TALLAHASSEE — Lawmakers on Wednesday wrapped up a 10-day special session to address the state's $2.4-billion budget deficit by slashing $1.2-billion in spending, reducing nearly every state program's budget — and beginning to break their past promises.
In a May 2 news release headlined "House Republicans Keep their Promise to Floridians," legislative leaders boasted that the 2008-09 budget didn't expend savings on day-to-day operations, gave more money to the Florida Highway Patrol and the Agency for Persons with Disabilities and didn't reduce Children's Medical Services, Healthy Start or the state crime lab.
But Wednesday's newly trimmed budget reverses most of those commitments. It spends up to $1.6-billion in savings, takes back the new FHP and APD money and cuts the crime lab and services for kids.
The cuts are the latest in what is now a total of $6.9-billion shaved from state spending since July 1, 2007, to account for declines in tax revenues, and they are a preview of more to come when lawmakers meet in regular session starting March 3.
Republican Rep. Dean Cannon from Winter Park said the promises couldn't be kept for reasons beyond anyone's control.
"No one would have expected us to keep those commitments," he said, "if anyone had predicted that by January '09 the big three automakers would be near bankruptcy, the stock market would have lost 30 percent of its value and the economy would have contracted faster than it has ever contracted since we've been keeping records."
Republicans did keep crucial Medicaid payments for the elderly. They also kept the promise to not raise school property taxes and to keep per-student funding above the 2007 level — albeit by $12.80.
But they increased traffic fines, raised a new nursing home tax and shifted more funding of hospitals to local taxpayers.
The voter-approved "high quality'' prekindergarten program has been watered down a little, with bigger summer class sizes that will grow 20 percent, from 10 to 12 students.
Then there's the Florida Forever land-buying program. "Forever'' will stop for the rest of the budget year. The Legislature also raided $1.2-billion in so-called "trust funds'' established with taxes for dedicated purposes, such as affordable housing, health care, the environment or regulating insurance.