Deal between Gov. Scott, lawmakers, would boost education dollars

New deal brings money for schools, Visit Florida.

TALLAHASSEE - Lawmakers will return for special session next week to agree on a deal that would provide more funding for public schools and VISIT FLORIDA and creating a special incentive fund that supports all businesses.

The special session will begin Wednesday and conclude Friday. Gov. Rick Scott said during a Friday news conference in Miami that he will sign the $83 billion state budget with vetoes that would slash funding to VISIT FLORIDA, Enterprise Florida and only provide a minor increase for public schools.

Scott also called for a special session so the Legislature can consider a deal he struck with chamber leaders that would increase public school funding by $210 million and provide $76 million for VISIT FLORIDA. Enterprise Florida would still see the reduced funding proposed by lawmakers, but there is now a plan to create an $85 million incentive fund dedicated to public infrastructure projects. "The most important thing I can say is this puts Florida families in a good position," Scott said.

Money to pay for the increased funding for schools, VISIT FLORIDA and the incentive fund will be footed by more than $300 million in line-item vetoes by Scott, which are all special projects submitted by lawmakers.

The budget lawmakers approved May 8 only included $25 million for VISIT FLORIDA, a $51 million cut from the $76 million it received this year. It also reduced Enterprise Florida's operating budget from $23.5 million to $16 million.

While VISIT FLORIDA's funding would increase under the new deal, the agency also would face tough transparency standards for its contracts, including legislative oversight for deals worth $750,000 or more.

The $210 million boost for public schools comes to a $100 per student increase, which is more than the $24.49 increase lawmakers approved last month.

"The Senate is pleased to see that the House has come to the Senate position on public school funding," Senate President Joe Negron said.

Scott said he is still reviewing part of the budget that would provide $140 million to high performing charter school networks willing to expand in failing school districts. That part also includes $239 million that greatly expands a teacher bonus program known as the Best and Brightest Scholarship. 

The "Schools of Hope" plan is one of Corcoran's top priorities, but it has taken heavy criticism from school leaders around the state. Another priority for Corcoran was to slash funding for VISIT FLORIDA, which drew heavy scrutiny from lawmakers in the wake of a secretive $1 million deal with Miami rapper Pitbull.

Scott toured the state criticizing the spending cuts. The budget passed by the Legislature would give VISIT FLORIDA $25 million, which is $51 million less than what it received in this year's budget.

Corcoran also sought to slash funding for Enterprise Florida's operating budget from $23.5 million to $16 million and eliminate 21 corporate incentive programs. Under the deal reached by the governor and lawmakers, the reduced funding for the state's economic development partnership will remain, but Scott will be given $85 million to offer incentives to locating or expanding businesses. 

Scott had asked the Legislature for $85 million to replenish a corporate cash incentive fund, but that was ignored by lawmakers. The new fund would allow Scott to make improvements to public amenities that could benefit several businesses versus just one.

 Lawmakers have yet to complete work to regulate the use of marijuana, which was approved by voters in a constitutional amendment that passed during the November election. That issue was left with a Senate plan to add more than a dozen growers. Each of those growers would be limited to five dispensaries each.  That would have left 283 dispensaries in the state to serve roughly 300,000 patients, according to a Senate staff policy analysis.

The House rejected the Senate plan. In the week after session, both Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, had informally agreed lawmakers should return to the Capitol to settle the issue. Otherwise, regulation would be left up to the Florida Department of Health. Scott is also expected to veto about $300 million in special projects lawmakers included in the budget.

Naples Daily News


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