On the last day of the session, the Florida Legislature approved a massive $101.5 billion 2021-2022 state budget. The budget includes $6 billion in reserves.
Florida lawmakers agreed to spend only $6.7 billion out of the $10.2 billion in federal dollars available from the Biden administration, leaving some $3.5 billion of those federal dollars in reserves.
The Legislature pushed through initiatives such as a specific Medicaid program for moms and babies for postpartum health care for a full year, up from the current two months.
Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls spearheaded the effort to spend $240 million for the initiative, a state-federal Biden administration program for families with low incomes who need access to Medicaid.
On the K-12 education front, the Legislature included more than a half-billion ($550 million) to continue a goal of boosting starting salaries to $47,500 for public school teachers, an initiative launched in 2019 by by Gov. Ron DeSantis. Plus, K-12 school teachers and principals will receive $1,000 bonus payments using federal dollars, spending $215.7 million on the initiative.
Another program includes millions for a reading initiative for struggling readers.
Several thousand low-paid state workers will get a salary boost to $13 an hour as a result of the state budget — a $43 million initiative of Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson.
The state will spend $36 million to overhaul the online unemployment benefits portal and provide “increased maintenance and operations of the system,” while modernizing it.
While many legislators pushed to increase unemployment benefits for the jobless to $375 a week, up from $275, the measure did not pass.
Other priorities in the state budget also include major environmental and water quality projects, including billions for Everglades restoration.
In the 2021-22 state budget, there are more than 600 local projects included in the budget, everything from programs for people with disabilities, after-school and mentoring programs, and infrastructure projects at colleges and universities.
Senate Appropriations Chair Kelli Stargel, who represents parts of Lake and Polk counties, said, “I think at the end of the day, we have a budget we can be proud of in the state of Florida.”
“I think it has us prepared for the future,” Stargel said. “I think we’ve been very measured in our actions and with that, it is a good budget…everyone has worked together.”
Two Florida House representatives - Nick Duran, of Miami-Dade, whose district includes Key Biscayne, and Christopher Benjamin, also of Miami-Dade did not vote.
Parts of this report first appeared on the website of the Florida Phoenix, a nonprofit news organization dedicated to coverage of state government and politics from Tallahassee.