Florida Budget Set; Vote Set For Friday

TALLAHASSEE (CBS4/AP) – Making it just under the wire, the final tweaks were made to Florida’s proposed budget Tuesday in time for lawmakers to have the state-required 72 hours to read it, before voting on it prior to Friday’s end of this year’s session. The budget contains cuts for almost every part of Florida government, but some surprise las minute adds, including money for FIU’s medical school.

House and Senate budget leaders settled their differences just in time to avoid extending the annual 60-day legislative session beyond its scheduled Friday completion.

The agreement includes $308 million in tax relief, but most of it is in property tax.

Florida Governor Rick Scott had asked for various tax and fee cuts totaling $1.7 billion. His top priority was a $458 million cut in the corporate tax, but the budget deal calls for only a $30 million reduction. The Republican governor, though, dropped his threat to veto the budget if he didn’t get his corporate tax cut.

Scott wants eventually to repeal the corporate tax, which raises nearly $2 billion a year, as part of his agenda to create jobs by making Florida, where more than 1 million workers are unemployed, friendlier to business.

“My plan was to phase it out over seven years,” Scott said. “We’re still going to get there.”

Besides the higher exemption, the budget agreement includes targeted business tax credits of $9 million for research and development, $10 million for space projects and $3 million for contaminated site development. The state’s film industry tax credit would be increased by $12 million.

The biggest chunk of tax relief would come at the expense of the state’s five water management districts. Their property taxes would be cut by $210.5 million.

The accord also has a three-day back-to-school sales tax holiday that would set the state back $25.6 million.

Tuesday was the deadline for reaching an agreement due to a constitutional 72-hour waiting period before a vote can be taken after a compromise budget bill hits lawmakers’ desks.

The budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 is expected to top $67 billion with $2.2 billion in reserves. It cuts spending by nearly $4 billion but budget writers still found room for spending projects in key lawmakers’ districts.

The budget’s spending reductions along with what will amount to a 3 percent pay cut for public employees are the result of state’s revenues failure to keep pace with cost increases and a growing demand for services, led by health care programs.

The budget deal cuts Medicaid reimbursement rates 12 percent for most hospitals — 4 percent for children’s and rural hospitals — and 6.5 percent for nursing homes.

The Senate, though, backed off from sharp reductions in programs for seriously ill patients including transplant recipients and seniors. Now, they’ll keep their current spending levels.

Last minute additions included $6.9 million for a community college branch in Wesley Chapel, hometown of Republican Rep. Will Weatherford who is slated to become speaker in November 2012.

Those and several other projects were added less than 24 hours after some legislators complained the Senate bill was filled with members’ pet projects and “political payback to special interests.”

Grimsley changed her tune Tuesday, saying the projects are “from the members who know their districts much better than Sen. Alexander and I know them.”

Other late additions include $6 million to complete an applied science building at Florida State University, $5 million for targeted student assistance at Florida A&M University and more than $2 million each for medical schools at the University of Central Florida and Florida International University.

Also, added: $200,000 for UCF’s Lou Frey Institute of Politics and Government, $750,000 more for historically black colleges, $895,458 more for health programs at Nova Southeast University and $400,000 for a study of potential benefits of destination gambling resorts and horse racing.

The budget leaders agreed on $21.1 million for libraries — $100,000 more than current spending — and the deal will spare state attorneys and public defenders from a proposed 5 percent cut.


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