The Florida Legislature is entering the fourth week of the 2014 legislative session and will reach the half-way point on Wednesday, March 26. During the session, WUWF is checking in with Senate President Don Gaetz (R-Niceville).
Before exploring what’s ahead, Sen. Gaetz reflects on third week highlights, which includes the Florida Senate’s budget proposal for Fiscal year 2014-2015.
“Generally speaking, the budget will be one that the Senate can pass and be proud of,” says Gaetz. The Senate Budget totals $74.9 billion, including $27.4 billion general revenue (GR) and $47.6 billion in Trust funds (TF). Reserves total $3.2 billion.
Noting accomplishments of the week, Sen. President Gaetz referenced tax relief to working Floridians in the form of a $500 million tax cut package, which includes a roll-back of nearly $400 million in vehicle registration fees.
Gaetz also touted the fact that Florida’s spending plan has been squeezed and includes less money per citizen than last year, allowing residents and business owners to keep more of their money.
Total funding for education amounts to $29.7 billion. That includes $18.7 billion in state appropriations and a local contribution of $11 billion.
“We’re gonna be able to provide unprecedented (K-12) education funding through the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) that the legislature funds,” which Gaetz says will be increased by $651 million or 3.56 percent. That’s a per-student increase of $175 or 2.58 percent.
The K-12 budget also includes an additional $30 million for high school and middle school industry certifications, $40 million for the Digital Classrooms Allocation and at least $90 million to expand the extended day program for intensive reading to 300 elementary schools.
The budget for Florida’s State University System includes $200 million in performance funding, $100 million in new funds (TF), and a $100 million re-prioritization of base funds (GR).
The Criminal and Civil Justice budget totals 4.68 billion and includes nearly 45,000 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) positions. In addition to funding the Department of Corrections, Gaetz says “We’re also are trying to provide some additional funding so that some of our courts can increase salaries a bit; so they can do repairs, maintenance, and security enhancements to ensure the infrastructure of our legal system is strong in addition to making sure that we keep bad guys locked up.”
Also, the Criminal and Civil Justice spending plan will include more money for the PACE Center for Girls, as well as the Guardian Ad Litem program.
Senate President Gaetz also finds it significant that the Senate Budget sets aside $3.2 billion in Reserves. He says with such a set-aside by previous state leaders, Florida was able to weather the ‘Great Recession’ without having to close the doors to a lot of schools and hospitals.
Looking ahead to the work of this week number four of the legislative session, Gaetz says appropriations issues will take center stage. The budgets will go before the full Appropriations Committee for a full public meeting, discussion and debate. Among his priorities: a substantial increase in funding for the state’s child welfare system and an increase in funding for K-12 education.