With an additional $2.4 billion in spending, the governor proposes increased funding nearly across the board in his recommended budget for Fiscal Year 2018-19. However, 20 percent of it is dependent on local property taxes to bolster public school funding.
Governor Rick Scott recently released his Fiscal Year (FY) 2018-19 recommended budget, totaling $87.4 billion, for consideration by the Florida Legislature. The proposal represents a $2.4 billion increase over current-year appropriations. This increase is attributable to $653 million in General Revenue Funds and the balance from state trust funds. With the exception of a $1 million decrease in funding for the judiciary, all funding areas in the budget have recommended increases.
Notable provisions of the governor’s proposal are outlined below.
At $27.3 billion, the governor’s recommended education budget is $673 million higher than the appropriation for FY 2017-18. This total incorporates an additional $519 million in Lottery funds. Highlights within the recommendations include:
At $36.8 billion, the recommended health and human services budget is $835 million higher than the appropriation for FY 2017-18. Highlights within the recommendations include:
The governor’s recommended public safety budget is $4.8 billion, which is $190 million higher than the appropriation for FY 2017-18. Highlights within the recommendations include:
At $14.6 billion, the environment and natural resources budget recommended by the governor is $181 million higher than the appropriation for FY 2017-18. Highlights within the recommendations include:
Funding through the Land Acquisition Trust Fund is especially problematic. A result of a statewide voter initiative, the trust fund was added to the Florida Constitution in 2014 to designate a dedicated funding source for the acquisition and maintenance of the natural resources, to conserve and protect lands and wildlife and that serve as recreational resources for Floridians. The constitutional amendment further allows the state to use the trust fund for debt service on bonds issued for these purposes, as well as historic preservation.
The governor’s recommended budget includes more than $654 million from the trust fund. The largest use of the fund is $170 million for the debt service on previous environmental bond issues. Another $124 million is used to pay salaries and benefits for employees of the Departments of State, Agriculture and Consumer Services and Environmental Protection, as well as the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. In addition, $33 million is used to pay standard office operating expenses.
The problem arises because there is no way for the public to verify that the trust fund is being used in direct support of the constitutional provision, rather than supplanting existing state funding for operations. For transparency purposes, the allocation of these funds should clearly meet the constitutional requirements.
The proposed budget increases funding for VISIT Florida by $24 million (33 percent). It recommends spending an additional $85 million for the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund despite the fact that none of the current year appropriation has been spent to date.
The recommendations include $230 million for affordable housing, an increase of $30 million. But the proposed budget fails to allocate almost $92 million of funds designated for this purpose in the Sadowski Housing Trust Fund. Failure to utilize these funds is especially short-sighted since the creation of affordable housing generates short- and long-term economic activity that is four to six times greater than the initial state investment.
Additionally, the current affordable housing crisis in Florida will only be made worse as upwards of 200,000 Puerto Ricans relocate to Central Florida in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
The governor’s recommended budget authorizes a 10-day Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday. It also creates three one-week Hurricane Preparedness Sales Tax Holidays in May, June and July, respectively. The total sales tax holidays result in revenue reductions of $88 million.
The budget recommends reductions in all levels of fees for Florida Driver’s Licenses. The cost of a renewed driver’s license would drop from $48 to $20. The fee for an initial license would drop from $48 to $27. All commercial driver’s licenses would drop from $75 to $67. These reduced fees would result in revenue reductions of another $88 million.