The winners and losers in Scott's budget plan
Published: Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 7:43 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 7:43 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE — From teachers to state universities to state workers, there's something for just about everybody in Gov. Rick Scott's record $74.2 billion spending plan for next year.
In fact, if it's adopted by the Legislature — a big if — the budget would be the largest in state history, exceeding the $73.8 billion budget in 2006-07, before the state fell into the depths of the Great Recession.
There is plenty of money to spread around because the proposal represents a $4 billion-plus increase over this year's $69.9 billion budget.
The budget also is a stark contrast to Scott's first spending plan in 2011, when he used the backdrop of Eustis, a rural Central Florida enclave located some 200 miles from the state Capitol, to outline one of the most austere spending plans ever advanced by Florida's chief executive.
His initial plan slashed state spending by nearly $5 billion, eliminated 8,700 state jobs and included a $1.75 billion cut in public school funding.
It also was a reflection of Scott's political philosophy, which drew strong support in his 2010 upset victory from tea partiers.
Now facing an uphill re-election bid in 2014, Scott is backing a budget plan that boasts of "record state funding for education," including a $1.2 billion boost for public schools.
Scott said the budget contains some $200 million in savings, including the reduction of 3,600 state jobs, while also reflecting the fact that the state has more money to spend because of an improving economy.
"Our hard work to make government live within its means has put us in a position to make targeted investments in areas that will put families first by keeping our economy growing," Scott said.
Scott included plenty of cuts in his budget plan.
Aside from eliminating some 3,600 jobs, many of them in the state prison system, the governor wants to slash payments to hospitals, cut off some services now offered to Medicaid patients, and close eight driver's licenses offices, including the one on Northwest 34th Street in Gainesville. The state has mandated that county tax collector's offices manage the issuance of driver's licenses starting this month — which will lead to the closure of the office that now provides those services at 5830 NW 34th St.
Democrats reacted skeptically to Scott's new enthusiasm for spending.
Senate Democratic leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, said in a statement that Scott's budget "smacks of pre-election year politics."
"While I'm glad that he now appears to have seen the error of his ways, many of the groups and areas — public school teachers, state employees, higher education — for which he's suddenly developed a newfound affection are the very same ones that have borne the brunt of his deep cuts over the past two years," Smith said.
The budget is far from a reality since lawmakers will view the governor's proposal as a recommendation, while they will write the actual annual appropriations act, which should be finished by early May. The new budget would take effect July 1.
At this point, the winners far outnumber the losers in Scott's proposal:
Public schools: The K-12 system would receive a $1.2 billion increase that includes a $2,500 pay raise for teachers and a $412 increase in per-student funding. He also would give teachers up to $250 a year to buy supplies and would provide $100 million for technology improvements.
School safety: A $10.5 million increase in the school safety program, for a total of $74.9 million, although it is less than what school boards say they need.
State workers: The workers, who haven't had a general pay raise since 2006, would receive a $1,200 one-time bonus, at a cost of $167 million. Merit awards up to $5,000 would be available for workers that earn "outstanding" reviews and $2,500 for "commendable" workers. But 3,647 state jobs would be eliminated, with only 1,200 of those being vacant.
State universities: The 12 universities would receive a $393 million increase, including restoration of this year's $300 million cut. The University of Florida would get a special $15 million boost to try to achieve a top-ten public school status. The universities also would share $244 million with state colleges for building construction and projects related to increasing science and technology degrees.
University and college students: No tuition increases for the two systems and Scott has promised to push legislation to freeze tuition rates for new students, assuming they earn their degrees in four years.
Frail seniors: Some $24 million to reduce waiting lists for programs that keep people out of nursing homes. It would fund 2,400 slots.
State prisons: An $84.4 million increase for the Department of Corrections and Scott's promise that no prisons will close or be privatized, though he wants to privatize 14 work release centers. He also wants another $1,000 bonus plan for prison officers who helped reduced the state's recidivism rate over the last few years.
Environment: Scott would provide $75 million for the Florida Forever land-buying program, but $50 million would come from surplus land sales. He also would double funding for Everglades restoration to $60 million.
Businesses: Scott is backing a $115 million sales tax exemption for manufacturers who buy equipment and a $20 million proposal to expand the exemption from the corporate income tax for another 2,000 Florida businesses.
Tea Party: Scott's spending plan could be viewed as renunciation of his tea party roots. But Scott defended his plan as including government efficiencies and reductions. He also is limiting state borrowing. His aides noted that the budget is actually smaller than past budgets if measured on a per-capita basis, while factoring in inflation.
Hospitals: They face an $82 million cut in Medicaid funding for in-patient rates.
County health departments: They will have to absorb a $9 million cut.
Prison health care workers: As part of the reduction of 3,600 state jobs, the largest share comes from 2,355 workers now employed in prison health care services. A private company will take over those services, with the employees having a chance to continue their work with the contractor.
Chiropractic and podiatric services: Scott would eliminate those services from the Medicaid program, arguing that the patients could get similar services from other doctors.
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