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Florida Has a New Budget ... ... and It’s Bigger Than Ever

Monday, May 12, 2014   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Jon Shiver
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by Bob Levy, Robert M. Levy & Associates

Each year the Florida Legislature is required to approve a balanced state budget. This year our state legislators passed the budget on the closing day of session, right before they adjourned sine die. The following summary comes via the Associated Press.

The Senate passed the budget unanimously while the House vote was 102-15.

The new budget is 3.5 percent higher than last year’s budget and includes a boost in funding for schools, child welfare and projects to battle water pollution.

Legislators came into the annual session with a $1.2 billion budget surplus. They used part of the surplus to pay for $500 million in tax and fee cuts, including a rollback in auto registration fees. But the extra money also enabled them to spread it around on dozens of hometown projects. The budget heads next to Gov. Rick Scott, who can veto individual spending items.

Highlights From State’s $77.1 Billion Budget

Here are 10 things to know about the spending plan:

Budget Total: The final budget is nearly $77.1 billion, an increase of $2.6 billion from last year. It covers spending starting July 1 through June 30, 2015.

Child Welfare: The state’s child welfare agency is getting nearly $50 million for child protection efforts, including hiring nearly 300 employees to help bring down the number of cases handled by investigators.

Economic Development: VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism marketing arm, got an increase in funding from $63 million to $74 million. Gov. Rick Scott had asked for $100 million.

Environment: Legislators set aside $170 million for projects intended to help the Indian River Lagoon and other water bodies dealing with discharges from Lake Okeechobee. There’s also $30 million to protect Florida’s springs and $25 million for beach restoration.

Health Care: The budget increased overall spending on Medicaid, the state’s safety net program, but the budget does not include any federal aid to expand Medicaid eligibility to roughly 1 million Floridians. Legislators have also set aside money to provide services to 1,260 disabled people on a waiting list.

Health Insurance: Florida legislators kept intact low-cost health insurance for legislative staff, Gov. Rick Scott and other top state officials. Scott, a multimillionaire, pays less than $400 a year for family coverage. He had recommended raising the cost. Legislators pay the same higher rate as other rank-and-file state workers.

Schools: The budget boosts spending for public schools by $575 million and would increase per-student funding by about $176. But the increase in school funding relies on a nearly $400 million rise in local property taxes. The new budget includes nearly $600 million in money for construction projects for public schools, universities and colleges. That total includes $75 million for charter schools.

State Workers: There are no across-the-board pay raises in this year’s budget. Legislators did include a 5 percent pay raise for highway patrol troopers and other state law enforcement officers. There are also pay increases for court employees and assistant prosecutors and public defenders.

Taxes: Lawmakers agreed to cut taxes and fees by $500 million as part of the budget package. The fee cuts include a rollback of auto registration fees. But legislators have also agreed to a three-day back-to-school sales tax holiday. Shoppers in August will be to purchase clothes and school supplies tax free during that period. Legislators have also agreed to sales tax holidays for energy-efficient appliances and hurricane preparation supplies.

For a full recap of bills that passed during the 2014 Legislative Session, download the PDF here.

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