BRADENTON, Fla. – Florida legislators took advantage of a thawing economy and passed the state’s largest budget ever, even without including measures to help pay for improvements to the Miami Dolphins’ football stadium.
Lawmakers passed a $74.5 billion fiscal 2014 budget on Friday that represents a 6% increase over the current year’s plan, thanks to the first major revenue increase since 2008. Revenue growth in the state, which has no income tax, had been stymied by the economic slowdown.
The only bond financing authorized in the budget was for transportation, according to budget writers who on Monday were preparing documents for Gov. Rick Scott to review.
While the total amount of bonds approved by legislators was unavailable, Scott had recommended $730 million in his spending plan.
The budget increases spending on such priorities as education and salary hikes. It also contains funding for lawmakers’ pet projects around the state, including $5 million for a rowing facility in Sarasota and $1 million for a Bay of Pigs Museum in Miami.
The budget is subject to line-item veto by Scott, who has only said that he will go through the budget to make “sure we don’t waste any dollars.”
The budget did not include a state tax break to help support the Dolphins’ $400 million of stadium upgrades nor passage of a bill that would have allowed Miami-Dade County to increase its tourist tax to assist in the improvements, subject to a binding, local referendum that was already under way.
The team had planned to leverage both taxes with bonds to support the stadium project.
Shortly after the legislative session ended on Friday, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez cancelled the remainder of early referendum voting and the May 14 election. Of the $4.8 million paid by the Dolphins for election costs, Gimenez said more than $1 million remained unspent and would be used for “other county needs.”
Dolphins’ chief executive officer Mike Dee told local news outlets over the weekend that the team, which had pledged to pay just over half of the cost for the stadium improvements, would not move forward with the upgrades without public financing.
Stephen Ross, owner of the Dolphins, blamed House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, for failing to move the bill authorizing the tax rebate and tourist tax increase to the House floor for a vote. The bill passed the Senate April 29 on a vote of 35-to-4.
Weatherford, who did not address the Dolphins issue following the end of session, said the Florida Legislature passed a “fiscally responsible, balanced budget that funds key priorities without increasing the burden of government on Floridians and responsibly prepares for potential future economic uncertainty.”
The 2014 budget calls for an increase of $1.5 billion in new K-12 education funding, which includes pay raises for teachers and additional funding for merit pay. The budget also provides pay raises for state and university employees, and includes $2.8 billion in reserves. No taxes or fees were increased.
In addition to the Dolphins, lawmakers turned down funding requests from Orlando to fund a Major League Soccer venue, the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars for stadium improvements, and Daytona International Speedway for race track improvements.
The only pro-sports winner approved in the budget was $3.3 million in annual funding for Major League Baseball’s spring training stadium improvements.
In other action during the 60-day session, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 534 setting standardized pension accounting and reporting requirements for local governments that do not participate in the state retirement system.