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Gov. Scott signs record $77B budget for new school year

Miami Times staff report | 6/12/2014, 9 a.m.

Gov. Rick Scott signed the largest budget in Florida history, approving $77 billion Monday that would boost spending on schools and the environment while sparing hundreds of millions in local projects from his veto pen.

Scott praised the new 2014-15 budget, highlighting the $500 million in fee and tax cuts and more money for schools despite $1.2 billion in new revenue to the state.

There were about $69 million in cuts as Scott approved money for parks, museums, festivals, elderly meals programs, water and sewer projects, and a gun range for police officers.

Even projects Scott vetoed last year won his support this time, such as $15 million for a coast-to-coast bicycle trail in Central Florida.

The governor rejected $1.625 million for Agenda 2020‘s anti-poverty plan, which was supported by St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman; $1 million of $4 million requested for a Nature Coast tourist center in Hernando County; $500,000 for the Largo Cultural Center; $100,000 for the YMCA’s Tech Smart Tampa Bay; and $50,000 for a Tampa Bay baseball museum at the home of Hall of Famer Al Lopez.

Eddy Gonzalez, R-Hialeah, said Scott’s support for local priorities is a sign he’s becoming a better listener.

The bottom-line number for K-12 schools of $20.7 billion is the largest in history, but per-pupil spending is still $177 less than during the high-water mark of 2007-2008, the first year of former Gov. Crist, Scott’s likely opponent this fall.

In addition, about two-thirds of the increase in K-12 spending is paid for by local property taxes, due to increases in home values — one of several indicators of a rejuvenated Florida economy.

Democrats cited the fact that in his first year in office, Scott pushed for a $1.3 billion cut in public school spending, that he signed a second-year budget with $300 million in cuts to state universities and that the Bright Futures scholarship program serves fewer students today than it did seven years ago.

The budget includes $18 million for the state to hire and train 270 additional front-line workers to reduce the case loads of employees at the Department of Children and Families who investigate child abuse and neglect.

The budget, which takes effect July 1, contains no automatic statewide increase in tuition for universities and community colleges, which was a top Scott priority. Most state workers will not get an across-the-board pay raise, but they will be eligible for performance bonuses.

The budget sets aside $3 billion in rainy-day unspent reserves for emergencies such as hurricanes.