January 26, 2024

State of the Budget (Part 2): What Would Some of the Key Policy Proposals Cost?

The 2024 Florida legislative session commenced on January 9, and as mandated by the state constitution, policymakers will have to pass a balanced budget for the upcoming fiscal year (FY) 2024-25.

To do so, policymakers will consider a number of factors, including the state's economic outlook and revenue projections, the governor’s budget and tax proposal,  and the cost of bills that are passed during the session.

Beyond the dollars and cents involved in developing the state budget, it is important to note that a state budget is as much an accounting document as it is a statement on the Legislature’s values and policy priorities. Spending is not inherently “good” nor “bad”; instead, each appropriation represents a choice that is made about how, where, and why lawmakers invest shared resources.

Similarly, choices about how to raise revenue are not merely about the dollars that will end up in state coffers. Florida’s budget is supported by revenue generated by the state and drawn down from the federal government. How revenue is generated, where it comes from, and how it is utilized also indicates the values and priorities of state leadership.

In this three-part series, "State of the Budget," FPI examines key fiscal and policy considerations for lawmakers as they convene for the 2024 legislative session. Part 1 looks at the outlook for state revenue sources; Part 2 examines the costs associated with key policy proposals; and in Part 3, FPI provides an overview of federal funds that Florida has opted out of.

The Live Healthy Act  

The Senate passed the “Live Healthy” Act (CS/SB 7016 and SB 7018) for the 2024 legislative session — a sweeping health care and workforce package that would cost $768 million in FY 2024-25. CS/SB 7016  ($717 million) includes a number of provisions that seek to enhance Florida’s health care workforce, primarily by increasing Medicaid reimbursement rates for workers providing preventative care and serving vulnerable populations. This includes services such as dental care; private duty nursing; occupational, physical, and speech therapy; behavioral analysis; and maternal care in labor and delivery.

The other bill, SB 7018 ($51 million) would establish a 15-member health care innovation council that would be given $50 million of non-recurring funds each year between FY 2024-25 and FY 2033-34, for a total of $500 million over 10 years.  The council’s main purpose would be to explore innovations in technology and health care delivery models in Florida and use the funds for a revolving loan program for “innovative” proposals.

The Live Healthy Act was introduced after the governor had released his FY 2024-25 budget proposal. As such, the governor’s budget does not include appropriations for the Live Health Act. Now that the Senate has passed the legislation, the Florida House of Representatives will have to consider whether to adopt the Senate’s version and adjust its own companion bill to CS/SB 7016, HB 1549, to reflect the changes. The House’s version is not as comprehensive; its total cost is $560 million compared to the Senate’s $768 million.

While the Live Healthy Act makes an investment in Florida’s health care workforce and infrastructure, the Legislature at the same time has opted out of the most cost-effective and impactful way to expand access to health care in the state: expanding Florida’s Medicaid program. (See more in Part 3 of this series.)

K-12 Education Funding and Private School Vouchers

In 2023, the Legislature passed HB 1, which made Florida’s private school voucher program (the Family Empowerment and Florida Tax Credit Scholarships) universal — students, regardless of income or prior enrollment in public K-12 schools, can qualify for approximately $8,000 in vouchers. The fiscal implications of this bill are far reaching, with an estimated cost of $4 billion for FY 2023-24. In the final budget, the Legislature appropriated enough for the current school year to fund both the voucher expansion and keep public school budgets intact. The cost of vouchers, however, is likely to grow, raising the question about maintaining public school funding for years to come.

During a special legislative session in 2023, the Legislature voted to award additional vouchers to students with disabilities to reduce the waiting list. A bill to further increase the cap on the number of students with disabilities receiving vouchers has been introduced for the 2024 legislative session; if enacted, this will be an additional cost (about $106 million) to account for. Furthermore, with uncertain increases in enrollment in Family Empowerment and Florida Tax Credit Scholarships, and 372,983 students receiving vouchers as of December 1, 2023, the Legislature will be tasked with ensuring full funding  for public schools even as the cost of vouchers continues to grow. The governor’s recommendation also includes $350 million to be held in reserve for the Florida Department of Education (DOE), as well as a $125 million recurring appropriation to DOE to account for additional voucher students, and to presumably offset costs.

Beyond voucher costs, the governor is proposing an increase in public school funding of $300 million that includes funds for teacher salary increases and increases in the base student allocation, mental health allocation, and workforce education. While the governor's recommendation looks to increase state funding, policymakers have introduced bills that would impact school district tax collections like HJR 331/HB 333, which would apply a 10-percent cap on the assessed school district value of non-homestead properties. While current property tax forecasts do not anticipate statewide increases in excess of 10 percent, if this measure had been in place on January 1, 2022, the negative impact on school tax revenue would have been over $960 million.

Universal Child Care Vouchers

Policymakers will also need to contend with the potentially devastating impacts of the end of federal COVID-19 relief funding for child care providers, which buoyed the child care sector over the past few years. This “fiscal cliff” threatens to shutter an estimated 2,196 child care providers, with 212,721 children potentially losing their child care placements. Several bills  have been introduced in the 2024 legislative session to expand access and affordability for child care and early learning programs, the most comprehensive being HB 1197, which would provide universal child care vouchers for children under age 6. Given the pivotal role that quality child care and early education play in child well-being, family economic stability, and the state economy overall, this type of investment would be potentially transformative. 

Immigration Enforcement

A costly priority for the Legislature over the past few years has been passing bills that target immigrants in Florida — particularly those without documentation —- and furthering the climate of hostility. Not only do these laws cost the state in terms of appropriations, they also have significant ripple effects throughout the economy. 

A measure (SB 1718) passed in 2023 is a sweeping anti-immigrant law with an estimated economic impact of up to $12 billion. For FY 2024-25, the  governor proposes $7.43 million for immigration enforcement related to the passage of SB 1718. This includes:

The ongoing costs of anti-immigrant bills like SB 1718 will continue to have fiscal implications for the state. Moreover, the 2024 Legislature introduced SB 1168/HB 1101, “Forms of Identification,” which would add costs to the state’s anti-immigrant policymaking by requiring a new “noncitizen” driver’s license marking for select immigrant Floridians.

Repairs in Florida’s Correctional Institutions 

The Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) has long been challenged with fiscal and maintenance issues — failing infrastructure, understaffing, funding shortages to cover salaried positions, and increasing health care costs, to name a few. Recently, the issue of prisons lacking air conditioning has gained some attention. In response, policymakers have introduced bills (HB 181/SB 296) to mandate each state correctional institution to provide air conditioning or air cooling (A/C) systems. While the governor’s proposal includes $75 million for general maintenance and repairs, the proposal does not include a specific appropriation for A/C systems.

As the prison population continues to increase and age, these challenges will only become exacerbated unless a significant multi-billion dollar investment is made to address these long-standing problems.

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