BRADENTON, Fla. — Florida Gov. Rick Scott Wednesday unveiled his 2013 budget proposal, which includes major cuts in spending and the state’s borrowing program.
Scott proposed a $66.4 billion budget that reduces spending by 4.6% from the current year, to a level not seen for nearly eight years when there were 711,000 fewer state residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The Republican governor, completing his first year in office, has often noted his aversion to borrowing.
He proposed only $217.2 million of new bond issuance for fiscal 2013, compared to $888 million of new debt that is expected to be sold by the end of fiscal 2012 fiscal on June 30.
Scott’s main policy-funding recommendations call for adding $1 billion to the public education budget.
Scott said it is his top funding goal after traveling the state and hearing Floridians complain about the lack of school funding, which has taken a hit along with revenue collections due to the recession and slower-than-anticipated recovery.
One trade-off for increased education funding would be a $2 billion cut in Medicaid insurance for the poor at a time when Florida’s unemployment rate is 10.3%.
The Medicaid cuts potentially could impact public hospitals the most since they provide the bulk of charity care and have the most Medicaid payers.
Scott said his plan would create savings by using “flat” payment reimbursement rates.
“No program has grown as fast and as much as Medicaid, and we must find a way to control the cost,” said Scott, a former private hospital executive. “If we do nothing, this program will bankrupt our state.”
In a continuation from his first budget this year, Scott wants to make deeper cuts in the taxes that businesses pay. His eventual plan is to eliminate business taxes — a move that he says will encourage job growth.
In addition to funding the $180 million normal contribution to the Florida Retirement System pension fund, Scott also is proposing to spend an additional $120 million toward the unfunded actuarial liability.
As of July 1, 2010, the $121 billion pension plan had liabilities of $137.6 billion, and a funding level of 87.9%.
Lawmakers will prepare their own budget during the session that begins in January. House Speaker Dean Cannon and Senate President Mike Haridopolos, both Republicans, supported Scott’s continued emphasis on the business community and no tax increases.
Minority Democratic leaders welcomed Scott’s desire to focus on education, though they were concerned about cuts in social, health care and security programs.
Scott focused all new borrowing in 2013 on transportation — $116 million for Florida Turnpike Enterprise projects and $101.2 million for right-of-way acquisition and bridge construction.
“Gov. Scott’s budget provides limited designated cash funding, around $60 million, for a combination [of] charter school, private school, and public school capital needs,” said Scott spokesman Lane Wright. “Beyond that, state agencies may be able to meet capital needs from cash from existing resources.”