Florida House members stay firm in tax stance while talking education spending
According to plan, Florida House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee members on Thursday offered their ideas for cutting public education funding if revenue declines as projected.
Some targets had broad bipartisan agreement, such as a $14 million incentive fund for school districts that adopt mandatory student uniforms. Other items on the table included district-level administrative funds, money for class size reduction and support for public broadcasting.
The state's accountability model even got thrown into the conversation, with Mount Dora Republican Rep. Jennifer Sullivan casually stating, "If we do less testing, our testing budget will be less."
When it came to the bottom line, though, the House Republican position on property taxes held firm sway.
Democrats on the panel lamented that they did not want to cut any education spending, because money spent in schools helps children who might otherwise land on welfare or in jail.
"These kids are trapped," said Rep. Wengay Newton, D-St. Petersburg. "If we don't step up for them, no one will."
He and others suggested cutting from other parts of the state budget, if necessary, but to put more money into education -- much like Gov. Rick Scott proposed.
"The governor's budget, it looks bright and it has a future," said Rep. Roy Hardemon, D-Miami.
But GOP leaders made clear they do not back the governor's plan to leave the tax rate unchanged, because it would generate more tax revenue as property values rise. They pointed to state law that defines a tax increase as any revenue collected beyond the amount brought in the year before.
"Why this year is it not an increase if the amount goes up?" said vice chairman Jake Raburn, R-Lithia.
At the end of the discussion, chairman Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, agreed with the members who said the exercise was tough, and that no one wants to slash the budget. At the same time, he said, the committee might have to make a call.
"If we are given an allocation and asked to make cuts, we can't just sit here and say we're not going to," Diaz said.
He encouraged members to continue studying all line items in the budget. "The vetting project begins with you."