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Policy institute calls final state budget better than Rick Scott’s, but still lacking

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The Florida Policy Institute says the state’s new 2016 budget is better than Gov. Rick Scott’s initial proposal. The nonprofit’s report, though, says the spending plan still lacks adequate investment in health care, public education, prisons and other state services.

The report praised the Legislature for killing Scott’s proposed $1 billion tax cut, saying it would just help businesses while reducing resources for urgent needs. It also criticized a tax cut for machinery and equipment the Legislature included, saying it offers “dubious benefits of business subsidies on job creation and economic growth.”

“Presidential candidates of all stripes know Florida is critical to the outcome of our national election,” Institute Executive Director Joe Pennisi stated in a news release Wednesday, the day after Scott vetoed $250 million in line items and Florida held its presidential primaries. “If the state wants to play a similar role as a bellwether of sound economic and fiscal policy, it will have to think about long-term public investments so all Floridians have the chance to prosper.”

The nonpartisan institute is funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation.

Among findings in its report:

  • Lawmakers, the report contends, failed to adequately address the phase out of the Low Income Pool. The federal government is shrinking that pool from $2 billion two years ago to $608 million in this budget and zero next year to help reimburse hospitals for treating uninsured Floridians. The institute contends Florida is doing nothing to make up for that loss of health care money.
  • While the budget increases funding for mental health services by $15 million and for community substance abuse and mental health treatment services by $38 million the report contends that will “fall far short of meeting critical needs.”
  • Funding for public schools increases by 1 percent per student, but does not provide any significant advancements at any level, the report states. It also notes that the education building and maintenance repair and renovation fund that was increased by 60 percent to $248 million does far more to help charter schools than public schools.
  • Florida’s prisons have faced staffing shortages that the institute says have created safety problems for inmates and staff. The Department of Corrections asked for money to hire 734 more correction officers, but the budget provides for only 215, the institute states.
  • While funding for affordable housing increased $25 million to $200 million, the institute says the legislature raided $117 million from the affordable housing trust funds to use elsewhere in the state budget.

“If we expect population growth to continue at current rates, Florida must commit to providing the resources required to meet the needs of all its current and future residents,” Pennisi stated.

“This budget does not allow the state to meet those needs,” he added.

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at

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