* State sales-tax revenues seen rising
* Teachers would get raises
By Michael Peltier
TALLAHASSEE, Jan 31 Florida's Republican
governor on Thursday proposed a hefty $4 billion hike in state
spending in a budget plan that includes a $1.2 billion increase
in school aid, cuts in business taxes, and relies on fatter
state sales-tax collections.
Accompanied by teachers, business leaders and state
employees, Gov. Rick Scott told reporters at the Capitol that
his $74.2 billion spending plan for fiscal year 2013-14
illustrated economic recovery in Florida and tough budget
decisions made by lawmakers over the last few years when
revenues were faltering.
Buoyed by increases in sales-tax revenues, Scott's plan was
the first since the 2008-09 budget cycle that did not include a
sizeable revenue shortfall going into the legislative session
set to begin in March.
Scott's proposal includes recommendations to lawmakers, who
craft the state's spending plan ahead of the new budget year
starting on July 1.
Florida's general revenue portion of the budget, a $27.1
billion pot used for discretionary spending, marks an increase
of 4.7 percent over last year.
"This is further evidence that Florida's economy is back on
track and growing again," Scott told reporters.
Other states, such as California, are also seeing increased
revenues. Jerry Brown, California's Democratic governor, three
weeks ago proposed a budget plan with the state's first surplus
in a decade, but urged restraint in spending.
Some other governors are championing tax cuts, and in Texas
on Tuesday, Republican Gov. Rick Perry recommended returning
excess state revenue to taxpayers.
Florida's jobless rate stood at 8 percent in December, the
best showing in four years for a state still battling back from
the U.S. housing bust. But it still remains among the highest
rates and above the national unemployment rate of 7.8 percent,
according to federal government data.
For business, Scott's plan calls for expanding the state
sales-tax exemption on machinery and equipment used in
manufacturing, a tax break expected to save 17,500 employers
about $140 million a year.
On the education front, Scott seeks an across-the-board
$2,500 raise for public school teachers as part of his proposed
$1.2 billon of increases in K-12 education spending.
The plan drew praise from Florida's largest teachers union,
whose members generally haven't seen raises in several years.
"We are happy the governor is recognizing and investing in
Florida's high performing public schools," said Andy Ford,
president of the Florida Education Association. "In most of
Florida, our public schools are the largest employer."
The governor's proposal also includes $60 million for
Everglades restoration and another $75 million for the state's
environmental land buying program.
Scott sees a lean year for bonding. His budget blueprint
includes about $750 million in transportation bonds, which are
paid for by fuel tax revenues and do not affect the state's
general revenue budget. The proposal does not include any
bonding for school construction or environmental land purchases.