October 30, 2015

Public safety agencies want more funding for workers, salaries, infrastructure



Representatives from 11 state agencies and organizations charged with ensuring public safety in Florida seem to agree: Efficient government is good, but after years of cuts, many of their agencies are strapped for cash in critical areas.

There's either too few employees or they're too underpaid, sometimes both. And aging facilities, vehicles and thousands of state-owned buildings across Florida are in need of repair, renovation or replacement.

The agency's budget requests -- including prioritized requests for more funding -- were outlined during presentations this morning to Republican Gov. Rick Scott's budget and policy staff. (Several sessions of budget presentations are being held today on other topic areas, including general government and education.)

Parity in pay was a common explanation for why several agencies, ranging from the Department of Corrections and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to associations representing state attorneys and public offenders, are asking for extra money in the 2016-17 state budget toward employees' salaries.

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January 23, 2015

Scott's proposed budget will include more money for people with disabilities

Another day, another budget recommendation.

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday unveiled new additional of his budget proposal, including $8 million to enroll all individuals "with critical needs" from the waiting list to the Developmental Disabilities Medicaid Waiver Program.

"I am pleased to announce that for the second year in a row, Floridians will be removed from the critical needs waiting list with our proposed funding," he said in a statement.

Scott is also prioritizing the Personal Learning Scholarship Account program. The program provides scholarships worth $10,000 or more to children with profound special needs. The money can be applied toward private school tuition, tutoring, educational materials and therapy.

The governor's proposed budget will include an additional $5 million for the program.

"Every individual should have the opportunity to get a great job and education regardless of the challenges they may face, and that is why we are making this funding a priority," Scott said.

He is expected to release his entire budget proposal next week.

June 02, 2014

Gov. Rick Scott expected to sign budget today


Florida Gov. Rick Scott today is expected to sign into law the largest budget in state history, a $77 billion spending plan crafted to enhance his re-election prospects, as well as the Republican legislators who crafted it.

For the first time in six years, Scott and legislators had more money to spend because of the steady improvement in Florida’s economy.

Lawmakers spent more money on child welfare and to reduce water pollution, but they also packed the budget with hundreds of line-item spending projects for museums, parks, water systems, even a gun range for police training.

The budget includes $18.9 billion for public schools, or $6,949 per pupil, an increase of $176 per pupil. That’s the most money ever, but still falls $177 per-student below the record of $7,126 per student in 2007-2008, the first year Charlie Crist was governor.

Crist had called on Scott to veto hundreds of millions of dollars in pet projects for lawmakers’ districts and plow all of it into the public schools.

Watch for news here.

April 29, 2014

Budget language on engineering school study protects FAMU


The Board of Governors will have two options when it conducts a study on the future of the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering. It can keep the status quo, meaning the 32-year-old partnership between Florida State University and Florida A&M University will continue operating as it has. Or the board can decide to create differentiated programs at each university, meaning certain majors or degrees would be offered at FAMU and different ones would be available at FSU.

What is not an option: splitting the school in a way that leaves FAMU without an engineering program, something its advocates feared would happen under the Senate plan to funnel $13 million to FSU so it can begin creating its own engineering school.

"Slowing down was the best thing to do and this Legislature made the right decision in taking time to really evaluate the interests of both universities," said Sean Pittman, a lobbyist for FAMU.

The budget language allocates $500,000 to the Board of Governors to hire a non-Florida-based firm to conduct the study "with the goal of achieving world class engineering education opportunities for students in both universities." The study must be completed by January and a decision by the board no later than March 2015.

The Senate proposed different language on Sunday that would have allowed a third option: establishing an independent engineering program at one or both schools. That was deleted from the House proposal that Senate budget chief Joe Negron agreed to late Monday during a meeting to finalize many aspects of the budget.

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April 28, 2014

USF St. Pete, FIU among winners in higher education budget

UPDATE: Additional funding for Florida International University was among the list of projects on the supplemental funding list released late Monday, bringing the total amount for the school to $6.8 million.

ORIGINAL POST: Under a budget deal announced Monday, Florida universities will share more than $250 million in state funding for building projects, including $8 million for a business school at University of South Florida St. Petersburg. The plan also includes $10 million to expand a college of engineering shared by Florida State University and Florida A & M University that just days ago seemed headed for separation.

Florida International University is allocated $5 million toward completion of its student academic center and $10 million to begin the process of relocating the Miami-Dade County Fair and acquiring land near the Modesto Maidique Campus in Miami.

All told, universities will see an increase of nearly $83 million for construction projects next year compared to the current year. That includes $41 million from capital improvement fees that students pay.

The state funding is still subject to votes by the entire Legislature before it goes to Gov. Rick Scott. It includes $58 million for maintenance and renovation of existing buildings and $156 million to begin or complete construction of new buildings.

Meanwhile, the state's 28 community colleges will share $108 million, including $92 million for new construction, compared with $42 million last year. 

Read more here.

Legislature agrees to FAMU-FSU engineering study instead of automatic split


It was Sen. John Thrasher who successfully lobbied the Senate to add $3 million to the budget to help Florida State University begin creating its own engineering school separate from Florida A&M University.

But Thrasher said late Sunday that he concurs with the compromise agreement struck with the House to fund an independent study of the 32-year-old joint engineering school instead. Lawmakers will provide $500,000 for the study and allow the state Board of Governors to have final say on whether the engineering school should be separated, given to just one school or remain as-is.

"I'm happy about that," said Thrasher, a St. Augustine Republican who is rumored to have his sight set on becoming FSU's next president. He said the discussion about the future of the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering was a necessary one that would not have taken place if he hadn't proposed a budget amendment to fund the split.

Rep. Alan Williams, whose district includes FAMU, noted the House never agreed to fund the split and Speaker Will Weatherford initially floated the idea of a study as a diplomatic way to move forward.presented the study as a diplomatic way to move forward.

"I think the House position is the right direction to go in because we don't know all the details, we don't know the unintended consequences that might have occurred if we had gone with the Senate budget amendment," Williams, D-Tallahassee, said.

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April 27, 2014

Senate proposes independent study of FAMU-FSU engineering split


The Florida Senate is offering to fund a study of the proposed split of the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering that gives the state Board of Governors final say over whether changes should be made.

Under the Senate plan, which the House still must agree to, $150,000 in state funding would be set aside to conduct an independent review of the engineering program and decide if Florida State University, Florida A&M University or both should continue offering degrees.

Senate budget chief Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said the plan was devised in hopes of addressing concerns raised by House Speaker Will Weatherford, who said the Board of Governors should be consulted in the controversial plan to divide the 32-year-old joint engineering school.

Sen. John Thrasher, an FSU alum who is reportedly interested in becoming the school's next president, had proposed allocating $13 million to FSU to begin the process of creating an engineering school separate from FAMU, a historically black university just a few miles away. The money was inserted in the ninth hour in the Senate's budget proposal.

The House has refused to negotiate on the issue thus far, offering no money for Thrasher's plan. The House must now come up with a response to Sunday's proposal to allow the Board of Governors, which oversees the 12 state universities, to have final say.

Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, has been one of the most vocal opponents to the proposed engineering school split, saying she worried about the state's long-term commitment to funding two costly programs and wanted to ensure FAMU is protected.

Joyner said an independent study would be a step in the right direction, even though she believes more money would be needed to fully analyze the issue. "It slowed the process down," she said. "At least it's not happening overnight."

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.