BRADENTON, Fla. — Florida Gov. Charlie Crist Wednesday signed into law a $66.5 billion 2010 budget that authorizes $1.4 billion of new debt.
Crist, who has line-item veto power, only cut two items from the budget and said it “contains no broad-based tax increases, no early release of inmates, and no drastic layoffs of employees.”
The governor, who has announced that next year instead of running for governor again he will enter the race for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by fellow Republican Mel Martinez, axed a planned 2% pay cut for state workers making more than $45,000 a year that would have reduced the budget by about $30 million. To avoid the pay cut, Crist asked state agencies to reduce their budgets by 2%.
Crist also struck from the budget a plan to take $6 million from a fund used to process concealed weapons permits after being heavily lobbied by the National Rifle Association and gun-rights advocates.
However, the budget includes $5.3 billion in federal stimulus funding and is based on raising $2.2 billion from higher fees and taxes, including a $1-per-pack tax increase on cigarettes and an equivalent increase in the tax on smokeless and pipe tobacco, which is expected to raise $900 million a year for Medicaid and nonprofit cancer research programs.
Floridians also face other increases, including driver’s license renewal fees that will go up to $48 from $20, vehicle registrations fees that will go up by 35%, and vehicle title fees that will more than double. College tuition will increase 8% and there will be hikes in fees charged by courts and state parks, as well as some fishing licenses.
“I’d rather not do it,” Crist said when asked about increasing fees on vehicles that people need to get to work and at a time when the auto industry is suffering. “But I’d rather not have the economy that we do.”
Most of the new fees and taxes go up when the 2010 budget takes effect July 1. The new budget also will have $1.7 billion in reserves.
The amount of new debt authorized in the 2010 budget is $748.3 million less than what was authorized this year, a decrease largely due to the recession and decline in state revenues since Florida doesn’t issue general obligation bonds.
Most of the new bonds are for traditional debt-issuing programs. New debt for public education and state environmental programs took big hits.
Bonds for public education capital outlay plummeted to $155 million in next year’s budget compared to nearly $1 billion in the current year.
No new debt was authorized for the Florida Forever environmental land purchase program, but lawmakers did include in the budget debt service for $250 million of Florida Forever bonds authorized in previous years. The budget also authorizes $55 million of new debt for Florida Everglades restoration efforts.
Some $103.4 million of new debt was authorized to continue cleaning up underground fuel tanks, which the state had done in the past on a pay-as-you-go basis.
The budget also authorizes $115.8 million of grant anticipation revenue vehicles. Garvees have been authorized in past budgets, but the state Department of Transportation has postponed the sale of that kind of debt in past years.
Lawmakers also authorized $616 million of bonds for various road and toll projects, $270.2 million for new prisons, and $110.4 million for the state infrastructure bank.