Florida House budget spreads cuts across agencies

Jan 27, 2012

The following article was published in The Florida Current on January 27, 2012:

House Budget Spreads Cuts Across Agencies 

By Travis Pillow

The Florida House of Representatives on Friday released a $69.2 billion budget that frees up money for schools and avoids the deep cuts to hospitals proposed by Gov. Rick Scott.

The full budget released Friday, along with related bills discussed this week in committees, would address funding shortfalls for state courts, school construction and the Agency for Persons with Disabilities. It would exceed some of Scott’s recommendations, such as the $1 billion funding increase he is seeking for schools, but fall short of others, such as the $236 million he sought for economic incentives.

House Appropriations Chairman Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, said the House budget also does not assume savings from policy changes such as a statewide Medicaid overhaul still awaiting approval by the federal government, and that while it includes a 7 percent reduction of hospital inpatient reimbursements, it avoids cuts to programs such as Medically Needy, which also pay for hospital care.

Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Joe Negron, R-Palm City, has said he wants to find reductions of $850 million while minimizing cuts to hospitals and nursing homes, two large pots of money in that area of the budget that saw significant cuts alst year. He said this week he has already zeroed in on about $500 million in possible cuts.

The budget will be debated by Grimsley’s committee on Wednesday, and could come up for a floor vote the following week. The Senate, meanwhile, has not yet released allocations, which could be a week or so away.

Here are some of the highlights of the House proposal:

* Eliminate 4,716 full-time positions in state government, areduction of nearly 4 percent, some of which are vacant.

* Allow merit-based bonuses for state employees similar to those proposed by Scott. Up to 15 percent of an agency’s employees could be elligible for bonuses worth up to 10 percent of their salaries at the end of the fiscal year, at the discretion of the agency heads. The bonuses would have to be funded out of the agency’s budgets and would not be funded separately.

* Sweep about $277 million from trust funds, including $91 million from the state and local government housing trust funds into the general fund, and $120 million from the transportation trust fund to the State Schools Trust Fund.

* Sets aside $24 million for the current shortfall for the Agency for Persons with Disabilities and provide funding for the current year that would exceed Scott’s recommendations, and roughly equal the estimated cost of the agency’s “Model A” iBudget algorithm. 

*Allow colleges and universities to hike tuition by up to 8 percent, which if approved would allow their budgets to increase while state funding for higher education decreases.

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