TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday will send the Florida Legislature a $74 billion budget that he says would boost spending in schools by $1.25 billion, but some of that money will not reach students.
As Scott touted the figure on Wednesday, more than one-third of the money, $480 million, would pay for a $2,500 teacher pay raise that must be approved by county school boards and negotiated in union contracts, if it survives a skeptical Legislature.
An additional $297 million of the education increase would shore up an unfunded liability for teachers’ pensions in the Florida Retirement System, and $118 million would keep up with enrollment growth as more than 20,000 new pupils are expected in Florida schools next fall.
Scott, who will release his budget at a 2 p.m. news conference in Tallahassee, will face more scrutiny about his budget math. But in prepared remarks at an Associated Press forum Wednesday, Scott took credit for a rebounding Florida economy and said the “tough choices” he made, such as reducing state debt and shrinking the state work force, make new spending possible.
“Our economy is on track,” Scott said. “We’re now in a position to strategically invest in statewide priorities.”
Scott also will propose giving most state workers $1,200 bonuses for satisfactory or better work, and bonuses of $2,500 or $5,000 to workers whose work is judged outstanding.
Republican legislators who craft the budget are lukewarm to Scott’s education plan, and say they want to see what programs he supports cutting so he can give schools more.
“Right now, our budget shows that we don’t have $1.2 billion in surplus,” said House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. “So certainly, to get to that number, you would have to make some cuts somewhere else. But we’re going to take his budget seriously, and we’re going to look at it critically.”
After four straight years of cuts to programs, the state is projecting a surplus of less than $1 billion to build the next budget, but virtually every agency wants some of that money, and Scott’s eagerness to spend it is not shared by legislators.
“Any budget surplus we may have is a little bit of breathing room,” said Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.
Scott did not detail possible cuts, and the Republican governor sidestepped questions about whether Florida will expand Medicaid eligibility as contemplated by the federal healthcare law.
The expansion would be fully paid by the federal government in the initial years, but Scott and lawmakers are concerned that later costs would be the state’s burden.
“I’ll come out with my budget tomorrow, so you’ll see,” Scott said.
Gaetz and Weatherford, who also addressed reporters at the Associated Press forum, said they wanted more flexibility in how the state could expand Medicaid eligibility.
“The federal government gave us an all-or-nothing proposal,” Weatherford said. “They said, ‘You have to expand for all populations or you can’t do any of this.’ That puts all legislatures and all governments in a pretty good box.”
Gaetz said the state should cover only some eligible people under an expanded Medicaid program.
“I have more concern about people who are above the poverty line,” Gaetz said, “than I do somebody who is an adult and chooses to sit on the couch.”