May 2, 2011

Florida Budget Closer To Final Vote

by Bill Cotterell: TALLAHASSEE — Property taxes would be cut $210 million, prison operations in South Florida would be privatized and state employees would avoid any increases in health insurance premiums next year, under budget agreements . . . by House and Senate negotiators . . . in the $67 billion-plus budget compromise.

Without discussion or debate, negotiators also agreed tonight on budget language that seeks to forbid use of government employee union dues for political purposes. . . . The state budget is subject to an up-or-down vote late this week, without amendment by either chamber. That means the “dues checkoff” language can’t be taken out, if the final House-Senate budget deal includes it. . . .

Prison privatization had been previously agreed to in concept and negotiators today approved language allowing DOC to bid the prison contracts individually or in groups, or for the whole 18-county region, subject to review by the Legislative Budget Commission.

“We’re doing the right things for Floridians,” Gov. Rick Scott, in Washington for the weekend, said in an appearance on FOX News. “Right now, my focus is we’ve got five days left in the session to reduce taxes. We’re going to reduce business taxes and reduce property taxes.”

Legislators have spurned the new governor’s call for $2 billion in tax cuts over two years, including a cut from 5.5 percent to 3 percent in the corporate-income tax. Republican legislators have approved a three-day sales-tax holiday for back-to-school shopping, and increased Scott’s initial $178 million reduction in water-management district taxes to $210.5 million.

Pending budget agreements call for an 8 percent tuition increase and universities are also expected to seek an optional 7 percent from the Board of Governors. . . . Budget negotiators also agreed to make public-employee members of the Florida Retirement System contribute 3 percent of salary to the pension fund, which is now entirely funded by employers. . . . No state employee pay raises have ever been in the mix, . . . Scott proposed a $5,000 cap on per-employee state subsidy of health insurance and, without plugging in numbers, the budget negotiators got started on that Sunday night. . . . [Full Story]

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