Florida Gov. Scott Proposes Nearly $77 Billion Budget

Flush with a significant budget surplus, Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday called on legislators to slash taxes, boost spending on schools, while also spending more on the state's troubled prisons system.

Many of the key recommendations in Scott's nearly $77 billion proposal had been released over the last few weeks - and reflected much of what the Republican promised during his hard-fought bitter re-election campaign.

Scott, however, put a point of emphasis on his call for another substantial round of tax cuts, which would total nearly $700 million when fully put into place. They include a cut in taxes charged on cellphones and cable television bills as well as exempting college textbooks from state and local sales taxes. He also wants to have a three-day sales tax holiday right before school starts this fall.

"After four years I have learned that there's a great temptation in government to think you can spend people's money better they can but we all know that's not true," Scott said during the annual legislative planning day organized by The Associated Press. "People know best how to spend their own money."

Scott's budget also relies on rising property values - which trigger higher taxes - for increased money for public schools and calls for increasing per-student funding to $7,176.

State lawmakers will use Scott's recommendations as a framework for a final budget.

The Florida Legislature has a roughly $1 billion budget windfall to work with even after it pays for increased school enrollment and sets aside money for reserves.

But there are already signs of some fault lines dividing GOP legislative leaders and Scott. House and Senate leaders said that while they support tax cuts they did not endorse the size and type of cuts proposed by Scott.

"We want it to be broad based," said Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando.

Scott's budget does not call for the expansion of Florida's Medicaid program. The governor two years ago supported the idea of expanding eligibility of the health care safety net program in order to draw down billions in federal aid available under the health care overhaul pushed by President Barack Obama.

Medicaid expansion, however, has been staunchly opposed by Republicans in the Florida House. Despite his previous endorsement, Scott said Wednesday he had no plans to push for it this year.

Four years ago, Scott called for cutting the state's prison system by roughly a third. But amid an ongoing scandal surrounding the suspicious deaths of prison inmates, Scott is now backing a $51.2 million increase for the Department of Corrections. The extra money would be used to hire additional corrections officers, while spending $15 million to upgrade several prisons.

The governor did not go along with a recommendation from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to set aside millions to help with an ongoing investigation into inmate deaths.

Other key elements of Scott's proposed budget include:

_ No pay raises for state workers. Scott also wants to top state officials to pay the same for health insurance as rank-and-file state workers. Legislators have rejected this proposal previously.

_ No tuition hikes for college and university students.

_ The elimination of more than 1,300 jobs in state government, many of them from county health departments. The Scott administration maintained that many of the jobs were vacant.

_ Money for springs restoration, Everglades restoration and the acquisition of environmentally-sensitive lands.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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