WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (Palm Beach Post) -- Gov. Rick Scott rolled out his full $74.2 billion state budget proposal Wednesday, saying it meets Florida’s needs in education, environment and other areas while reducing debt and giving plenty back to taxpayers.
Scott also managed to frame the plan in sharp contrast to the spending plans proposed by his predecessor, former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, who is now his leading Democratic opponent in this fall’s governor’s race.
“Florida was in a hole and for four years, there was just more digging,” Scott said in unveiling the proposal at the Associated Press’ annual media gathering at the state Capitol. “In 2011, I brought together economic development experts who said that not only was Florida not competitive for big projects, but we were often not even considered.
“Today, that has all changed,” he concluded.
With his spending proposals helped by a second straight year of budget surplus — this time, at least $1.1 billion in extra cash — Scott is recommending ongoing tax and fee cuts topping $560 million annually.
The biggest reduction is a $401 million rollback of motorist fee increases approved in 2009, when Crist was governor and the state needed dollars to plug a recession-gouged budget.
But not everything in Scott’s proposal is a return to the good-old-days.
While Scott is seeking a $542 million boost in public school dollars, per-pupil spending would remain below the state’s historic high of 2007-08. Scott’s proposal would bring per-pupil spending to $6,949, about $177 below the pre-recession level.
In other areas, Scott holds the line on college and university tuition, recommending no increase. The budget would eliminate 1,233 state jobs, 1,160 of them currently vacant. He calls for adding about 400 child-abuse investigators in the Department of Children & Families, which has been staggered by a series of children deaths over the past year.
For the state’s 114,000 employees, Scott also is recommending bonus plans of $5,000 and $2,500, but no across-the-board salary hikes. Although he targeted the state’s pension plan for a dramatic overhaul his first year as governor, Scott leaves the Florida Retirement System alone this year, dropping his earlier complaints about a lingering potential liability.
While reducing state debt by $170 million, building on $3.6 billion in draw-downs over the past three years, Scott also recommends increases in a host of environmental programs, including $60 million more for Everglades Restoration and a $45 million boost to improve freshwater springs.