TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Gov. Rick Scott came into office two years ago promising to reduce the size of government, but on Thursday, he proposed one of the largest budgets in state history.
Scott is proposing a $74.2 billion budget next year. That's nearly $8 billion more than the budget he proposed for the current fiscal year.
Scott defends the size of the budget, saying he has made tough choices over the past two years and gotten Florida's economy back on track. That means the economy is generating more sales taxes and Florida is in a position to spend more cash on its priorities.
State lawmakers ended up passing a budget of about $70 billion for the current year, so Scott's proposal represents a 4.7 percent increase.
The governor said his two main priorities next year are a $1.2 billion increase in K-12 education funding, including a $2,500 raise for all full-time teachers at a cost of $480 million, and the elimination of sales taxes on manufacturing equipment.
"We need to build up manufacturing jobs in the great state of Florida. Because of the hard work we have done to identify cost savings and efficiencies across state government, this budget proposes to eliminate the sales tax on manufacturing equipment to save Florida manufacturers over $140 million annually."
Scott said his plan to increase K-12 funding by $1.2 billion "doubles down" on the state's investment in education. The current budget included an extra $1 billion for public schools.
"This is the right thing to do. It's the right thing to do for our children. This total includes $10.7 billion in state funding for Florida K-12 schools, the highest state funding level in history."
Scott was asked how he reconciles the fact that he was elected on a platform of reducing the size and cost of government, and now he's pushing one of the largest budgets in Florida's history.
He said Floridians just want a government that operates more efficiently and effectively.
"And we did that. We walked in with almost a $4 billion budget deficit. We balanced the budget, we paid down state debt, we cut taxes, cut regulations, and it worked. Now we have the wherewithal to make more investments."
Gov. Scott's budget also proposes no tuition increase for state colleges and universities. Florida's 12 public universities would see their budget increase by $390 million to a total of $3.8 billion. This year, they took a cut of $300 million. State colleges would see their budget increase by more than $70 million to a total of $1.1 billion.
Scott calls his budget the "Florida Families First" budget. He said it's designed to give Floridians a shot at becoming successful because it focuses on improving education, as well as the jobs climate.
"This is going to be the state that families like mine growing up, I would know I have a shot. That's what I want. I think every Florida family said, 'Just give me a shot. Give me the chance.' Get an education and get a job and that's what this state is going to be known for. This will be the number one state for you to get a job and for you to get an education and we know they're completely connected."
State lawmakers will dissect the governor's budget in the coming weeks and draft their own budget plans in the spring legislative session starting March 5.
First Coast News