State Politics

Record $82.3 billion Florida budget ready for final vote

House and Senate Appropriations Conference Chairs Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes and Sen Tom Lee, R-Brandon, talk to the media, Sunday after a meeting at the Capitol in Tallahassee.
House and Senate Appropriations Conference Chairs Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes and Sen Tom Lee, R-Brandon, talk to the media, Sunday after a meeting at the Capitol in Tallahassee. Tampa Bay Times

The Florida Legislature on Tuesday finished work on a record $82.3 billion budget and now anticipates what could be a harsh verdict from the budget’s most powerful victim, Gov. Rick Scott.

Lawmakers hammered out details of a budget deal late Monday after extensive backroom negotiations and a final flurry of spending, in sharp contrast to last year when talks collapsed in chaos and forced a special session and threats of a state government shutdown.

Among the budget’s winners are state universities that will compete for $500 million in performance incentive money; charter schools, which could receive $75 million for construction, the same amount set aside for public schools; Tampa’s downtown redevelopment project, aided by $22.5 million more so that the University of South Florida can relocate its medical school there, and Miami Dade College, which won $7 million for classroom renovations and remodeling.

The budget’s losers are led by state workers, who once again won’t get an across-the-board pay raise; state prisons, who won’t be able to hire 734 officers that officials say they need to change back to eight-hour shifts; and most of all, Scott.

The governor’s $1 billion in business-friendly tax cuts were gutted and repackaged to largely reduce property taxes that pay for schools. Scott’s call for $250 million to recruit jobs was wiped out by his fellow Republicans running the Legislature who liken incentive money to “corporate welfare,” and who won’t be surprised if Scott shows the same level of contempt for their priorities.

“There’s going to be things in there that the governor doesn’t like, and there’s going to be things in there that the governor does like,” said House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island. “It will be his prerogative.”

Per-pupil spending in public schools will rise by 1 percent; tuition and fees will remain the same at state colleges and universities. and Florida hospitals will divide $608 million in federal and local tax money to pay for charity care. The $500 million set aside as additional funding for universities will be doled out based on how well they perform in meeting 12 benchmarks.

Tapping a pot of money traditionally set aside for last-minute deals, lawmakers funded dozens of supplemental projects, all of them at risk of Scott’s line-item veto.

Their “sprinkle list” totaled $123 million in college and university construction, water projects and various spending items, including $7 million in replacement police radios in advance of a highly competitive bidding war among vendors.

The $123 million is about one-third of the amount that lawmakers approved last year before Scott vetoed a large chunk of it, part of a record-setting $461.4 million in vetoed spending.

The budget agreement became official at 2:53 p.m. Tuesday, starting the clock for a constitutionally required 72-hour cooling-off period before a final vote Friday to end the session in a presidential election year in which all 120 House seats and 40 Senate seats also will be up for election.

Monday’s last-minute budget deals include $49 million for a performance-based bonus program for teachers known as the Best and Brightest, $25 million to reduce waiting lists for services at the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, $20 million more for cultural grants and $11 million to finish a project at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville that had been left off an earlier project list.

“That’s why we have a supplemental list, so that we can make sure that we can correct those mistakes, and we did,” said Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, the lead House budget negotiator.

Osceola County schools stand to get $4 million more in construction money, Visit Florida would get $2 million more for tourism promotion, and Farm Share, a Homestead-based program that distributes surplus food to the needy, was given $500,000.

For the first time in years, most House Democrats are expected to join Republicans in voting for the budget, a bipartisan gesture designed to make Scott ponder the possibility that lawmakers could override his vetoes.

Democrats have never liked big tax cuts, and Republicans rejected them this year.

Democrats also have long complained that Republicans funded higher school spending on the backs of property taxpayers and Republicans changed that, also over Scott’s objections.

In a major policy shift, a state-mandated property tax rate for schools will decline slightly and a 1 percent boost in per-pupil spending will be paid with state tax revenue, if Scott approves.

“They’ve seen the light,” said Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach. “We can’t keep doing [schools] on the backs of local communities.”

Republicans also pleased Democrats by striking budget language to deny Medicaid money to Planned Parenthood.

“They’re actually putting together the kind of budget that we wanted to do,” said Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, the House minority leader.

Lawmakers went one final round in what Lee called a “vendor fistfight” over replacement police radios produced by Harris Corp., based in Crisafulli’s county of Brevard. The two sides allocated $7 million for “end of life” radios for law enforcement officers in two state agencies.

“There was no request from the agencies for these radios. They don’t want them. They’re going to get them anyway,” said Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, the Senate’s lead budget negotiator. “We spend a lot of money on things the agency doesn’t ask for.”

The budget is sprinkled with money for scores of local projects, such as $2 million for the Underline linear park project under the elevated MetroRail lines in Miami-Dade County, $1.8 million for Osborne Reef clean up off Broward County’s beaches, $1.1 million for a city of Hialeah hot meals program; $1 million for a dolphin pool at Clearwater Marine Aquarium, and $75,000 for a new roof at North Lauderdale City Hall.

Many projects are trying to survive Scott’s veto pen after he eliminated them last year, such as money to restore an African-American church in St. Petersburg and to repair the American Legion post in Key West.

Times/Herald staff writers Michael Auslen and Jeremy Wallace, and Tampa Bay Times staff writer Richard Danielson contributed.

Contact Steve Bousquet at Follow @stevebousquet.

Budget highlights

▪  Public school repairs, maintenance: $75 million

▪  Charter school repairs, maintenance: $75 million

▪  State University System repairs, maintenance: $61.8 million

▪  State University System projects: $168.6 million

▪  Department of Agriculture firefighter salary increase: $2.4 million

▪  Crime lab worker pay increases: $3.96 million

▪  Public schools funding: $20.2 billion (up $458 million from 2015-16 budget)

▪  Best and Brightest teacher scholarship program: $49 million

▪  Performance-based funding for State College System” $60 million

▪  Performance-based funding for State University System: $500 million

Spending by category

▪ Health and Human Services: $34.3 billion

▪ Education: $19.8 billion

▪ Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development: $12.9 billion

▪ General Government: $5.9 billion

▪ Criminal and Civil Justice: $4.97 billion

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