Today, Gov. Rick Scott put his stamp of approval on the state’s $77 billion budget, the largest spending plan in Florida history. It was one that was carefully constructed to boost the re-election efforts of both the governor and Republican legislators who created it.
Scott did not hold a public bill-signing ceremony.
Reflecting the steady improvement in the Florida economy, Scott and the Legislature — for the first time in six years — had more money to spread around the state.
Some of the budgetary winners were child welfare and projects to reduce water pollution, each with increased spending, reports Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times. Conversely, there is also hundreds of line-item spending items, which some call “turkeys,” funding local projects including museums, parks, water systems and a gun range for police training.
Contained within the record-breaking budget is $18.9 billion for public schools, an increase of $176 to $6,949 per pupil. In raw dollars, it is the most money ever, but still $177 per-student under the 2007-2008 record of $7,126 per student, which came in the first year of Charlie Crist’s term as governor.
Crist called for Scott to veto pet projects in lawmakers’ districts, and to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars into public schools.
Democrats pointed to Scott’s first year in office, where he pushed for public school spending cuts of $1.3 billion, as well as a second-year budget with state university cuts of $300 million. They also note that the Bright Futures scholarship program serves fewer students today than seven years ago.
“Rick Scott is trying to run from his record of slashing education funding,” said Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant. “No amount of poll-tested talking points can change the fact that per-pupil spending still remains below 2007 levels.”
Also in the budget is $18 million more for the Department of Children and Families to hire and train 270 additional front-line workers in an effort to reduce caseloads those who investigate cases of child abuse and neglect.
Taking effect July 1, the budget does contain one major Scott priority — no statewide increase in tuition for Florida universities and community colleges.
There will not be pay raises of state workers, but there will be eligibility for performance bonuses.
Bousquet writes that the budget has rainy-day reserves of $3 billion, for emergencies such as hurricanes.
A full story will be online later today.