School budget a 'fund shift,' Pickens says
When the new state budget landed on legislators' desks Monday, Democrats quickly discovered a $365-million increase in property taxes statewide for schools next year -- despite what they recalled was a commitment by House GOP leaders not to increase those taxes.
"It's a shell game. It's a sleight-of-hand," said Rep. Dan Gelber, the House Democratic leader. "It's a bit of a swap."
Indeed, a closer look at the school funding formula shows a decline in two other discretionary school taxes by an amount that is actually $11-million more than the property tax increase. So Republicans insist they have kept their promise not to increase taxes.
"He's wrong," said Rep. Joe Pickens, the Palatka Republican and the House's education spending expert. "It's a fund shift. It was done without sleight-of-hand. It was done right in front of everybody." The tax shift was vetted with representatives of "about 20" school districts, he said.
The tax shift is sure to be vigorously debated Wednesday when House members engage in the traditional partisan debate over the budget. As part of the swap, school districts are limited to 1.75-mills ($1.75 per $1,000 of taxable value) for construction projects. Pinellas levies 1.85-mills for that purpose, so the tax shift in the budget is of no benefit.