April 24, 2014

Performance funding for state universities among unresolved budget issues

UPDATE: A spokesman for House Speaker Will Weatherford said the House proposal for performance funding found in HB 5105 is effectively dead after failing to pass its final committee. The House will not waive rules to resurrect the proposal, even though it started out on solid ground as a bill introduced by the Higher Education and Workforce Subcommittee.

Instead, the House inserted language in its version of the budget that is very similar to the Senate proposal and embraces the Board of Governors' performance funding criteria.

As it stands, the main disagreement between the two chambers is how much the lowest-performance schools would lose. The House would only require a 1 percent cut in base formula. The Senate wants a 3.7 percent reduction.

The two chambers agree to put $200 million into performance funding, including $100 million in new funding that would be divided by the top-performing schools. There is also an additional $5 million each for the two pre-eminent institutions: Florida State University and University of Florida.

ORIGINAL POST: Efforts to finalize the education portion of the state budget stalled Wednesday night when House negotiators rejected a pivotal Senate deal. Sen. Bill Galvano, the Senate’s education budget chief, responded by putting negotiations essentially back at square one and negating almost 48-hours of work.

But even before that meltdown occurred, there were key disagreements on several higher education spending issues.

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April 23, 2014

Lawmakers agree to delay controversial hospital funding model


Specifics still need to be ironed out, but hospitals across Florida are already celebrating the news that a controversial funding model will not be implemented as planned this year.

The so-called "tiering" law would have required counties that use local dollars to draw down more federal money for hospitals to begin sharing that money statewide. Jackson Health System in Miami was bracing for a $140 million hit as a result of the new law. Tampa General Hospital said its loss would have been $43 million. Miami Children’s Hospital and All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg estimated they would collectively see funding cut $17.6 million.

The Legislature's two health care budget chiefs -- Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, and Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring-- agreed this morning that the law should be delayed at least for a year. That gives the state time to complete a study of its existing Medicaid funding mechanisms and come up with recommendations, as required by the federal government.

"We don’t know what happens next year so the best thing to do is maintain the status quo," Grimsley said. "When we come back in session next year, we will then have a better idea of what direction we need to go."

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April 21, 2014

Legislature decides to stay out of juvenile justice funding spat


Counties had hoped a last-minute budget deal would end their lengthy battle with state over juvenile justice costs. But the House and the Senate have not added the topic to their growing budget negotiations list, and time is running out.

"Lights are dimming on that issue quickly," said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, the Senate's criminal justice budget chief.

The funding dispute affects 38 counties that are expected to pay a portion of the costs of incarcerating youths before they are sentenced. These counties say the Department of Juvenile Justice erroneously billed them $140 million in recent years, and half of them filed legal challenges.

The Florida Association of Counties had hoped lawmakers would agree on a new billing formula that would also reimburse counties for past overpayments. Since that doesn't seem to be happening, Gov. Rick Scott's billing plan will be implemented.

Under that plan, counties will be expected to pay for about 57 percent of juvenile detention costs and receive no back payments. Counties had considered this option their worst-case scenario, and it also means the litigation and disputes about past billings will continue.

Budget negotiations have begun


 The House and Senate have agreed on overall budget figures and negotiations began tonight with remarks from Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford. Smaller budget conference subcommittees are now negotiating on various aspects of the budget.

Weatherford said the relatively short window -- the Legislature is coming off a weeklong holiday break and has only two weeks to finalize the budget  -- means contentious issues will be "bumped" to the next level of review sooner, Wednesday at the latest.

In order for lawmakers to vote on the budget on the scheduled final day of session, May 2, the document needs to be finalized by April 29 to trigger the required 72-hour "cooling off" period in enough time.

Click here for the list of House budget conference members.

Click here for the list of Senate budget conference members.

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April 04, 2014

FAMU leaders say Thrasher mischaracterized their position on FSU split


The Senate agreed to spend $13 million in state funding to help Florida State University begin creating its own engineering school separate from Florida A&M University largely based on the testimony of Sen. John Thrasher. The St. Augustine Republican is an FSU alum and is rumored to have an interest in becoming the university's next president. But he also one of the lions of the Legislature and his opinion carries lots of sway in Tallahassee.

But was Thrasher wrong when he said FAMU's new President Elmira Mangum had agreed to begin working with FSU's interim President Garnett Stokes to map out a plan for splitting the two schools' joint College of Engineering? A spokeswoman for Mangum says, "Yes."

"There was no such agreement," said Alonda Thomas, FAMU's communications director, in an email to the Times/Herald. "Dr. Mangum and Dr. Stokes agreed that they need to review the current amendment to understand its impact on FAMU if it should be approved. They agreed that the process is not collegial and that it is not the process in which collaboration is conducted."

Thomas said there was no agreement to begin drafting a "memorandum of understanding" about how the split would occur. Confronted with the conflicting information after the Senate adjourned Thursday night, Thrasher said his comments were based on what Stokes told him after she met with Mangum Thursday morning.

But there are more discrepancies. Larry Robinson, whose tenure as FAMU's interim president ended when Mangum took office Tuesday, said Thrasher also mischaracterized conversations he had with former FSU President Eric Barron. Barron's last day was Wednesday; he becomes president of Pennsylvania State University next month.

Robinson said he and Barron had informal conversations about the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, but he never agreed that a split was the right course of action. Thrasher said during Thursday's debate that the two presidents had spoken about the plan and gave the impression they were on board.

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April 03, 2014

Negron dials back plan to limit community college bachelor degrees


Sen. Joe Negron has agreed to a compromise with the state's community colleges that will create a one-year moratorium on new bachelor's degrees instead of a new law that would have led to permanent restrictions.

Negron, the Senate's budget chief, had initially proposed a requirement that the Legislature approve new four-year degrees at state colleges instead of the Board of Education. He also removed $3.4 million in funding from the 24 colleges that currently offer bachelor's degrees and redistributed the money to the two pre-eminent universities, Florida State University and University of Florida.

That plan, which was never in the House version of the budget, is now off the table after Negron heard from college system leaders. The funding has been restored in the Senate's budget and Negron said the moratorium will give educators and lawmakers time to address so-called "mission creep" and duplication of programs at state colleges and universities.

"Right now, I think that the way the bacclaureate programs have exploded at our state colleges is not what the Legislature had intended," Negron, R-Stuart said.

Negron said he initial proposed the limits and reduced funding to reduce duplication between two- and four-year colleges. But he is also behind a separate budget proposal to split the joint FSU-FAMU College of Engineering and create two duplicate programs in the same city.

Senate approves funding to split FAMU-FSU engineering school


Amid conflicting reports about where Florida A&M University stands on the issue, the Senate agreed to fund a proposal to create a new, separate engineering school at Florida State University.

Sen. Arthenia Joyner, a FAMU alumna who spoke passionately against the measure, later said she would support the larger budget that contains the FSU funding because of promises made by Sen. John Thrasher during debate.

He reported that FAMU's brand new president -- Elmira Mangum has been on the job two days -- met with FSU interim president Garnett Stokes this morning and agreed to iron out a "memorandum of understanding" determining how the break would occur. The Legislature would abide by whatever that memo contains, Thrasher said.

Earlier, Joyner had opposed Thrasher's amendment to increase FSU's funding for a new engineering school from $10 million to $13 million. That amendment passed on a voice vote. Even with that money included in the budget, Joyner, a Tampa Democrat, voted "yes."

"I'm going to support this budget today, but I'll be here until the end, God willing," Joyner said. "If things work differently, then action in the future will be different. But today I'm going with it based on the word of two gentlemen whom I respect."

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March 24, 2014

Plenty of ‘turkey’ projects in state’s $75 billion budget

.@mikevansickler @kmcgrory

The drawings of a gleaming 1,000-foot-tall observation tower planned for downtown Miami are eye-catching.

Resembling a badly bent nail clipper, SkyRise Miami would be part event space, part amusement park with a flight-simulation ride and bungee jump.

Also eye-catching: $10 million.

That is what the Florida House is proposing to spend on the project next year, according to a budget proposal released last week.

Other big ticket items in the proposed budgets of either the Senate or the House: $15 million for the 200-mile Coast-to-Coast Connector, a bicycle and pedestrian path that links St. Petersburg and Titusville; $4 million for the Clearwater Marine Aquarium; and $1 million for infrastructure in the Miami Design District.

During the Great Recession, budget deficits and tea party protests meant pork barrel spending gave way to austerity. But now it’s an election year and legislators are looking at a projected $1.2 billion surplus in what is expected to be a total budget of around $75 billion. So lawmakers are scrambling to haul in projects to benefit their districts.

“I must have 30 pounds of member requests, stacks and stacks of them, in my office,” said Ed Hooper, the Clearwater Republican who chairs the House appropriations committee on transportation and economic development. “It was easier to do budgets when we had no money. Now that there’s this perceived surplus, there’s four to five years of pent-up demand.”

Read more here.

March 19, 2014

Senate education spending plan gets bi-partisan love

Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Bill Galvano unveiled his plan for funding education Tuesday.

Galvano wants to spend about $6,955 per student, an increase of 2.58 percent over last year.

His proposed budget increases the spending on public schools by $651 million. It sets aside $40 million for digital learning initiative, equipment and training; and $30 million to encourage schools to develop industry certification programs.

The proposal also pumps $100 million in new funds into the State University System performance funding, and $15 million in new funds into performance funding for the college system. And it increases the funding for Bright Futures Scholarships by $25 million, or 9.4 percent over last year.

The education budgets being considered in the Senate and the House are similar, though the lower chamber's proposal adds about $60 million more into the K-12 budget. The Senate has more of a focus on capital spending, Galvano said.

Galvano's preliminary plan got some bi-partisan love Wednesday.

Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, called the pitch a "historic education budget."

"It reflects a growing understanding that education truly is our number one priority," he said.

Said Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach: "What a difference money makes."

Democrats also praised the proposal.

"It is nice to have money," Sen. Maria Lorts Sachs, D-Delray Beach, told Galvano. "You have allocated it in a very fair way."

January 29, 2014

Scott and Crist use budget rollout to snipe at each others' records

Florida’s race for governor hit full throttle Wednesday as Gov. Rick Scott seeded his budget announcement with attacks on his opponent and predecessor Charlie Crist, while the former governor used the event to bash Scott’s policies and ethics.

Speaking to reporters and editors at the annual legislative planning meeting sponsored by the Associated Press, Crist lashed into Scott’s past at a fraud-riddled hospital chain, blasted his previous budgets for cutting education spending and accused him of reversing course because an election is approaching.

“He’s trying to make up for it in an election year transformation, but the people of Florida are smart,” Crist said. “I don’t believe Florida is going to get fooled a second time.”

It was an unusual ending to what is a traditionally tame budget rollout as the two men compete in what is expected to be one of the most bitterly fought races for governor in decades.

Scott was the first to start swinging. The Republican governor announced his $74.2 billion budget plan early Wednesday, then declared that his fiscal record “represents a sharp contrast to the four budgets before we took office.” Story here.