Photo by Mark Wallheiser (Getty Images)
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Florida's rank-and-file state workers will be getting their first across the board pay raise in seven years.
Legislators racing against a looming deadline agreed on Saturday to a package that would offer a $1,400 raise to all those who currently earn less than $40,000. State employees who earn more than $40,000 will get a $1,000 raise.
The increases will go to more than 160,000 people who work at state agencies and at 12 public universities. House and Senate budget negotiators also agreed to give a $600 performance bonus to roughly 35 percent of all state workers.
Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart and Senate budget chief, said it was time to recognize hard-working employees who have not gotten a raise during a time when the state's finances were strained during the recession.
The raises will take effect on Oct. 1, if Gov. Rick Scott approves the budget.
"This is something that will benefit the majority of workers who are at lower income levels," said Doug Martin with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. "This is a very meaningful raise."
Those state employees, however, who work as highway patrol troopers and in other law-enforcement jobs will be getting an additional 3 percent on top of the across-the-board raise. And those in law-enforcement with five years or more experience would get an additional 2 percent beyond that.
Negron has been pushing to pay troopers more because he said the state trains them only to see them jump over to local law-enforcement agencies that pay more.
Legislators have also agreed to keep intact the current premiums that state employees pay for health insurance. That means Scott and thousands of other high-paid employees in state government will continue to pay only $8.34 a month for individual coverage and $30 for family coverage.
House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said last week that legislators may change that amid the debate over whether the state should extend health insurance coverage to the poor. Scott himself has recommended for three straight years that all state workers should pay the same for coverage.
House and Senate budget negotiators are working through the weekend to put the finishing touches on a proposed $74 billion budget.
They must wrap up their work by Tuesday in order for the session to end on May 3. That's because state law requires the budget to be on the desk of lawmakers 72 hours before a final vote is taken. The final budget will cover spending from July 2013 to June 2014.
In the last few days, legislators have signed off on a long line of spending items. Late Friday, budget negotiators agreed to a 3 percent tuition hike this fall. They took this step even though Scott has been adamantly opposed to any hike.
Negron defended it as a modest increase. He also pointed out that in the final go-round of negotiations, legislators agreed to put more money into financial aid programs.
"We have made a number of wise investments in making sure students in Florida can attend college," Negron said.
Florida college students do pay among some of the lowest tuition rates in the nation. But Scott, a Republican up for re-election next year, said earlier this week said that "Florida families can't afford it."
"Every time they raise tuition, which they have done for five straight years, it impacts the poorest families in the state and their ability to go to college," Scott said.
Scott could use his veto pen to wipe out the tuition increase. But Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland and House budget chief, insisted that the governor should be pleased with the budget because it includes many of his priorities.
Scott also wanted a $2,500 across the board pay raise for teachers, but legislators have insisted that any pay raise should be tied to teacher performance. Lawmakers, however, have still not announced the final details of the teacher pay raise proposal.