Cannon embraces Scott’s school money, rejects his hospital cutsby John Kennedy | January 19th, 2012
House Speaker Dean Cannon and budget-writers revealed some broad brush strokes Thursday for how the House will craft next year’s state spending plan — embracing Gov. Rick Scott’s call for a $1 billion boost in public school funding, but rejecting his call for deep cuts in Medicaid payments to hospitals.
Cannon’s release of spending allocations for budget subcommittees also may heighten pressure on the state Senate, where Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Melbourne, and budget chief J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, have talked about possibly delaying final action on a budget until later this spring.
Cannon, though, also seemed to try to find a middle ground — assuring lawmakers in his budget memo that “contingencies” could be included in a final spending plan that made changes if the economy brightens, or worsens.
”These contingencies will provide self-executing direction on how to enact reductions or provide additional spending authority, without accessing reserves, should circumstances change,” wrote Cannon, R-Winter Park, who is a lawyer, by profession.
Alexander, who declined to say much about the House approach, said the Senate did plan to move ahead with its budget work. But he said leaders there were still concerned about economic shifts that might effect the spending plan, which takes effect July 1.
Still, Alexander said the House’s idea about building in proposed cuts as contingencies, “is another option to deal with this concern.”
While Scott built his $1 billion public school increase by cutting almost $2 billion in Medicaid spending, the biggest share coming in cuts to hospitals, Cannon outlines a different course.
He said the House wouldn’t go along with Scott’s plan to overhaul immediately the way hospitals get reimbursed for treating poor, elderly and disabled Floridians. But Cannon hinted that deep reductions in general government, transportation and environmental programs would be deployed, instead, by the House to find school dollars.
The House also pulls close to $300 million from state trust funds for use elsewhere in the budget – double what Scott proposed diverting from these accounts. But the House has to set aside as much as $100 million for tax breaks in the coming year, topping the roughly $35 million the governor has proposed.
The Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union and a powerful ally of the Legislature’s outnumbered Democrats, were cool to the House’s proposal. Andy Ford, the FEA president, said the proposed school increase doesn’t come close to offsetting the $1.3 billion in cuts imposed by Scott and lawmakers last year.
Scott’s proposal would boost average per-pupil spending by $142, to $6,372, which is still well below the record $7,126 reached in 2008, before the recession forced deep cutbacks. Classroom spending currently is at its lowest level in six year.
“Every child in Florida deserves a high-quality neighborhood school – and it’s within our means to provide one,” Ford said. “But we must understand that investing in our children pays the highest dividends…This proposal puts a small bandage on the gashes inflicted with last year’s budget. We need to do better.”