TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The new state budget signed by Gov. Rick Scott is getting mixed reviews. Businesses are bullish on the plan, but teachers and hospitals are not.
The governor gets his wish on new money for K-12 education. Scott said he would not sign a budget without $1 billion of additional funding for education and he got it.
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The cash will help cover the cost of an expected 30,000 new students next year and boost per-student spending by about $150 to $6,375. Before the recession, Florida spent $7,143 per student in 2008.
Gov. Scott says he thinks this spending plan should be called the "education budget."
"Education is the key to Florida's long-term prosperity, so we had to find a way to pass the critical increase in education funding in the budget," said Scott.
However, the extra $1 billion for education does not cover the $1.3 billion in cuts to K-12 last year.
Teachers call the budget a dismal failure. They say it's disingenuous to tout a big increase in education funding because it's still below the amount that Florida spent five years ago.
"The fact of the matter is that schools are still severely damaged from the cuts of last year and the four years before that and it doesn't adequately finance the needs of our public schools," said Mark Pudlow of the Florida Education Association.
The business lobby group Associated Industries of Florida praises the new budget as good for businesses and Floridians.
Spokesman Jose Gonzalez says businesses are glad lawmakers were able to cover a billion dollar deficit without raising taxes.
"Any time that you have a budget that the Legislature has passed and the governor has signed that doesn't include any tax increases it's a win-win for Floridians and for business owners. So we're excited to see that. We're excited to see that the governor has put some additional funding into sea ports and transportation, dollars that I think will go a long way in getting some economic activity going around the state."
Gonzalez says the most important part of the budget for business is the reduction of a planned increase in the state's unemployment compensation tax.
Lawmakers scaled back a scheduled increase in the state's unemployment compensation tax on businesses from $171 per employee to $121 per employee. The tax currently stands at $72 an employee.
"Probably the biggest issue for small and medium-sized employers is the unemployment compensation tax issue, which this year we were able to mitigate some of those increases. We were looking at about $100 per employee. Now it's come back down to about $50. It's still an increase and that has to do with the recession and the fact that we have so many Floridians out of work but still it's a big difference between having to pay almost $100 per employee. So we're happy to see that."
That tax issue will save businesses nearly $300 million. At the same time, hospitals around Florida are not happy to see a $300 million cut in funding for Medicaid patients.
Bruce Rueben of the Florida Hospital Association says it comes on top of $500 million in cuts last year and more than $1 billion over the past few years.
"We continue to see hospitals have to reduce hours of service, hold off hiring and it does have a big impact on access to care for all Floridians. You can't just cut services for one set of patients."
The total budget comes in at about $70 billion. Gov. Scott used his line-item veto to eliminate $142 million from the spending plan for 2012 - 2013.
It takes effect July 1.
First Coast News