Scott Unveils Budget Filled With Deep Cuts and Major Change

By: John Kennedy, The News Service of Florida
By: John Kennedy, The News Service of Florida


Gov. Rick Scott unveiled his first budget Monday as Florida’s chief executive – a $65.9 billion blueprint that cuts $4.6 billion in state spending, trims 8,681 jobs across state agencies, and sets the state on course for even more reductions next year.

Scott went to the Lake County city of Eustis to tout the proposal at a rally with 1,000 Tea Party activists who steadily cheered his belt-tightening message, and appeared ready to be marshaled as a grassroots army to help the governor get his plan through a so-far lukewarm Legislature.

Scott said his proposal also leaves room for $2 billion in tax cuts – part of his central campaign theme. The new governor – who ran and won last November on an outsider’s theme – departed with tradition both by laying out his budget 200 miles from the state Capitol, but also by outlining a two-year spending plan.

His budget proposal for 2012-13 shrinks state spending even more – to $63.3 billion. Spread throughout the proposal are performance goals with outcomes expected to be achieved by specific line-item spending.

“Let’s start with the obvious,” Scott said to cheers from Tea Party leaders gathered at the First Baptist Church in Eustis. “We can’t spend more than we take in.”


Gov. Rick Scott speaks Monday about his proposed budget and takes a few questions from reporters. Scott sent his $65.8 billion budget proposal to lawmakers on Monday outlining about $5 billion in cuts, and held a rally earlier in the day in Eustis. Later in the day he returned to Tallahassee and spoke with reporters about the plan.


With the state facing a budget shortfall of at least $3.6 billion, Scott is proposing deep reductions in many agencies, with some of the heaviest scalpeling used on those whose workers and allies formed a political base for gubernatorial rival Alex Sink.

The Corrections Department would absorb an $82.4 million cut and lose 1,690 jobs – or more than 5 percent of its workforce. The Police Benevolent Association union which represents most correctional officers, campaigned heavily against Scott last fall, warning he would cut so many prison jobs it would put people in danger.

The state’s Education Department budget is reduced $3.3 billion, the largest single reduction in Scott’s proposal. While education also is the largest item of state spending overall, the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, also was a vocal opponent of Scott, campaigning for the Democratic nominee.

Returning to the Capitol following the Tea Party event, Scott said he wasn’t proposing to cut state financing to public schools, that the budget merely reflected the loss of federal dollars.

While per student spending is slated to be $6,600, a $298 reduction from this year’s level after retirement savings are factored in, Scott attributed that drop to the loss of $872 million in federal stimulus money that went to K-12 education, money Scott said the state shouldn’t have relied on in the first place.

Scott did propose to earmark $8.6 billion for “The Education Choice Fund,” aimed at expanding charter school, virtual-school and other “choice” options for elementary and high school students.

Scott has included in his budget a plan to make the 655,000 public employees – mostly school board members – contribute 5 percent of their paychecks for remaining in the Florida Retirement System, the government pension plan. Scott has said those contributions will save taxpayers $2.8 billion over the next two years.

Some of Scott’s centerpiece campaign promises – cutting property-taxes and the state’s corporate-income tax levy – came up smaller than earlier billed.

Combined, the first-year reductions were just below $1 billion for these two tax cuts – about half of his campaign pledge.

Scott did, however, manage to actually exceed the $2 billion in promised tax reductions by adding $301.4 million in unemployment compensation tax cuts, $177.8 million in water management district property-tax reductions, achieved by 25 percent rollbacks the next two years, and a $235.7 million reduction in highway safety fees approved by lawmakers in 2009.


Scott’s budget proposal also includes other cost-cutting measures that, if history is a guide, are certain to prove controversial with state lawmakers. Among them:

-Privatizing the state’s three mental health hospitals in Chattahoochee, Macclenny and Gainesville, savings also gained by eliminating the state workforce;

-Closing two prisons – a move Scott said was made easier by the state having 8,000 excess prison beds in the system;

-Saving close to $1 billion by limiting the state’s Medically Needy program to pregnant women and children, barring thousands of transplant patients and those with catastrophic illnesses from participating in the program;

-Cutting $1 billion from the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration, by imposing 5 percent cuts in state payments to hospitals, nursing homes and other health-care facilities, and eliminating annual cost of health care increases;

-Setting in motion plans to steer Florida’s more than 2.7 million Medicaid patients into managed care programs, setting the stage for $1.2 billion in savings in 2012-13;
-Revamping health insurance coverage for state workers, increasing payments for Florida’s select exempt employees such as legislative staff and lawmakers, and senior managers. Scott also would cap employee health coverage at $5,000 annually;

-More than double the size of spending on Scott’s own office – bringing its budget to more than $638,000, as the governor takes on a greater role as a business recruiter for Florida. A newly created economic development agency would come under Scott’s control, while he also wants sole authority over tax- and financial incentives that currently must be approved by the Legislative Budget Commission.

Although Scott’s budget proposal sets the stage for flashpoints with lawmakers, for now, legislative leaders were spare in their praise. Indeed, reaction around the state was generally muted, in part, because Scott’s budget plan was largely available only on a website that was down most of the day, apparently because of overuse.

“The first and highest priorities of the Florida House are to cut government spending and not raise taxes,” said House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park. “I am grateful that Gov. Scott shares these goals.”

Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said, “The Senate is dedicated to working with the governor to provide a balanced budget with no new taxes. The best way to improve the business environment in Florida is to keep taxes low and live within our means. We will do that.”

Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich of Weston, however, derided the tax-cuts and spending reductions coursing through Scott’s proposal. She said the Republican governor’s approach could threaten the state’s economic turnaround.

“The retreaded voodoo economics we heard today will not right this ship,” Rich said. “But it will drill more holes in our already badly damaged public education. It will further eliminate the life rafts hundreds of thousands of Floridians have had to turn to for basic survival.”

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  • by Wes Location: Tally on Feb 11, 2011 at 05:07 AM
    Airborne, you sound like the biggest baby I have ever heard. Maybe they will come up with a new reality show called "Adult Big Baby".....You could be the star of the show. You clearly don't like FHP either. What's wrong baby, they wrote a ticket??
  • by airborne on Feb 9, 2011 at 01:41 PM
    Yep the waste goes on. Driving up Thomasville Highway today watching the numerous city employees blowing dirt off the sidewalk. Slash and burn Governor Scott! Slash and burn!
  • by Maeve Location: Tallahassee on Feb 9, 2011 at 06:31 AM
    Can anyone explain how he plans to cap out the annual spending for state employees' health insurance at $5000? I'd like to see some facts on that one! Does anyone know where I can find out more about that particular issue?
  • by Waiting Location: Tally on Feb 9, 2011 at 05:40 AM
    If you want to cut waste, why not dig, find out where the truth and waste is and start with top heavy management, administrators, directors. A DOT Asst. Secretary who for the last 2-3 YEARS has lived in South Fla. commutes to Tally on Monday utilizes a state vehicle, state gas, lives in a hotel in Tally during the week on your tax dollars and then goes home on Thursday! Check the paper trail. Look for real waste before laying off hard working, low paid employees who work circles around "management" then they get treated like second hand citizens. Wake Up! If you work in state government you've taken on a least two jobs since the last governor, with no pay yet Mr. Scott wants to lay you off, cut your salary, cut benefits! Who, Mr. Scott, do you think will do the work once you've laid off the workforce? The day to day work still has to be done and you and your so called political group don't have a CLUE.
  • by airborne on Feb 8, 2011 at 09:09 PM
    Sweet! Slash and burn! Slash and burn! I have never seen such horrific levels of incompetence as I have in this state's government. Various agencies have cost me tens of thousands of dollars from either fraud or incompetence. I really liked it when a state employee come into my office and said "I don't have to pay anything, I work for the Department of ....." Slash and burn Governor Scott! Slash and burn! PS. Does the Florida Highway Patrol really need their very own spokesperson? I don't think so.
  • by tally will suffer Location: t town on Feb 8, 2011 at 05:20 PM
    all in tally will suffer, believe it !
  • by Chris Location: Tallahassee on Feb 8, 2011 at 04:05 PM
    As a former victim of DBPR, I can tell you DBPR alone is responsible for so much waste of tax payer money along with a huge chunk of blame in running off businesses. The Div. of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco alone is no longer an agency worth nothing more than glorified inspectors carrying guns and for what? They file administrative cases that costs thousands of tax payer dollars to process only to recover a few hundred dollars in fines; 1k at most. The corruption and politics at ABT are borderline criminal in nature if not altogether. Get rid of ABT or downsize ABT immensely and right off the top you save millions. A business person today can't get a fair shake with the over regulation and nonsense that goes on at the state and local level. You want to get over on ABT and the over regulation at the state, purchase a caterers license and run a bar out of a banquet hall. Save the hundred thousands and aggravation and exploit the loop hole these idiots refuse to close.
  • by disbeliever Location: state of shock on Feb 8, 2011 at 03:50 PM
    Scott also would cap employee health coverage at $5,000 annually. How can he do that? One night in the hospital after a wreck racked up a hospital bill of over $20,000. With today health care cost that is at best unrealistic.
  • by Ricky Bobby Location: My Mansion Looking down on the serfs on Feb 8, 2011 at 03:10 PM
    To Anonymous on Feb 8, 2011 at 03:17 PM: Since you are so willing to sacrifice yourself "for the betterment of our great state" to Lord Ricky, please forward your resignation letter to me here: Next time, just use your name in the post. It will save you the trouble of emailing us.
  • by Kevin aka Reality Location: Monticello on Feb 8, 2011 at 02:19 PM
    Hey smart guy Mr. Scott , California type cuts and Business Tax reduction doesnt work. Look out West. If you cut Unemployment ...without putting folks back to work , then what INCREASE Welfare spending? Boy are you dumb!
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