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Stuffed with projects, budget easily passes Legislature

In one of the tamest sessions in recent history, lawmakers on Friday reached an accord on the state budget at 6:50 p.m., more than five hours before the deadline

At $74.5 billion, it was the biggest budget in state history, stuffed with spending that nearly everyone, Democrats and Republicans, found something to like. It passed by a vote of 106-11, with 32 Democrats joining Republicans in support of it.

“We have a budget that we can be proud of,” said Rep. Betty Reed, D-Tampa. “I can go home and tell my constituents that we have a good budget, that we did the best we could.”

The budget comes stuffed with new spending, including:

-- A $1 billion increase in K-12 education, including a $480 million increase for teachers and other personnel that will distributed in methods agreed upon by districts and collective bargaining.

-- A 3 percent tuition hike that’s part of a $4 billion budget for 12 universities that includes a $300 million restoration of money cut from last year’s budget.

-- A $200 million increase to cover across the board pay raises between $1,000 and $1,400 for employees of the state, colleges and universities, their first raise in seven years. About 4,000 employees with state law enforcement will receive an additional $10 million to pay for additional raises, that could leave some employees with increases of pay of about 8 percent.

-- Environmental spending that includes $70 million for Everglades restoration, $70 million for Florida Forever (though only $10 million comes in cash, most of the other money comes from the revenue from sales of state lands).

With such goodies, including million spent on hometown spending, the budget has served as a salve on bruises from clashes earlier in the week involving a possible meltdown on Medicaid spending and a rushed vote on Gov. Rick Scott’s tax break for manufacturing equipment.

“Sorry we had a little bit of meltdown the last couple of days,” said Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton. “But 58 out of 60 days is pretty good.”

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford promised he would would try to get Democratic support for the budget this year, and he succeeded.

Several Democrats thanked Weatherford during Friday’s “debate” of the budget.

“I have found you to be open, inclusive and fair,” said Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs. “To quote Ronald Reagan, ‘Someone who is 80 percent of my friend is not 20 percent my enemy.”

While the budget got universal Republican support, some Democrats couldn’t get over their objections on the Medicaid expansion.

Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, said it was difficult to address Florida’s needs when more than a third of the budget is tied up in trust funds that restrict spending to specific line items. That millions get reserved for street beautifications while other health care and elderly care needs go unmet is not acceptable, he said.

“The budget is not plugged into the reality of what’s happening outside this chamber,” Pafford said.

“Why is the only ship not rising in this budget those who can’t afford health care, the working poor,” said minority leader Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Planation. “They don’t have a lobbyist to champion their cause.”