Thursday, July 19, 2018
Politics

State lawmakers pass $82.4 billion budget that heads now to Rick Scott

TALLAHASSEE — The budget Gov. Rick Scott didn't want to see is heading for his desk.

Three days behind schedule, the Florida Legislature finally approved an $82.4 billion budget late Monday that gives the Republican governor none of his three biggest priorities, has just a fraction of the tax cuts he sought and is almost guaranteed to incur the wrath of his veto pen.

State legislators know the risk they face in sending Scott a budget devoid of any of his biggest priorities. He asked for $100 million for tourism marketing, they gave him $25 million. He asked for $85 million in job incentives to lure businesses to Florida, they gave him zero. He asked for $200 million to speed up work on rebuilding the leaking dike around Lake Okeechobee, they gave him nothing.

Yet Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said he's hopeful Scott will sign the budget. He noted that lawmakers approved some of the governor's education priorities, such as funding Bright Futures scholarships and increasing access to charter schools.

"The general policies contained in our budget are things that the governor supports," Negron said. "All of us will spend some time over the next week to 10 days to make our case, and we have the burden of proof with the governor, but I'm optimistic that the governor will recognize that most of what's contained in the budget are items that he supports."

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, said the margins by which the budget passed the two chambers should dissuade the governor from vetoing the budget. In both chambers the budget passed by more than two-thirds, the number needed to override Scott if he opted to veto the entire budget. The House voted 98-14 for the budget. The Senate voted 34-3.

Scott has been touring the state for the last two weeks warning that it could hurt job creation in Florida and reduce tourism revenue to the state. During stops in Miami and Tampa last week he acknowledged he has the authority to veto the entire budget, but has stopped short of threatening such a drastic action, something that hasn't happened in Florida in decades.

While Scott has the authority to veto the entire budget, more likely is that he will veto dozens of hometown projects.

Corcoran called the Legislature's spending plan "bold" and "transformative." It includes:

• Hundreds of millions of dollars in tax cuts.

• A plan to mitigate an environmental crisis around Lake Okeechobee.

• Raises for state workers.

• More workers on the front lines to battle terrorism and public health problems like Zika.

• Expanded charter school options.

But the spending plan, which would go into effect on July 1, also includes items the Legislature is not likely to tout as proudly, such as a meager increase for public education funding, cuts to the state community college system and big question marks around state hospitals funding.

Democrats, in the minority in the Legislature, blasted the budget plan. State Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, said the Legislature has to stop handing out so much money in tax cuts while the state remains ranked near the bottom nationwide in mental health funding and per-student funding for schools. He said over six years the state has given out $6 billion in tax cuts that most regularly people don't really feel.

"When we go through these budgets and say, 'Gee, we just didn't have enough money to do this,' remember that $6 billion in tax cuts we've given out," Clemens said.

In the House, Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana, criticized legislative leaders for cutting funding to key programs in a year when the state has high employment, large number of tourists and rising property values.

"The proposed budget already severely cuts Enterprise and Visit Florida," Berman said. "Combined with the education piece, this budget could truly cause economic dysfunction."

The Legislature agreed to decrease property tax rates to offset a rise in home values that would have caused many homeowners to pay more in taxes. That will save homeowners in Florida a combined $510 million.

Corcoran was demanding the Senate accept big education reforms that both Democrats and Republicans were hesitating to accept. That included dozens of different policies affecting public education, and its hallmark provisions are $234 million in teacher bonuses and a controversial $140 million "Schools of Hope" program to help traditional public schools largely through incentives to new charter schools.

Meanwhile the education budget the Legislature was close to adopting contained meager increases to K-12 public school funding — boosting per-pupil spending by $24.49, or 0.34 percent. Superintendents say the plan will actually cost some counties money, because the base student allocation to districts will go down.

The overall pre-K-12 budget is about $14.7 billion, not including a $419 million package that earmarks funding for teacher bonuses, charter school incentives and traditionally failing schools, testing reforms and an expansion of the Gardiner Scholarship that helps children with disabilities and rare diseases.

The budget also has a giant hole when it comes to health care issues because a potential $1.5 billion pot for hospitals remains uncertain. Last month, President Donald Trump's administration agreed to renew the Low Income Pool, meant to repay hospitals for services they provide to people who don't have health coverage.

While the feds authorized $1.5 billion — split between local taxpayers and federal money — it's not yet clear if all that money will be available.

Times/Herald staff writers Kristen M. Clark and Michael Auslen contributed to this report. Contact Jeremy Wallace at [email protected] Follow @JeremySWallace.

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