The budget Gov. Rick Scott didn’t want to see is heading for his desk.
Three days behind schedule, the Florida Legislature finally voted out an $82.4 billion budget late Monday that gives the Republican governor none of his three biggest priorities, has just a fraction of the tax cuts he sought and is almost guaranteed to incur the wrath of his veto pen.
State legislators know the risk they face in sending Scott a budget devoid of any of his biggest priorities. He asked for $100 million for tourism marketing; they gave him $25 million. He asked for $85 million in job incentives to lure businesses to Florida; they gave him zero. He asked for $200 million to speed up work on rebuilding the leaking dike around Lake Okeechobee; they gave him nothing.
Yet Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said he’s hopeful Scott will sign the budget. He noted that lawmakers approved some of the governor’s education priorities, such as funding Bright Futures scholarships and increasing access to charter schools.
“The general policies contained in our budget are things that the governor supports,” Negron said. “All of us will spend some time over the next week to ten days to make our case, and we have the burden of proof with the governor, but I’m optimistic that the governor will recognize that most of what’s contained in the budget are items that he supports.”
House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, said the margins by which the budget passed the two chambers should dissuade the governor from vetoing the budget. In both chambers the budget passed by more than two-thirds, the number needed to override Scott if he opted to veto the entire budget. The House voted 98-14 for the budget. The Senate voted 34-3.
“It passed both chambers overwhelmingly,” Corcoran said.
Scott has been touring the state for the last two weeks warning that it could hurt job creation in Florida and reduce tourism revenue to the state. During stops in Miami and Tampa last week, he acknowledged that he has the authority to veto the entire budget but has stopped short of threatening such a drastic action, something that hasn’t happened in Florida in decades.
While Scott has the authority to veto the entire budget and force the Legislature to return to Tallahassee for a special session, it’s more likely that he will veto dozens of hometown projects packed into the spending plan and other budget items he disagrees with.
But Corcoran doesn’t see that as much of a threat.
“When there is pork in the budget, my encouragement to the governor is go veto all the pork that you can,” Corcoran said.
Corcoran called the Legislature’s spending plan “bold” and “transformative.” The plan:
▪ Cuts hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes,
▪ Mitigates an environmental crisis around Lake Okeechobee,
▪ Raises state worker pay,
▪ Puts more workers on the front lines to battle terrorism and public health problems like Zika,
▪ Expands charter schools options.
But the spending plan, which would go into effect on July 1, also includes items the Legislature is not likely to tout as proudly, such as a meager increase for public education funding, cuts to the state community college system and big question marks around state hospitals funding.
Democrats, in the minority in the Legislature, blasted the budget plan. State Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, said the Legislature has to stop handing out so much money in tax cuts while the state remains ranked near the bottom nationwide in mental health funding and per-student funding for schools. He said that over six years, the state has given out $6 billion in tax cuts that most regular people he knows don’t really feel.
“When we go through these budgets and say, ‘Gee, we just didn’t have enough money to do this,’ remember that $6 billion in tax cuts we’ve given out,” Clemens said.
In the House, Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana, criticized legislative leaders for cutting funding to key programs in a year when the state has high employment, a large number of tourists and rising property values.
“The proposed budget already severely cuts Enterprise and Visit Florida,” Berman said. “Combined with the education piece, this budget could truly cause economic dysfunction with less ability to attract and maintain new industries and businesses in our great state.”
But State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, said the tax cuts, including the rescinding of a tax on feminine hygiene products, are particularly important this year because it finally corrects an injustice to women.
“When it comes down to it, there are a lot of hard-working Floridians who are looking for some relief and this is just one little piece for women who don’t make a lot of money,” Passidomo said.
The biggest tax relief will go to homeowners. The Legislature agreed to decrease property-tax rates to offset a rise in home values that would have caused many homeowners to pay more in taxes. That will save homeowners in Florida a combined $510 million in increased property taxes.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, was demanding that the Senate accept big education reforms that both Democrats and Republicans were hesitating to accept. That included dozens of different policies affecting public education, and its hallmark provisions are $234 million in teacher bonuses and a controversial $140 million “Schools of Hope” program to help traditional public schools largely through incentives to new charter schools.
Meanwhile, the education budget the Legislature was close to adopting contained a meager increase to K-12 public school funding — boosting per-pupil spending by $24.49, or 0.34 percent. Superintendents say the plan will actually cost some counties money because the base student allocation to districts will go down.
The overall pre-K-12 budget is about $14.7 billion, not including a $419 million package that earmarks funding for teacher bonuses, charter school incentives and traditionally failing schools, testing reforms and an expansion of the Gardiner Scholarship that helps children with disabilities and rare diseases.
The budget also has a giant hole when it comes to healthcare issues because a potential $1.5 billion pot for hospitals remains uncertain. Last month, President Donald Trump’s administration agreed to renew a program, called the Low Income Pool, meant to repay hospitals for services they provide to people who don’t have health coverage.
While the feds authorized $1.5 billion — split between local taxpayers and federal money — it’s not yet clear whether all that money will be available. It all depends on negotiations between state agencies and the federal government.
Times/Herald staff writers Kristen M. Clark and Michael Auslen contributed to this report.
Contact Jeremy Wallace at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @JeremySWallace
Tax cuts: Lawmakers agreed to once again halt sales tax on feminine hygiene products. Until 1986, the state didn’t tax those items, but the tax was restored as the state eliminated dozens of tax exemptions. The state will also have a sales tax free back to school shopping period, but it will be for only three days in August instead of up to 10 days as Gov. Rick Scott had wanted.
Pay raises: For the first time in 11 years, all state workers are getting pay raise. Every employee making less than $40,000 a year will get a minimum increase of $1,400, and those making more than $40,000 a year will get a $1,000 raise. In addition, all state law enforcement officers will get a 5 percent raise, and all state corrections officers will get a $2,500 increase.
New workers: While the total number of state workers is decreasing again, there are new positions sprinkled throughout state government as others are eliminated. Forty-seven new positions are being added to the Department of Agriculture to handle increased workload for processing concealed weapons permits, 15 epidemiologists to help combat Zika, West Nile and other diseases and 46 counter-terrorism workers for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
School funding increase: Funding per student is going up, but not by nearly as much as Gov. Scott had requested. Spending per student will be about $7,221 — a $24 increase from last year. That would still put Florida well below the national average of more than $10,000 per student.
Community colleges: The Legislature set total funding for the colleges at $1.2 billion, which amounts to a nearly $25 million cut for the system.
Jackson Health System: Bad news for Florida’s largest public hospital, which cares for the most Medicaid patients in the state. Jackson faces $32.5 million in cuts under the budget, which could be mitigated by a federal program meant to fund uncompensated care, but the details are still uncertain.
Department of Health: For the seventh year running, lawmakers are removing positions in the Department of Health, cutting 374 job openings that they say have been vacant for anywhere from one to five years. Since 2010-11, the department’s potential workforce has been cut by more than one-fifth to 13,692.
Nursing homes: For another year, Medicaid-funded residents of nursing homes will continue to get a $105 per month personal needs allowance to pay for things like clothes, haircuts and beauty products. The House had tried to decrease the allowance to $70.
Orlando state attorney: State Attorney Aramis Ayala, who in March declared she wouldn’t seek the death penalty, is taking a $1.3 million cut and losing 21 job positions. The Legislature is setting those aside for other state attorney offices that could take on death cases reassigned to them by Gov. Scott.
Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau