Final Budgets Approved in Florida House and Senate

By: Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida
By: Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida


Lawmakers voted Thursday to approve budgets slicing education and health care, asking state employees to foot some of the bill for their own retirement and largely staying true to the GOP majority’s promise to avoid tax increases --- setting up budget negotiations and a potential showdown with new Gov. Rick Scott.

In the House, members voted for the spending plan along party lines, 78-39. The Senate margin was slightly more bipartisan, with almost half of the Democratic members present joining with Republicans on the 33-6 vote.

There are significant gaps to reconcile. On one key measure --- a plan to ask state employees to contribute to their own employment --- the House would require workers to kick in 3 percent of their income regardless of their earnings; the Senate plan would set different charges on different levels of income, ranging from 2 percent on the first $25,000 of pay to 6 percent on any pay above $50,000.

Other differences between the two chambers include the House’s plan to sweep $330 million from the State Transportation Trust Fund --- a seemingly annual battle with the Senate --- and an overall difference of more than $3 billion between the $66.5 billion House blueprint and the Senate’s $69.8 billion measure.

The Senate would also boost the cost of health insurance for some state employees, a proposal that Cannon voice caution about Thursday evening.

“Since I think both the House and Senate plan are fairly aggressive in changing the FRS and the pension side, we have to be very sensitive in what we do with health insurance,” he said.

Both Cannon and Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said they expected to agree on budget allocations in time for conference committees to begin meeting late next week.

The negotiations could also prove to be a test of the relationship between Scott and the Republican Legislature. Scott declined to say this week whether he would veto a spending plan that doesn’t include his tax cuts.

“I try not to think about hypotheticals,” Scott said earlier this week. “I’m very comfortable that we’ll get it in there.”

But, aside from a Senate measure reducing the property tax rates charged by water management districts, few of Scott’s proposed reductions are in either chamber’s budget, dramatically reducing the chances that they will be included in the final spending blueprint.

But after Thursday’s session, Cannon wouldn’t take the option of tax cuts off the table.

“I think it’s extremely difficult, but I wouldn’t rule it in, I wouldn’t rule it out,” he said.

The arguments Thursday followed the well-worn lines of the budget debates over the last few years, as slouching state revenues have forced lawmakers to approve tax increases or reduce spending. Democrats slammed the budget for not including new revenues raised by hiking taxes or eliminating exemptions.

“We have not found the middle ground,” said Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston. “We didn’t have to make these decisions. We could have made other decisions. We decided to cause unnecessary pain on a lot of vulnerable people in this state.”

But increased taxes, Republicans countered, would be precisely the wrong prescription as the state tries to recover from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said there was a good reason the state wasn’t getting additional tax dollars from businesses or residents.

“They don’t have it!” he proclaimed at one point during the House debate. “ . . . The last thing we need to do is to ask them for more, more than they can do. And they’re asking us, ‘Do the best you can with what you have.’”

Democrats also continued to attack the pension changes, with the House minority going so far as asking for the measure to be considered an income tax increase.

“A vote on this bill will always be remember by some, if not many, as a vote on the first income tax in our state’s history,” said Minority Leader Ron Saunders, D-Key West.

Republicans responded that the cuts were necessary, and that state employees were simply being asked to do what has become commonplace in other states and the private sector.

“We’re not balancing the budget on the backs of anyone,” said Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland. “We’re balancing the budget.”

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  • by Kay Location: Florida on Apr 9, 2011 at 01:00 PM
    If you are wanting to bust up the unions because you think they yield too much power over employers, then get rid of lobbyists, the rich-man's union, because they are ... well you know. I figured that it didn't matter if I voted or not, I was going to get screwed by whomever was in office. Scott and Obama have proven my point!
  • by Loyal state employee Location: Wakulla on Apr 9, 2011 at 05:05 AM
    I object to attacking our retirement fund when we are already under paid in jobs comparable to that of private sector. catch us up to their health benifits and salaries first then it would not be equal. what they are doing is not american dispite it being the common practice. America where are you and what have you become.
    • reply
      by me on Apr 9, 2011 at 09:53 AM in reply to Loyal state employee
      i am a state worker even paying 5%of my retirement the state will be paying 95% and my full health insurance cost,not many jobs will pay this much i make 33,000. and like my job thanks state of florida.
  • by bentansqueelin on Apr 8, 2011 at 12:02 PM
    I feel for all who will suffer the most from this lop-sided budget. For all who supported these people to pass these cuts and adversely affect all citizens,,I hope you are happy and will enjoy the suffering as well. Only the minority rich of the state will not be affected by this budget.
  • by fed up Location: florida on Apr 8, 2011 at 11:48 AM
    all state employees over 6 years cash out and bust the state
    • reply
      by :) on Apr 8, 2011 at 12:24 PM in reply to fed up
      go ahead....then we can reduce the size of govt even faster.
  • by Bunga Location: Tallahassee on Apr 8, 2011 at 11:13 AM
    Due the Math: 2% of 25k = $500 not $1250. And it is not 6% of 50k. It is 6% of more than 50k. Senate proposal: Up to 25k - 2% 25k to 50k - 4% 50k and up - 6%
    • reply
      by I did the math on Apr 8, 2011 at 02:23 PM in reply to Bunga
      I disagree with these "contributions" which are pay cuts to a group of people who are already underpaid. I think if they are going to do it anyway then it should be the same percentage for everyone. Someone making $25,000 would still pay less than someone making $50,000. Also, those making under $25,000 are more likely to be new employees, probably younger. Why should they only have to pay 2% when the older workers who have served more years have to pay more than the new people? That doesn't sound fair.
      • reply
        by Anonymous on Apr 9, 2011 at 09:34 AM in reply to I did the math
        It is not about how long you have worked for the state, it is about how much you maake. Scott has many new employees making well over 100,000, so your comment doesn't make much sense.
  • by truth Location: fl on Apr 8, 2011 at 10:48 AM
    please no state income tax they will only spend more all states that passed a income tax to pay out are again in bad shape they they all spend more.cut-cut spending don't raise taxes for them to gie away.
  • by Do the Math! on Apr 8, 2011 at 10:05 AM
    We can't afford to increase taxes in order to pay for public services, but it's ok to reduce income? A mandatory 2% of salary for someone making $25K will take $1,250 away from take home money. 6% for those making a gloriously huge $50K salary is $3,000 taken away every year. Add in the health insurance and you've just lowered wages by $3-6,000 a year! This is for people who aren't taking home wages comparable to private sector and who aren't overpaid, like the decision-making CEOs and administrators. Do we really think that that the majority of our population is better off with fewer services and an even lower salary just to save a relatively low tax increase? Or does it help to remember who is actually benefiting from low taxes in Florida? Not the common man!
    • reply
      by if on Apr 9, 2011 at 05:30 AM in reply to Do the Math!
      increase taxes or reduce income are the same you have less money our nation needs less spending not more taxes.we can't pay for what we have already spent.
  • by Anonymous on Apr 8, 2011 at 09:20 AM
    My mortgage costs more than $15K. Do you live with Oscar the Grouch in a trash can?
  • by Lip Cheese on Apr 8, 2011 at 07:50 AM
    I didn't make it past the 8th grade so I barely make 15K a year but I can still manage my personal budget, the government has all this money and educated people and they can't manage theirs? Makes me sick.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Apr 8, 2011 at 09:21 AM in reply to Lip Cheese
      You probably don't have lobbyists and other special interest groups following you around all day pulling your strings.
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