February 20, 2009
Today, I unveiled my budget and policy recommendations for the 2009-10 fiscal year. My 2009 legislative priorities are aimed at investing wisely so that we can move Florida’s economy forward. These budget and policy proposals will make our classrooms world-class so that we train the best workforce possible. They will keep our air clean and diversify our energy. They will lower property taxes and ensure fiscal responsibility in local government. And they will help businesses thrive so they can create and retain the jobs that we need, now more than ever, to fuel our economy.
There is no doubt; these are historic times of economic challenge for our nation and for our state. But I believe that there are better days in store for Florida. Times like these provide a unique opportunity for elected officials to make government better, more efficient, and more accountable.
In developing my recommendations, my highest priority is to avoid further deficits – yet continue to move Florida’s economy forward. Now more than ever, we must create jobs for the hard-working people of Florida. Second, we must continue critical services to Florida’s most vulnerable – our children, elders, and persons with disabilities. And we must continue our investment in Florida’s classrooms and hard-working teachers, in public safety and in health care. The taxpayers of Florida deserve nothing less.
The $66.5-billion budget I propose includes $4.7 billion in federal stimulus dollars for 2009-10 from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Without these funds, we would have had to tighten our belts another $3.4 billion. My budget proposal reflects Florida’s greatest needs – allocating $25.2 billion to Health and Human Services, $21.5 billion to education, and $10.3 billion to transportation and Economic Development. I also maintain my commitment to public safety, with $4.9 billion that will help keep criminals off the streets and our neighborhoods safe.
My recommendations include a significant increase in per-student funding: $183 more per student, for an average of $7,044 per student. That is increase of 2.67 percent over the current fiscal year. The money we set aside for schools must be spent wisely. I want to thank Representative Robert Schenck and Senator Alex Diaz de la Portilla for supporting legislation requiring our school districts to spend a minimum of 70 percent of operating funds on direct classroom expenditures benefiting students.
Strong universities are vital to creating the competitive workforce that will keep Florida’s economy vibrant for generations to come. I thank Senator Ken Pruitt and Representative Will Weatherford for supporting legislation that will clarify university governance and provide more teaching resources for Florida’s 11 universities -- while maintaining access and affordability for students and families. Under the proposal, each board of trustees may adopt a tuition differential beginning in fall 2009, with Board of Governors approval. Overall tuition cannot rise by more than 15 percent a year, and 30 percent of the revenues must go to need-based student financial aid.
Despite the economic challenges facing Florida, the Sunshine State has been recognized as a national leader in terms of our greatest resource – our workforce. To continue supporting Florida’s workforce, I recommend $2 billion in workforce initiatives, including over $800 million for career education and employment services that will create or retain 3,000 jobs. I also recommend $621.2 million for school readiness. This investment is expected to create or retain more than 12,800 jobs for child-care providers.
Continuing my commitment to public safety, I recommend $4.9 billion to maintain support for Florida’s increasing prison population and continue programs that reduce recidivism, prevent juvenile crime and keep violent criminals off the streets. My proposed budget also maintains funding to support local law enforcement agencies.
We must make every effort to preserve direct health care services to our children, our elderly, and our disabled populations. I am recommending an increase of $45 million for cash assistance and food stamps for families and their children, and $52 million to support an additional 46,000 children in the KidCare program.
We must continue our efforts, started in August with Accelerate Florida, to maintain Florida as a friendly place to do business. I am urging the passage of legislation sponsored by Senator Don Gaetz and Representative Trudi Williams that streamlines and reduces burdensome licensing requirements for contractors and other professionals.
Now more than ever, as families are faced with economic challenges, we must reduce the tax burden on Florida homeowners and business property owners. I propose a set of reforms that build upon previous legislation resulting in the largest property tax cut in state history.
I support the proposed constitutional amendment sponsored by Senator Evelyn Lynn and Representative Carl Domino that encourages homeownership and enhances the tax savings provided by Amendment One. It further reduces the growth cap on non-homestead residential and commercial properties from 10 percent to 5 percent. The amendment also grants a 50 percent exemption, up to $250,000, to homeowners who previously have not owned a home in Florida.
Legislation sponsored by Senator Mike Fasano and supported in the House by Representative Marcelo Llorente protects Florida homeowners from having to pay more in taxes when market values are declining. The proposal repeals the automatic three percent increase on the assessed value of homesteads when their market values decrease. In addition, legislation sponsored by Representative Carlos Lopez-Cantera provides fairness for property owners who challenge the property appraiser’s assessment of their property value.
Local governments, like state government, must be accountable in how they spend taxpayer dollars. Legislation sponsored by Senator Mike Haridopolos and Representatives Dean Cannon and Anitere Flores keeps our local governments accountable by limiting increases in local revenues to inflation and growth, based on the value of new construction. Only through super-majority votes by governing bodies can revenues increase by more than the cap.
I again call on the Florida Legislature to quickly approve the 25-year compact between the State of Florida and the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Over time it can provide billions of dollars to Florida’s schools – with $150 million guaranteed in 2009-10 alone. The tribe also reports the compact can create 45,000 new jobs. I am also encouraging the Legislature to support SunRail, the proposed 61-mile commuter rail system that would serve Orlando and Orange, Seminole, Volusia and Osceola counties. A recently released economic impact study found construction and operation of the commuter rail project will infuse more than $1 billion over the next 30 years into Florida’s economy and create more than 13,000 construction and operations jobs.
I look forward to working with the Legislature on these proposals. Together, we can put in place new laws that strengthen our economy and make life better for Floridians. May God continue to bless the great state of Florida for now and into the future.
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