1. Florida Politics

What the 8 years since the recession torpedoed Florida's state budget tell us about Gov. Rick Scott's priorities

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Published Mar. 26, 2016

Gov. Rick Scott vowed to make steep spending cuts upon taking office in 2011. With an assist from state lawmakers, he's done just that in the past six years.

More than 13,000 state positions have been eliminated, which will save $152 million next year. The state has slashed more than $800 million in its mental health and elderly services. Florida Bright Futures dropped by a third, or $120 million.

And yet, despite those cuts and many more, the state budget climbed by $12 billion.

What gives?

DON MORRIS | Times illustration

Overall, the budget grew by 17 percent. That actually keeps pace with inflation and a state population that grew by 8 percent.

Mark Vitner, senior economist at Wells Fargo, has tracked Florida's economy for years. He's not surprised at some of the budget trends, specifically a surge in transportation spending.

Like many states, Florida delayed infrastructure projects during the recession. So it had to play catch-up.

DON MORRIS | Times illustration

"But Florida is very atypical of most states because we have had so much growth, so many transportation needs," Vitner said. "Transportation has become a much higher priority."

Perhaps the greatest priority of all? Privatization.

Even though the Florida Department of Transportation has increased its construction budget by $2 billion, it has 1,000 fewer positions than it did in 2010.

That means it's increasingly the private sector, not public officials, who will provide planning and oversight of a $10.8 billion workload that will remake the state's transportation grid for generations to come.