Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

State workers, teachers are big winners in legislative budgets

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, says giving state employees a $1,400 raise is the “right approach.”

SCOTT KEELER | Times

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, says giving state employees a $1,400 raise is the “right approach.”

TALLAHASSEE — State workers and teachers are the big winners in budgets advanced Friday by a Legislature eager to spend $4 billion in new money generated by a revived Florida economy.

After four years of cutting spending during tough times, legislators are loosening the state's purse strings again. They want to boost public school spending by at least $1 billion, restore last year's $300 million cut to state universities, set aside at least $500 million to shore up the pension fund and sprinkle millions around the state for popular hometown projects such as a rowing center, an aquarium and museums.

For the first time in more than six years, state employees would get across-the-board pay hikes of $1,400 a year as part of the House proposal. The Senate offers state workers a 3 percent raise. Both options are more generous than Gov. Rick Scott's plan to give one-time cash bonuses to workers.

"We do believe that when state employees have gone six years without a raise, $1,400 is the right approach," said House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.

The House budget is $74.4 billion and the Senate's is $74.3 billion, both slightly larger than Scott's $74.2 billion plan. The current budget is $70 billion.

What lawmakers are not yet doing is expanding Medicaid, as neither legislative budget includes federal or state money to expand the pool of insured Floridians.

But lawmakers plan to keep the cost of health insurance low for themselves and other state leaders by maintaining current premiums. Scott proposed raising premiums for himself and other state officials to the same level as rank-and-file workers.

Scott, three elected Cabinet members and the 120 House members pay no more than $400 a year for health insurance. The 40 senators pay the same as most state workers, about $2,200 a year for family coverage.

The separate spending plans, released near the halfway mark of the nine-week legislative session, signal the start of detailed negotiations between the two chambers and the governor.

Passing a balanced budget in time for the July 1 start of a new fiscal year is the only action the Legislature must take.

Teachers could get even bigger raises than state workers, but lawmakers want to tie them to student performance, which clashes with Scott's $2,500 across-the-board approach. It appears increasingly likely that Scott will have to compromise on his No. 1 priority of a teacher pay raise with no strings attached.

The Senate budget matches Scott's proposal for $480 million in teacher raises, but the money must be awarded based on student scores on the FCAT and SAT tests and other measurements, and is subject to approval by all 67 county school boards.

The House budgets $676 million for teacher pay raises and its budget "strongly encourages" 50 percent of the money be handed out based on performance.

Weatherford has challenged Scott by saying that the state Constitution does not allow the Legislature to mandate teacher pay raises because they must be negotiated through unions.

"Here's the intellectually honest answer on this whole issue, which I think has been missed," Weatherford said. "When we send this money down to the school district, it is collectively bargained with the local union as to how they want to spend the resources."

The House wants to increase college and university tuition by 6 percent next year, which Scott opposes.

Scott's other priority, a $141 million tax exemption for manufacturers' equipment purchases, has gained little traction in the Capitol. Bills to eliminate the tax require approval of two-thirds of members of both chambers, but they have not moved in the Senate or House.

House Democratic leader Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, criticized the House Republican leadership's opposition to Medicaid expansion and said it was "highly doubtful" that Democrats would vote for the budget as a result.

With extra money for the first time in years, lawmakers also want to sock away reserves in a rainy-day fund.

They also found lots of money for hometown projects, including the Senate's allocation of another $2.5 million for a rowing center in Sarasota, which received $5 million this year, and $1.8 million for an industrial park in rural Mossy Head in Senate President Don Gaetz's Panhandle district.

The House budget includes $3 million for the IMG Sports Academy in Bradenton, $2 million to expand Internet access in Hernando County, $1 million for the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, $1 million for a ferry on the St. Johns River and $900,000 for a Bay of Pigs museum in Miami.

Scott vetoed $500,000 for a Bay of Pigs museum in this year's budget.

Times/Herald staff writers Tia Mitchell and Toluse Olorunnipa contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

State workers, teachers are big winners in legislative budgets 03/29/13 [Last modified: Friday, March 29, 2013 11:03pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Crist votes for measure that includes money for Trump's wall

    Blogs

    WASHINGTON – Rep. Charlie Crist was for it and against it.

  2. Tampa man arrested in fatal motel shooting

    Crime

    TAMPA — A Tampa man was arrested on a manslaughter charge Thursday in the death of Yasmine L. Tyson on Monday night.

    Christopher Lee Carithers, 37, of Tampa
  3. St. Pete's Downtown Looper expands service with $900,000 grant

    Transportation

    By DIVYA KUMAR

    Times Staff Writer

    ST. PETERSBURG ­— The Downtown Looper will expand its route and its hours starting in October 2018 thanks to a $900,000 grant from the Florida Department of Transportation.

  4. Latest sewage crisis fallout: Higher utility bills in St. Pete

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG — For months the cost of the city's sewage crisis has been measured in terms of environmental damage, legal ramifications and political repercussions.

    Now residents are about to get the bill.

    Signs at North Shore Park in St. Petersburg warn people in September 2016 to stay out of the water due to contamination from partially treated sewage during the height of the city's sewage crisis. Now the City Council is considering how much to raise utility rates to pay the $326 million bill to fix St. Petersburg's sewage system. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]
  5. Rays add a bat, too, acquiring Lucas Duda from Mets

    Blogs

    The Rays made another big move today, acquiring 1B/DH Lucas Duda from the Mets.

    Duda, 31, is a lefty slugger who will take over as the Rays primary DH against right-handers, with Corey Dickerson now playing most of the time in the outfield.

    To get Duda, the Rays gave up minor-league RHP Drew Smith, …

    The Rays acquired 1B/DH Lucas Duda from the Mets.