Lawmakers Skeptical of Crist’s $69.2 Billion Budget Proposal

January 29, 2010. Projection of $2 billion increase would translate to $100 million more for SUS, Proposal contrasts with state economists’ forecast for $3.2 billion overall reduction in revenues.



TALLAHASSEE – Gov. Charlie Crist proposed a state budget this morning that restores the back-to-school sales tax holiday and boosts spending on schools and the environment while cutting business taxes — priorities that lawmakers say they share but may not be able to pay for this year.

His new $69.2 billion budget plan exceeds the current year’s $66.5 billion of spending, given the $2 billion increase in revenues.

Of the overall budget increase, $2.7 billion is for Medicaid. Crist hopes Congress will extend its stimulus-level Medicaid match through the end of the next fiscal year. His proposal includes $21.5 billion in state funding for education. He also calls for a 10-day, back-to-school sales tax holiday.

Lawmakers are bracing for what appears to be another brutal budget-cutting session this spring, given the rate at which government costs are outpacing state revenues.

State analysts are estimating a 2010-11 budget shortfall as high as $3.2 billion. Among the causes: Medicaid, the state-federal program that supports the poor, sick and elderly. As the state’s unemployment and foreclosure rates have jumped dramatically over the past year, Medicaid costs have likewise skyrocketed.

Speaking this week to a group of reporters and editors, Crist said little about such cost increases, focusing instead on state revenues increasing for the first time since he took office.

Crist promised his proposed budget will be balanced, but legislative leaders are already skeptical of details Crist has released so far. Among them: spending on K-12 schools that relies on revenues resulting from a gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe.

The compact, proposed by Crist and the Seminoles in August, cannot become law without approval from the Legislature. A House committee voted unanimously this month to reject the terms well before Crist released his education budget.

Senate President Jeff Atwater said the Legislature will continue working on the compact but appeared far from convinced any agreement will be reached this session. He described the governor’s education budget as “optimistic,” given the state’s fiscal challenges.

Crist’s proposal not to lay off or cut salaries for state workers would also be “a high bar to clear” this year, Atwater said.

Other proposals the governor has announced: restoring funding for Florida Forever, the state’s popular but pricey land-conservation program, and cutting the corporate income tax on the first $1 million in profits for businesses.

Crist said one of his strategies for funding such proposals is dipping again into state reserves. That includes, he said, the Lawton Chiles Endowment Fund that supports programs for children and the elderly. Crist and lawmakers raided it to cover budget shortfalls twice in the past two years, leaving the once-$1.2 billion fund at less than $650 million.

Glance at the budget proposal

$69.2 billion total state spending, up from $66.5 billion this year

$28.4 billion for health and human services, including:

• $2.7 billion to cover increased Medicaid costs and enrollment

• $402.7 million to continue the Medically Needy program that supports low-income, chronically ill patients, including organ transplant recipients

• $50.5 million in additional funding for KidCare, the government-subsidized health insurance for children

• $25.8 million subsidies to support families adopting children in state custody

$32 billion in combined local, state and tuition funds for education, including:

• $179 increase in spending per K-12 student, for an average of $7,045 each

• $57.1 million in bonuses for nationally certified teachers, a $10.2 million increase

• $3.6 billion for state universities, a $100 million increase

• $2 billion for community colleges, a $67 million increase

$6.7 billion for transportation

$5.2 billion for public safety, including:

• $2.4 billion for prisons

• $608.4 million for juvenile justice

• $460 million for state courts

$2.1 billion for environmental programs, including:

• $50 million for Everglades restoration

• $50 million for Florida Forever

• $167.6 million for clean water supply

• $10 million for solar energy rebates

In addition, Crist is calling for:

• a corporate income tax cut valued at $57.4 million

• a 10-day, back-to-school sales tax holiday

• delaying unemployment compensation tax increases on businesses. The tax is scheduled to rise this year from $8.40 to more than $100 per employee, due to sharp rises in layoffs and unemployment.

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Medical School is a Luxury FAU Can’t Afford

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