Gov. Rick Scott has made healthcare and education his top priorities in Florida in the $83.5 billion budget for fiscal 2017-2018 he rolled out Tuesday morning.
Scott made the budget announcement to reporters and editors at the Associated Press’ annual legislative planning session in Tallahassee -- and a statewide TV audience via The Florida Channel.
Among Scott’s proposals in his “Fighting for Florida First” is $27 billion for the Agency for Health Care Administration.
Scott proposed nearly $24 billion for the Florida Department of Education, an increase of $63 million from last year’s budget proposal. Per-student funding has continued to climb throughout the years with each proposed budget increase. Per student spending equates to about $7,421, about $216 higher from this year’s budget, where per-pupil spending was around $7,205.
In higher education, Scott is proposing $6.6 billion as well as increased funding to expand the state's Bright Futures scholarship program, which provides scholarships for students attending Florida colleges and universities based on academic achievement.
Bright Futures has been a popular program since it debuted in 1997, but its path hasn't always been clear of roadblocks. The program was slashed after the 2008 recession, causing Florida to offer significantly fewer scholarships.
Scott's proposal would also freeze college fees at their current rate. Students are often whacked with fees for taking classes, ranging from $26 per credit hour at colleges up to $100 at universities.
Scott’s budget would also halt tuition increases for Florida students.
Water quality projects will be a hot button issue for Scott, who has set aside $360 million for projects. Some $225 million of that will be set aside for Everglades restoration while $65 million and $60 million respectively are proposed for the Indian River Lagoon and Caloosahatchee Clean-Up Initiative.
Scott has also proposed slashing taxes by $618 million for the 2017-2018 fiscal year. Among the tax cut proposals is $454 million. He is also pitching a yearlong elimination of sales tax on college textbooks, which the governor's office says will save students $48 million.
The large tax cut package plays into Scott’s narrative and overall goal of being a promoter of Florida’s economic health. The economic growth, Scott believes, will flow naturally if Florida keeps the economy strong and offering incentives to Floridians and Florida businesses.
Scott looked ahead as he rounds out his sixth year as Florida’s governor, focusing on his efforts to rebuild the state economy through jobs and business incentives.
“We have fought so hard to turn our economy around, and now it is up to us to fight for our future generations,” he told reporters Tuesday. “I have exactly 706 days left in office, and I will fight until my very last moment as governor to make Florida the best place in the world for our future generations. It is incumbent on all of us to make Florida a better place and we have to make investments that help our children and grandchildren for decades to come.”
The governor's numbers are just starting points for state lawmakers, who will take up his proposals during this year's legislative session. The Florida Legislature will consider Scott’s budget when it meets in Tallahassee for the legislative session in March.