The 2021 Florida legislative session will be described in the history books as unique. COVID-19 protocols resulted in empty and eerily quiet hallways in the Capitol. Masks and regular COVID-19 tests were required, and citizens and lobbyists made public comments virtually from a building blocks away from the Capitol.
The beginning and end of the session were polar opposites. Based on revenue estimates from this summer, legislators began preparing for a $4 billion budget deficit. But the final version of the state budget has little resemblance to the originally proposed budget.
By early April, increased revenues enabled the legislature to pass a budget that was slightly larger than the current year’s budget. The 2021–22 state budget totals $101.5 billion, which includes $6.7 billion for federal coronavirus recovery funds.
The budget for higher education totals $5.3 billion, which is an increase of 2.8%. It significantly exceeds the original Senate and House budget proposals that would have reduced the state university system budget by 3.7% and 1.2%, respectively.
The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) fared extremely well this year. The budget includes full workload funding ($4 million), nearly $1.7 million for a fertilizer rate study and full funding for recurring base programs in the education and agriculture budgets.
In addition, the House and Senate agreed to release the 6% of the universities’ operating budget “hold back.” This critical move means that state universities will receive the full amount of funding originally appropriated for the current fiscal year.
Gov. DeSantis withheld a portion of all budgets, such as state agencies and universities, in case the loss of revenues due to COVID-19 caused a shortfall in the current budget.
The bill also includes $350 million for deferred maintenance for state agencies, colleges and universities to address desperately needed repairs and renovations to existing facilities.
The next stop for the 400-plus-page budget is the governor’s desk for vetoes and signature.
Mary Ann Hooks is director of UF/IFAS governmental affairs.