Florida lawmakers await revenue data as they consider budget

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Both chambers of the Florida Legislature will take up their respective budget proposals during floor sessions this week, as they now begin racing the clock to deliver a balanced budget for the governor’s consideration.

Just four weeks remain before lawmakers end their two-month session, and much of the work ahead will depend on the latest state revenue projections, which are expected to be released Tuesday.

Last summer, state economists projected a revenue downturn of $5.4 billion over two years but rosier December data prompted the shortfall to be adjusted downward to $3.3 billion.

State officials are hopeful that the newest numbers will help relieve some of the anxiety over the state’s finances, which were hit hard by the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. And while the economy is rebounding, the slowdown means fewer dollars are being collected to pay for government services.

The Senate is considering a $95 billion spending plan, while the House floor will be taking up its $97.1 billion version.

In the coming weeks both versions will have to aligned, and that’s going to mean lots of give-and-take from both sides. The governor also has his own spending plan that he wants the Legislature to implement.

The governor had initially proposed a $96.6 billion plan but has since augmented it by billions of dollars more by using some of the $10 billion the state is expected to get from last month’s federal pandemic relief package.

The only certainty is that nobody’s getting everything they want.

That is also an open question as Senate President Wilton Simpson continues to push lawmakers to address the Florida Retirement System. The Republican has called financial liabilities from the pension fund “the single largest threat to Florida’s balance sheet.”

The pension fund has more than 1 million enrollees and is the main retirement plan for scores of Florida cities, independent hospitals and special districts.

At the start of the session, Simpson noted that in 2012, when he was first elected, the unfunded liability of the state’s pension plan was $21.6 billion. He said it’s now $36 billion.

But his plan to address the matter is being met with opposition from Democrats and employee groups.

The proposal would cut off most new government employees from joining the pension fund. Their only option would be to join an investment plan, similar to a 401K.

For this next item, you might want to sit down — unless you happen to be on a bicycle without a seat.

The Senate is considering doing away with provision in the law that bans seatless bicycles.

Some bicycles — like elliptical bikes — are designed to have no seats and require riders to pedal while standing. Those bicycles are technically illegal under current law, and proposals would change the law to allow bicycles that were specifically designed without seats.

The House has already endorse a version of the proposal, and the Senate is expected to do the same.