused most of their criticism on a provision that would bar 12 school districts that violated the state’s ban on mask mandates from accessing a pool of money used to reward well-performing districts.
"Does it seem fair that my school district, in an effort to protect kids and their lives and their safety, had decided to follow the federal government and not an executive order?" asked Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Democrat.
House Republicans had originally wanted those districts to face a $200 million penalty but that measure was not included in the final budget bill.
"Our position is that when there is an executive order or there’s other laws that we passed, school districts should follow that. They’re not independent. They’re subject to Florida law and Florida executive orders," said Sen. Doug Broxson, a Republican.