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Politics

Rick Scott’s 2013 Agenda: $1.2 billion More for Education

January 29, 2013 - 6:00pm


Gov. Rick Scott will remain focused on jobs and education as he releases his agenda for the 2013 legislative session on Thursday, highlighted by a call to increase funding for K-12 education by $1 billion for the second consecutive year.

Scott, who was able to get almost every penny of his education request from last year, is now seeking $1.2 billion for the K-12 program, which includes his previously announced $2,500 pay hike for teachers. The pay hike would account for $480 million of the increase.

The increase would boost per student funding by about $400 from the current year, to around $6,800.

We are in a position to invest and I can think of no better place to make such an investment in the future workforce they teach every day, said Scott, who reiterated his stance that all state workers should be eligible for performance-based pay.

(Read Scotts prepared remarks below.)

Florida economists have estimated that the state enters the 2013 session with a potential surplus of $828 million, the first time legislators havent faced a negative balance heading into a session since before the economy went sour in 2007.

Scott, appearing before the media as part of the annual Associated Presss pre-legislative review, also reiterated as top 2013 priorities his call to eliminate the sales tax on manufacturing goods -- a $141 million savings for manufacturing businesses -- and to further roll back corporate income taxes.

Knocking down this barrier to job creation will create more job opportunities for Florida families that are looking for stable jobs they can depend on, Scott said.

He said his direction on performance-based pay for state workers, university funding, pension reforms, the states long delayed approach on the massive Medicaid expansion as outlined in the federal Affordable Care Act, and how any budget increases need to be offset in other sections of the budget to handle the education increases, may come when the agenda is released.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, werent willing to embrace Scotts proposals on Wednesday.

Were happy the governor is showing great leadership in wanting to fund education, but right now our budget doesnt show we have $1.2 billion in surplus, so to get that number you will have to cut somewhere else, said Weatherford.

We do have more revenue but our budget surplus is breathing room. Its not enough to put your feet up on the couch. Its enough to breathe and enough to be strategic in how we focus our resources.

Gaetz expressed concerns about the projected surplus in light of the federal governments anticipated budget sequestering fights in the coming months.

If Congress and the president cannot work out their problems and we are forced into a mandatory, mindless sequestration, scores of thousands of jobs in Florida in the aerospace industry, in the defense industry, and in the supply chain that backs up supplies for those industries, are at risk, Gaetz said.

If Congress and the president cant get together and do the right thing, then Florida is faced with being forced down into a pool of red ink, and the money [that]people have already mentally spent about 32 times will disappear in an instant.

Democrats already are critical of Scotts proposals.

Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, said the economy is moving forward, but Scott is back-pedaling with his eyes on the 2014 election because his reform efforts in education, pensions and insurance have not been popular.

When hes now throwing divots and dollars at education, after he came in and slashed education, hes finally admitting that he was wrong to try to starve education.

Because of the things hes done in the past, hes not really putting them ahead.

House Minority Leader Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, called Scotts proposal woefully lacking because of the requirement for state employees to contribute 3 percent of their pay into the Florida Retirement System and the $1.3 billion in cuts to education in 2011.

Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, said Scotts 2013 agenda shows he is back-pedaling on his 2010 campaign promises and platform from his first years in office.

Smith agreed the economy has improved the past couple of years and Scott is credited for part of the ability to seek additional school funding.

Scott's prepared remarks:

There are three things I want to talk about today: FIRST -- The state of our economy in Florida -- where we have come from and where we are going. SECOND -- I will talk about why continuing to cut taxes and eliminate regulations on businesses, especially our manufacturers, is critical to keeping our states economy moving forward. THIRD -- I will talk about our MAJOR investment in education and why I call this an INVESTMENT for Florida families.

ECONOMY OFF TRACK

FIRST -- I want to back up and talk about the economic situation our state is in today.

Many of you have heard these numbers before I came into office in 2011 during record-high unemployment, record-high debt, and record-high job losses. In the four years before I took office, Florida lost 825,500 jobs. Unemployment more than tripled -- from 3.5 percent to 11.1 percent over those four years. State debt increased over those four years by $5.2 billion. Our housing market was crippled.

There has been no lack of debate or finger pointing, by political pundits and journalists alike, about HOW our economy ended up so far off track. But, there is NO disagreement that our economy WAS IN FACT in bad shape and Florida families were hurting.

The policies of BORROWING and SPENDING and borrowing and spending some more were not working in Florida.

It was time for a change.

I ran for governor, committed to getting our economy back ON TRACK by reining in spending, paying down debt, and removing the burdens on job creators that support Florida families.

ECONOMY ON TRACK

Today, I am happy to report that since I took office two years ago, our unemployment rate has dropped by more than 3 percentage points. We are now at 8 percent unemployment -- a record four-year low. We have also cut state debt by $2 billion. Our housing starts are up again and consumer confidence is rebounding.

We cut taxes and regulations on job creators and jump-started economic growth that has now generated around 200,000 new private sector jobs. This means around 200,000 new opportunities for Florida families to pursue their version of the American dream.

I set an ambitious goal during the campaign, saying I wanted to create an environment that would foster the creation of 700,000 jobs in seven years. Some have debated what jobs count toward this total.

Maybe it is because I am not a career politician, but I think this is a GREAT DEBATE TO HAVE. Every time we discuss which new jobs -- and what kind of jobs -- should count toward our job-creation goal, we are celebrating the job creation that is fueling our economic recovery. I love discussing HOW to count all the jobs that are being created -- especially after losing more than 800,000 jobs during the four years before I took office

Just as there is no doubt that our economy was OFF-TRACK when I took office, there is NO DOUBT that Floridas economy is ON-TRACK today. In fact, a legislative committee now estimates that our state will create around 900,000 new jobs by 2018. Floridas economic recovery is well under way. Going through a crisis requires tough choices. Years of borrowing and spending delayed the tough cost-savings measures that needed to take place for our state to live within its means. When the federal stimulus funds finally went away, we were forced to reduce spending. If we were going to grow again, we had to do more with less.

These choices were not easy. One of the hardest decisions was signing the budget in 2011 after stimulus funding for education ran out, and left a big hole.

MANUFACTURING INVESTMENT

Today, in 2013, our economy is on track. Because we chose to shrink government and live within our means, we are now in a position to STRATEGICALLY INVEST in statewide priorities.

I cannot overstate the fact that without the hard choices we made a few years ago, we could not afford to STRATEGICALLY INVEST in our budget this year.

I told you that the SECOND main thing I would talk about today is our work to GROW JOBS and create opportunities for Florida families.

Every day, I think about how we can help Florida families that are making $50,000 a year or less. That was my family growing up -- and that is about half of the families in our state today. If we are serious about Florida families having more opportunities to pursue their dreams, we have to be serious about job creation.

In order to encourage the creation of even MORE jobs in Florida, the budget I announce tomorrow will support funding to exempt 2,000 more small businesses from having to pay the business tax. This means 2,000 more businesses will have more money in their pockets, which they can use to reward their hard-working employees who are also trying to recover from the national recession.

More importantly, in the budget I announce tomorrow, we will ELIMINATE the sales tax on manufacturing equipment -- to level the playing field between Florida and the other states we compete with for job creation.

Currently, there are 17,500 manufacturing companies in Florida that employ more than 300,000 Florida families. As of 2010, manufacturing made up just 4.3 percent of employment in Florida -- which is well below the national average of manufacturing jobs across the country. We need to build up our manufacturing jobs in Florida.

Most of our manufactures have locations, or even headquarters, in other states around the country, and the world. When they need to purchase equipment, they are making an EXPENSIVE purchase of MANUFACTURING equipment that their business will use for YEARS TO COME. They usually consider their many different locations before making a manufacturing equipment purchase.

We WANT this kind of investment by manufacturers in FLORIDA because it means businesses are putting their roots down even deeper in our communities and that means our families will have more stable job opportunities for years to come.

Our current tax policy puts the state at a competitive disadvantage because most states do not force manufacturers to pay taxes on the purchase of equipment or require them to adhere to regulations for tax exemptions.

Because of the hard work we have done to identify cost-savings and efficiencies across state government, I am proposing a budget tomorrow that will eliminate the sales tax on manufacturing equipment and save Florida manufacturers an estimated $141 million. Our budget specifically dedicates $115 million in general revenue to eliminating this tax on manufacturers.

Knocking down this barrier to job creation will create more job opportunities for Florida families who are looking for STABLE jobs they can depend on, especially as many are still on the road to economic recovery -- just as we are at the state level.

Let there be no doubt about it -- eliminating the sales tax on manufacturing equipment IS ONE OF MY ABSOLUTE TOP PRIORITIES IN THIS BUDGET and in the UPCOMING LEGISLATIVE SESSION.

EDUCATION INVESTMENT

Third, and finally, my other TOP PRIORITY in the upcoming budget and legislative session is FUNDING FOR EDUCATION.

As I said before, we had some hard choices to make in order to get our state back on track when I came into office. NOW, we are in a position toSTRATEGICALLY INVEST in statewide priorities that will encourage job creation and economic growth for generations to come.

In government, there will always be more worthy causes than money to fund them.

Budgeting is an exercise of prioritizing.

In the upcoming budget, my priorities are JOBS AND EDUCATION.

The budget I announce tomorrow will include an increase of $1.2 billion in funding for K-12 public schools.

Thats right -- a $1.2 billion increase in funding for K-12 public schools.

This total includes $10.7 billion in STATE FUNDING for Florida K-12 schools -- the highest state funding level in HISTORY.

This funding commitment represents per student funding of around $6,800 -- an increase of more than $400 per student, or around 6.5 percent, over the current fiscal year.

Our total budget for education also includes our $480 million commitment to give each and every classroom teacher a $2,500 pay raise, along with the cost of related benefits.

Investing in our TEACHERS and in our EDUCATION system is the KEY to our states continued economic growth.

We made the hard choices to recover and get back on track -- now we must make the SMART choices to invest in Floridas future.

In this budget, I am DOUBLING DOWN ON OUR INVESTMENT in K-12 education. This BILLION DOLLAR investment more than DOUBLES our BILLION DOLLAR investment from last year.

We are in a position to invest, and I can think of no better place to make such a major investment than in our Florida teachers and the FUTURE WORKFORCE they educate every day.

Some have argued that you cant make this kind of investment in Florida teachers without losing teacher accountability and backing away from performance pay. I disagree. I support accountability and rewarding high-performing teachers; and I know our teachers do as well.

Our students and teachers were recently ranked sixth for educational quality. On a recent international reading survey, our fourth graders scored among the best in the world. And, the National Council on Teacher Quality ranked Florida teachers No. 1 in the country on their 2012 survey.

Some say they are afraid that giving raises to all teachers may mean that a teacher doing a bad job gets rewarded. I have two things to say about this: FIRST -- I have never met an educator who wants bad teachers to be rewarded. The educators and parents I talk to support accountability. They want to reward good teachers and move bad teachers out of the classroom. I agree with them. SECOND -- Of all the things government funds, I am CERTAIN of the VALUE our teachers add to our state. Teachers change lives. They shape young minds and cultivate our future workforce.

I believe that we have to INVEST in the targeted areas where we want to encourage growth and IMPROVEMENT. Our teachers are training Floridas future. The workers businesses will hire a decade from now are in K-12 classrooms today.

The two priorities of JOBS AND EDUCATION are directly connected. We want our kids to get a great education so they can get a great job. This is how we support the FUTURE of FLORIDA FAMILIES that were just like mine growing up -- we must DOUBLE DOWN on our investment in education to help our children compete and succeed in the global economy.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, I want to stress again that eliminating the sales tax on manufacturing equipment, and our historic education investment, which is heavily tied to a $2,500 teacher pay raise, are my TOP TWO PRIORITIES this year.

I have great partners in Speaker Weatherford and President Gaetz who share the goal of moving our state forward and keeping our economy growing.

Im sure that under their leadership, the Legislature will take up many other worthy causes, and there will no doubt be some great debates; but, I am asking for the help of EVERY HOUSE AND EVERY SENATE MEMBER who will join with me in making these two STRATEGIC INVESTMENTS for the future of Florida families a reality this year.

Together, I know we can put Florida families first and put our state on track to increased economic growth and job creation.

THANKS.


Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 215-9889.

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