Florida Legislature approves $77 billion budget


Lawmakers ended their annual session with a record state budget that increases money for a host of items, including child welfare and schools.

Highlights of the 2013-14 state budget

$77.1 billion total, a 3.5 percent increase over this year’s budget.

No pay raises for state employees except for those working in criminal justice and courts. A 5 percent across-the-board increase for sworn officers in the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Florida Highway Patrol and special agents, at a cost of $11 million. In addition, pay hikes costing $10.9 million for assistant state attorneys and assistant public defenders.

The $20 billion education budget includes about $11 billion for public schools. K-12 funding will be $6,937.23 per student — an increase of $176.14, or 2.6 percent, over last year.

$25 million for springs restoration (plus $1.7 million for springs monitoring that could be used for restoration).

$40.6 million for Everglades restoration, plus another $80 million for the Save Our Everglades Trust on the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee.

$3.1 billion set aside for reserves.

$200 million for state university performance funding.

$500,000 for a study to determine the future of the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering.

No tuition increases for state colleges and universities, but the two pre-eminent universities, Florida State University and University of Florida, will each receive $20 million above their base funding rate.

Monthly “personal needs allowance” for Medicaid patients in nursing homes increases from $35 to $105.

Key issues in 2014 session

Child protection: A major overhaul of Florida’s child welfare laws seeks to tighten the safety net for children at risk of abuse and neglect; longer mandatory sentences for child sexual predators; greater protections for children exploited by human trafficking.

Consumers: Three sales tax holidays will save consumers a little money on purchases of storm supplies, energy-saving appliances and back-to-school items, and parasailing operators must be licensed and will not be allowed to operate near airports or during severe weather.

Education: Undocumented students will be able to pay in-state tuition at Florida colleges and universities; expansion of the tax credit scholarship program that provides private school vouchers to children in low-income families; creation of personal learning accounts to reimburse parents of special needs children for expenses.

Environment: Increased Everglades restoration funding to $169 million, more than double last year’s total, and earmarked $90 million for raising 2.6 miles of the Tamiami Trail to let the River of Grass flow more freely beneath it. A plan to restore Florida’s ailing springs won Senate passage but faltered in the House.

Gambling: Lawmakers folded their hand as the governor asked them to postpone an effort to rewrite the state’s gambling laws while he negotiated a compact with the Seminole Tribe. The governor then hinted he was getting close, and asked if there was any interest in a special session to ratify a compact, but when he offered no details, he got no interest.

Healthcare: Banned abortions of fetuses considered medically viable, which is a few weeks stricter than the current third-trimester ban; criminalized harming a fetus during a crime; delayed for another year a new Medicaid funding formula opposed by safety net hospitals.

Insurance: New homeowner bill of rights will better inform policyholders of their rights and responsibilities when filing claims; private insurers will be encouraged to sell flood insurance in Florida, a state that is home to 37 percent of the country’s flood insurance policies.

Public records: Several new exemptions to public records laws will shield motor vehicle crash reports, names of family members of public defenders and state boxing commission records. Lawmakers did not pass a bill that would have codified recent court decisions, including limits on charges for copies and making it clear that records requests need not be made in writing.

Public safety: Opening of three inmate re-entry centers and five work camps to handle a rising prison population; inmates will get ID cards upon release to help them re-adjust to society and find jobs.

Source: Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Florida lawmakers adjourned their 2014 election-year session late Friday, approving in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants, legalizing a strain of marijuana for limited medical use and expanding corporate tax credits that allow poor children to go to private schools.

They also overhauled child protection laws, allowed a noncitizen to practice law, banned sales of e-cigarettes to minors and set up a pecking order for sales tax rebates for sports stadiums, including a possible major league soccer facility in Miami.

In a session aimed at shoring up Gov. Rick Scott’s re-election prospects, Republicans stayed on course. They rolled back car tag fees, pumped more money into public education and used the immigrant tuition issue to appeal to disaffected Hispanics whose votes are vital to Scott’s political future.

As the night dragged on and lawmakers sipped from white foam cups, they adopted a $77.1 billion budget — the largest in state history. It’s fortified by more than $1.2 billion in extra sales tax revenue from a surging economy that will increase school spending by 2.6 percent next year.

“This has been a great year for public schools,” said Senate Budget Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart.

The budget spends $18.9 billion on public schools, the most ever and an increase of $176 per student, to $6,937. That’s still below the record 2008 level of $7,126 per pupil.

The surge in new tax revenue also left room for $3 billion in unspent reserves and $500 million in tax and fee cuts, including consumer-friendly sales tax holidays for hurricane supplies, back-to-school items and clean-energy appliances. But they couldn’t find any money to give state workers a pay increase other than state law enforcement officers, who will get 5 percent raises.

The House passed the budget by a vote of 102-15, and the Senate followed with a 40-0 vote. Sine Die came at 10:40 p.m.

Gov. Scott joined legislators in the Capitol Rotunda for a traditional end-of-session celebration.

“Today is a great victory for Florida families,” Scott said. “We have had four great years.”

The session of 2014 might be remembered as the year that the conservative Legislature underwent a major shift in its philosophy on immigration and drug use. Republican legislative leaders also worked to avoid controversy in the election year.

That’s why, for the second year in a row, the session ended with no changes to a retirement system for hundreds of thousands of public employees. The biggest shift would have steered new entrants into 401(k)-style investment plans and given workers another justification to oppose Scott’s re-election.

Some Republican lawmakers are ambivalent about Scott, but they will be on the ballot together, and the governor’s race is unpredictable. Scott’s likely challenger is Democrat Charlie Crist, a former Republican governor.

In the session’s final two days, Scott repeatedly criticized Crist by name.

After the House passed the immigrant tuition bill Friday, a triumphant Scott appeared in front of TV cameras and blasted Crist, who had opposed in-state tuition for immigrants but now supports it.

“We’re righting the wrongs of Charlie Crist,” said Scott, who himself earlier opposed in-state tuition.

Asked to explain his about-face, Scott said: “There’s a difference between talk versus action. We’ve taken action.”

The budget headed to Scott’s desk has hundreds of millions of dollars in projects in lawmakers’ districts. Crist challenged Scott to veto it and call lawmakers back in a special session and demand that it be given to public schools.

Scott can’t veto a lot of line-item spending without making his fellow Republicans look like spendthrifts. That would create dissension in a year when Scott needs their help on the campaign trail — and besides, lawmakers were deferential to Scott this session.

“We’ve been very good to the governor this year,” said House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. “If you look at the priorities he’s had, we’ve delivered on all of them.”

If the 2014 session had a pivotal moment, it occurred two weeks ago when the immigrant tuition bill was losing momentum. Even though it had easily passed the House, Senate Republican leaders were blocking a vote.

But two former Republican governors, Bob Martinez and Jeb Bush, issued a joint statement with Scott on April 18 to urge passage of the bill. The statement was an acknowledgment that Scott lacked the political muscle to get the bill passed by himself, but it worked.

“The governor called and asked if I would consider adding my voice,” said Martinez, the state’s first Hispanic governor from 1987 to 1991, and a former mayor of Tampa who sagely predicted two weeks ago: “It’s never over until it’s over.”

Bush, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, served two terms from 1999-2007 and remains a revered figure among Florida Republicans. On Friday, he said: “Florida succeeded in doing what the federal government has failed to do: take real steps to address our nation’s serious immigration challenges.”

The House reapproved the immigrant tuition bill 84-32 on Friday after killing an amendment by Rep. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando that would let undocumented immigrants receive Florida driver’s licenses — an idea Bush championed unsuccessfully a decade ago.

Rep. Jeannette Núñez, R-Miami, sponsor of the immigrant tuition bill, HB 851, warned that major changes on the last day would need Senate review and could jeopardize chances of passage. Núñez and a bipartisan House coalition defeated the amendment.

For Democrats, the session was largely an exercise in frustration as the GOP majority ignored their ideas, such as raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and allowing people to register to vote online.

“There’s a lot of unfinished business,” said Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, the House Democratic leader. “We’re going to get out of here and pat ourselves on the back when there’s really a lot more to be done.”

Democrats said the Republicans’ signature failure was their refusal for the second consecutive year to consider an expansion of Medicaid in a state that ranks second to Texas in the number of people with no health insurance.

As the last day of lawmaking got underway, a group of clergy, single moms and others issued a call for action, but the issue was dead before the session began.

“The Legislature turned its back on those who work hard but cannot afford proper healthcare,” said the Rev. Brant Copeland, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Tallahassee. “We’re not going to forget. We think the Legislature can do better.”

Herald/Times staff writers Kathleen McGrory and Michael Van Sickler contributed to this report.

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

Read more Legislature stories from the Miami Herald

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category