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Year of the Pay Raise? Gaetz backs raises for teachers, state workers

A brightening budget picture could mean salary hikes for tens of thousands of teachers and state employees if Senate President Don Gaetz gets his way.

“I think that teachers are some govenment workers who deserve to have better compensation,” Gaetz, R-Niceville, said. “But I know corrections officers, I know highway patrolmen…. who deserve a raise. And six years is a long time to wait.”

Gov. Rick Scott has announced support for across-the-board pay hikes for Florida teachers, but the hard part will be making the numbers work in an uncertain budgeting environment.

Gaetz said he was not familiar with the details of Scott’s teacher pay raise, but pointed out a still-tight budget may force Scott to “reduce funding for some of his other priorities in order to fund this most recent priority.”

That could mean Scott’s push for lower business taxes and more cash for economic incentives could be tempered by the plan to provide teachers raises.

Early estimates of the pay raise come in at about $480 million, Scott said.

Gaetz said he’s in favor performance-based approaches to the pay raises, which would be determined by local school boards.

“My preference always has been to provide local school boards with more funding than they can use based on plans they develop locally to recognize and reward effective teaching,” he said.

Gaetz also spoke out in support of pay raises for state employees, who have gone six years without one. That could also come with a hefty price tag, even as the state’s budget could be hit hard by the so-called sequester, a slew of federal spending cuts set to take place in March. A recently filed bill would give 7-percent pay raises to state workers, potentially costing billions of dollars over the next few years.

Gaetz said the Senate is planning to pare down some less-productive programs and shift funding to higher priorities, including better compensation for teachers and, possibly, state workers.

“Everything’s a trade-off,” Gaetz said, pointing out that Scott may need to scale back other priorities to make the pay-raise numbers work. “There’s very little new money and even that is presumptive, based on what may happen in Congress.”