BRADENTON, Fla. — Florida Gov. Rick Scott Tuesday signed into law a $70 billion budget for fiscal 2013, lauding the fact that it contains $1 billion more for K-12 education while bridging a $1 billion funding gap.
“Education is the key to Florida’s long-term prosperity, so we had to find a way to pass the critical increase in education funding in the budget,” Scott said.
K-12 education is the second-largest item in the budget, at $12.8 billion. Though it is a 12.2% increase, lawmakers last year cut $1.35 billion from education.
The Republican governor vetoed $142.7 million of spending for various projects and placed the cash into reserves, which brought the general fund account to more than $1 billion.
With available reserves from various trust funds, the state has more than $2 billion as a safety net for unanticipated costs.
Scott’s action on the budget that takes effect July 1 is in stark contrast to last year, when he vetoed a record $615 million for various projects, including $168 million for capital projects that would have been accomplished through the sale of bonds.
Instead of criticizing the use of bond financing as he did during the approval of his first budget, Scott said in his veto letter Tuesday that the state paid down $500 million of debt last year for the first time in 20 years.
He also said that before he became governor, state debt increased annually by more than $1 billion.
This year, Scott left intact $250 million of bonds approved by the Legislature — $100 million of lottery revenue bonds for education, $100 million for right-of-way acquisition, and $50 million for partial funding of a sewer system in the environmentally sensitive Florida Keys.
The budget contained no tax increases, though it authorized state universities to increase tuition by 5%.
It eliminates 4,355 positions, provides businesses with tax relief for a second year, and continues the Republican-led Legislature’s effort to streamline and eliminate government regulations.
Though Scott vetoed many individual projects funded in last-minute negotiations by lawmakers, his budget action generally met with approval by legislative leaders.
“By holding the line on taxes in the face of a significant shortfall and taking the steps needed to preserve our [triple-A] bond rating, we are reaffirming our shared commitment to fostering a stable and reliable business climate ripe for private-sector job creation,” said House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park.
“This budget funds Florida’s most important priorities while also recognizing the need to allow businesses to do what they do best when government gets out of the way — create jobs and opportunities for Floridians to find work,” said Rep. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.