This week marked the opening of the 2018 Florida legislative session, meaning for the next two months state lawmakers will consider, among other things, whether to give Gov. Rick Scott what he wants.

They’ll be forced to grapple with Scott’s proposed $87.4 billion budget — a plan to spend $2.4 billion more next fiscal year than this current one. Most House Republicans in Tallahassee are uninterested in passing a budget that they consider so hefty. If they follow through, 2018 will be the second year in a row that the final budget is smaller than Scott wishes.

It wasn’t always this way. For Scott’s first six years in office, he called for leaner budgets than he ended up signing. Since 2011, his proposals have grown by more than $21 billion, or 33 percent.

Gov. Rick Scott’s proposed state budgets, FY 2012 - 2019

Data from http://fightingforfloridasfuturebudget.com.

His proposals have grown faster than inflation or population. In his time in office, the Consumer Price Index is up about nine percent. The number of people in Florida is up eight percent.

So what’s going on?

Well, state budgets across the country have increased during this same period. But Florida is near the top of the pack in terms of growth. According to the National Association of State Budget Offices, between 2012 and 2017 (the most recent national estimates available), the state’s total spending increased about 31 percent, making it the state with the eighth-fastest growing yearly budget.

In that time, the median state spending increase was about 18 percent.

Carol Weissert, a political science professor at Florida State University, said that Florida’s budget’s growth is faster than average, but mirrors the rest of the country in general.

“We were just coming out of the recession,” Weissert noted. “Revenues dropped in 2009, and they started slowly going up.”

If Scott ends up signing an appropriations bill similar to what he proposed, the state will spend almost as much as it did in 2006-2007, the height of the state’s spending under Jeb Bush, after adjusting for inflation.

Scott’s spokeswoman, Lauren Schenone, said Wednesday, “Let’s remember - in the four years before Governor Scott took office, Florida lost over 800,000 jobs, and since then we’ve created nearly 1.5 million private-sector jobs. As a result, during the Governor’s first year in office, Florida faced a $4 billion budget deficit.”

It wasn’t just Florida. In the four years before Scott’s tenure, most of the country was suffering from the lingering effects of the Great Recession, which started in 2007. Florida was hit harder than some states, such as Texas, Weissert said.

“And then now, we’re clearly out of the recession, and the economy’s doing well,” she said.

In recent years, Scott has asked for serious spending increases. For the 2016-17 budget, Scott called for $855 million in new spending. For 2017-18, it was $1.19 billion. This session, he has recommended a $2.4 billion spending hike.

“As our economy has grown, we have been able to make historic investments in education, transportation and the environment. Not to mention investing in veterans, providing our teachers with pay raises and helping people with disabilities. Turning around Florida’s economy would not have been possible without our hard work cutting taxes and encouraging business to thrive here in Florida,” Schenone said.

Scott’s increased spending requests coincide with him publicly seeking a statewide office, where he’ll need support from large blocs of voters, like teachers.

Reporters learned in 2015 that Scott told fundraisers he was interested in a 2018 U.S. Senate run. Since then, each budget he proposed has called for overall spending increases ($855 million for FY 2016-2017, $1.2 billion for FY 2017-2018 and $2.4 billion for FY 2018-2019).

The long term trend has seen growth in all of the state’s biggest agencies. This year, Scott recommended:

  • $6.73 billion more for the state’s health care agency than he did in 2011, a 30.5 percent increase.
  • $5.97 billion more for education, a 31.2 percent increase
  • $4.36 billion more for transportation, a 67 percent increase

Medicaid, and education drive spending in most other states too, Weissert said.

In 2016, they made up 65 percent of state’s general fund spending, the NASBO reported.

Big education hikes came in 2013, when Scott called for a pay raise for “every Florida teacher.”

Scott and lawmakers have both talked up their education spending records, but Florida spends far less per student than the national average.

Florida is a conservative state in which many people are “not very keen on taxes,” Weissert said, but population growth has helped its economy.

But an idea to make raising taxes harder in the future gave her pause.

“If we start really restricting the revenues, I worry a little about the future of this state.”

Contact Langston Taylor at 727-893-8659 or [email protected] Follow @langstonitaylor.