Scott's $74.2 billion state budget draws measured support from area lawmakers

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, right, delivers his State of the State address to a joint session of the Florida legislature Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012 in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Tampa Bay Times, Scott Keeler)

Photo by Scott Keeler

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, right, delivers his State of the State address to a joint session of the Florida legislature Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012 in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Tampa Bay Times, Scott Keeler)

Rick Scott's Budget Press Conference

Governor proposes $74.2B budget.

Rick Scott, governor of Florida

Rick Scott, governor of Florida

■ $74.2 billion fiscal 2013-14 proposed budget

■ 6 percent increase over current year’s budget

■ 3,647 positions cut from the state’s workforce, 663 of which have been vacant for more than 180 days

■ $167 million set aside to give all state employees with a "satisfactory" evaluation a $1,200 bonus; the governor also set aside $148 million to give $5,000 bonuses for employees with an "outstanding" evaluation and $2,500 for employees with a "commendable" evaluation

■ $3.6 billion for highway construction

■ $1.2 billion increase in funding for K-12 public schools; the sum includes $480 million to increase classroom teachers’ salaries by $2,500; $74.9 million for school safety and $100 million to districts for digital learning initiatives

■ $1.1 billion for state colleges and $3.85 billion for Florida universities

■ 900,000 Floridians in limbo as the state decides if they get Medicaid coverage under Obamacare; it’s not addressed in the proposed budget

■ $4.4 million to provide 20 more judges and the necessary support staff in the state court system

■ $7.6 million to require everyone in a prison work-release program to wear an electronic monitoring device while working in the community

■ $75 million for Florida Forever land-preservation program

■ $25 million for financial assistance to special taxing authorities, and local and state government for beach and dune restoration, beach nourishment, inlet sand bypassing, regional sediment management and other projects

■ 2,000 additional businesses to become exempt from paying the state’s corporate income tax

Sources: Governor’s budget documents, Associated Press

— It's a proposal heavy on jobs and money for education — both K-12 and higher education.

But some legislators said it's too soon to tell whether the state's top Republican will get everything on his budget wish list.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday recommended a $74.2 billion budget for fiscal 2013-14, which begins July 1. The Naples Republican unveiled a budget that includes a pay raise for schoolteachers, as well as a $1,200 to $5,000 one-time bonus for state workers depending on their job performance.

Scott also recommended reducing the state's workforce by 3.1 percent, or 3,647 positions.

"Even as we increase our targeted investments with the additional revenue being generated by our economic recovery, we must also continue to streamline government," Scott said in prepared remarks during a Thursday news conference at the Capitol. "This budget recommendation includes a variety of cost savings and efficiencies across the government that allow us to redirect funding to assure Florida families have the most efficient services possible."

Scott's proposal outlined a plan to eliminate the sales tax that manufacturers pay on new production equipment. While the sales tax exemption already exists, companies must prove they've increased output by 5 percent after buying the equipment. Scott's proposal eliminates that requirement.

The governor, according to a budget overview released by his office Thursday, would offset the $115.3 million revenue lost by the exemption through "cost savings and efficiencies across state government."

But where those cuts and efficiencies will come from has some state legislators scratching their heads.

Southwest Florida's lawmakers said Thursday that they support the governor's proposal in concept, but need to dig into the spending plan more to see whether Scott's plan can work.

"It serves as a starting line, not as a finish line," said state Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples. "We're just going to have to drill into it and see where the money comes from, and how we can craft a budget that achieves those priorities."

Education is again Scott's primary spending priority. Last year the governor asked for, and received, about $1 billion for K-12 education. This year he's requesting $1.25 billion for K-12 education and a combined $4.95 billion for higher education — $1.1 billion for state colleges and $3.85 billion for Florida's universities.

"I think what he wants to do is a great idea," said Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples. "We need to spend more money on education because that's the pathway to job creation."

The $1.25 billion for public schools includes a proposed $480 million for teacher raises, a $300 million payment into the state pension plan on behalf of teachers and $74.9 million for school safety.

In his first year in office, Scott signed off on a $1.3 billion cut to education funding.

"I think his priorities are correct," said Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, who — like most of Southwest Florida's legislators — said Thursday he hadn't had the opportunity to review the proposal yet.

On Thursday, the state's teachers' union applauded Scott on his proposal to boost public education funding.

"In most of Florida, our public schools are the largest employer. Added money spent on public schools always helps grow our economy," said Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, in a statement. "We look forward to the governor's strong advocacy of this proposal."

While the dollars for education may be one of the highlights of Scott's budget, the spending plan also called for spending more on key environmental programs, such as the Florida Forever land-buying program and Everglades restoration.

One notable absence from Scott's proposed budget: A recommendation on whether the state should accept federal aid and expand Medicaid — a key part of the Affordable Care Act. Scott insisted there were too many unanswered questions about how the Medicaid expansion would work.

"Today is not the day for that decision," Scott said.

He did include spending on mandatory items under the law, including paying primary care doctors more.

The cost of implementing the health-care law leaves much of Scott's proposal up in the air, said Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

"It's a huge question mark," she said. "It has the potential to throw the wrench into all (of his proposals)."

But Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, said the state should be able to make good on some of Scott's promises, no matter the cost of fully implementing the health-care law.

"I don't think it all just disappears," he said. "The state's economy is improving. We are seeing a better revenue picture for the state of Florida overall."

Not everyone was a fan of Scott's proposal. Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, said the governor was relying on "gimmicks" to remake his image in advance of an expected re-election bid in 2014.

"This budget is not an investment in the things that actually turn around an economy," said Smith, the Senate's minority leader. "It's a taxpayer-financed down payment on courting votes in 2014."

State lawmakers will use Scott's budget recommendations as a framework for the final budget they adopt this spring.

__ The Associated Press contributed to this report.

© 2013 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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