Fla. budget compromise hits lawmakers’ desks

TALLAHASSEE – Taxes won’t be rising, but university tuition will increase again as part of a nearly $70.4 billion election-year budget compromise that hit Florida lawmakers’ desks Tuesday.

The spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1 is $3.9 billion more than the current state budget, but lawmakers still are referring to it as austere.

It would increase public school spending slightly – $1.22 per student – but Medicaid reimbursement rates for hospitals and nursing homes would drop by 7 percent.

House Speaker Larry Cretul said his chamber’s budget goals included avoiding new taxes, preventing cuts in public school spending and providing enough reserves to maintain Florida’s AAA bond rating.

Another goal was to avoid spending stimulus money for operating and program expenses that will remain when the federal program expires next year, said Cretul, R-Ocala.

Lawmakers cannot make any more changes in the document, just vote it up or down.

Public library funding was the last issue resolved. The House initially wanted to eliminate state aid for the libraries, then compromised at $11.7 million before finally accepting the Senate’s $21 million proposal, the minimum needed to get $9 million in federal matching money.

Secretary of State Kurt Browning, who oversees the library aid program, was on hand for the agreement.

“It was an effort on a lot of people’s part convincing members of the legislature how important library services are,” Browning said. “What we’ve found is that as the economy has gone down library services have gone up, libraries have been swamped.”

While taxes aren’t going up in the 2010-11 budget, the Legislature a year ago approved about $2 billion in new revenues by raising cigarette taxes and a wide range of motor vehicle fees. Attempts to roll back some of the motor vehicle fees this year failed.

University students face an 8 percent increase in tuition in the budget, but it could go as high as 15 percent. Individual universities have the authority, with approval from the Board of Governors, to raise them another 7 percent. Last year, the Legislature also ordered an 8 percent increase, and all 11 schools went to the full 15 percent.

Before Monday, budget negotiators had decided to keep average per-student funding in kindergarten through 12th grade at its present level, but during the final round of offers they agreed to raise it by $1.22. That would boost the statewide average to $6,843.51, although it can vary from one school district to another.