Senate, House budgets would reward all state employees
The Florida Senate and House rolled out their respective budget proposals on Friday. Both budgets are slightly bigger than Gov. Rick Scott's spending plan, and both differ from Scott's in one respect: Lawmakers want to give across the board pay raises to all state workers, while Scott favors bonuses to workers.
The House offers every state worker a $1,400 pay raise, which amounts to about 3.3 percent. The Senate budget includes a 3 percent across the board pay boost for all state workers, who have gone for six straight years with no increase in salary.
On teacher salaries -- Scott's top priority -- the House released a $74.4 billion budget on Friday that includes $676 million for pay raises for teachers, with half of the increase amount tied to merit-based teacher performance. The Senate matched Scott's proposal for $480 million in teacher pay raises but also stipulated that it be tied to performance. Florida ranks 45th among the 50 states in teacher pay.
The House's $200 million plan for construction and renovation at Florida universities is much more robust that Scott's $70 million proposal. The House budget includes a 6 percent increase in college and university tuition, and Scott has repeatedly said he opposes any more tuition increases.
"If you look at our budget and say, who is the big winner? The big winner is education," said House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.
The Senate wants to set aside $2.9 billion in reserves, while the House would set aside $2.4 billion. Both chambers' budgets include half a billion dollars to shore up the unfunded liability in the state pension fund. Both budgets fall far short of the $279 million Scott requested for economic development incentivies to attract new jobs to Florida.
House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, criticized the House GOP leadership for not including an expansion of Medicaid in its budget. Said Thurston said it was "highly doubtful" that House Democrats would vote for a state budget "that fails to adequately address Florida's health care needs."
Despite the current differences in all three spending plans, leaders will work to make compromises as the nine-week session enters its second half next week. "It's a nine-inning session, and we're in the fourth inning," Weatherford said.