BRADENTON, Fla. — Florida Gov. Charlie Crist late Wednesday signed into law a $66 billion state budget for fiscal 2009 that authorizes the third-highest amount of bonding in a decade.
The budget, which goes into effect in less than two weeks, continues a greater reliance on debt at a time when state revenues supporting the budget continue to plummet.
The fiscal 2009 budget includes $2.17 billion of debt for various programs, including some for transportation and environmental programs that were almost cut.
The authorized amount of debt is about $164 million less than what the governor sought in his recommended budget and just over $1 billion less than the record $3.26 billion Crist approved when he signed his first state budget into law last year.
The $66 billion budget signed by Crist is $6 billion less than the current budget when it was initially approved.
The original $72 billion budget for fiscal 2008 had to be cut several times by the Legislature as revenue estimates were revised downward a number of times due to the lagging economy. Eventually, lawmakers trimmed $4 billion from the current budget by cutting and delaying implementation of some programs.
"Historic economic times such as these demand leadership, commitment, and fortitude to make tough choices," Crist said in a statement accompanying the signed budget. Crist didn't hold a press conference to answer questions about the budget or the $251.14 million he vetoed from it, although there was criticism from Florida TaxWatch about how little the governor cut from the spending plan.
Crist axed $300,000 in funding for a lake restoration project, and $840,000 for a Latin American exposition in Miami. He also killed a $250 million appropriation from Citizens Property Insurance Corp. that would have been used to support private start-up property insurance companies. The latter had been seen as a potential credit concern for Citizens, which is the largest property insurance company in Florida now.
The fiscal 2009 budget, which goes into effect July 1, does not include a pay increase for state employees except for state highway patrol troopers. It does include a 6% tuition increase at the state's public universities and community colleges and it raises some court fees. Many state agency budgets were also cut, as was state spending on public school students.
Crist's statement on the budget pointed out that it does provide additional funding of $20 million for employment and re-employment services, and $7.1 million for unemployment services, which recognizes that along with the deteriorating economy Florida's unemployment is on the rise.
The budget authorizes $2.17 billion of debt financing, some of which most likely will be sold over several years.
Those authorizations include $924.2 million of bonds for public education capital outlay, $300 million of bonds for the Florida Forever environmental land purchase program, $470.6 million of bonds for Florida Turnpike construction projects, $202.4 million for right of way acquisition and bridge construction, $50.7 million of grant anticipation revenue vehicles bonds the state's first, $101.2 million for the State Infrastructure Bank, and $125 million of bonds for new or expanded jails.