Government

Senate Budget Chief: Scott’s Teacher Pay Hike Could Cut Other State Programs

By: Jim Turner | Posted: January 25, 2013 3:55 AM
As Gov. Rick Scott continues to push for a $2,500 pay raise for teachers, in stops in Gainesville and Tampa on Thursday, the head of the powerful Senate Budget Committee cautioned that such an allocation won’t be an easy fiscal sell in the Legislature.

Joe Negron

Sen. Joe Negron

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said despite talk of the state entering the 2013 legislative session with a potential surplus for the first time since 2007, Florida faces a number of economic hurdles. And drawing out $480 million for additional teacher pay most likely will mean that money has to come from another part of the state budget.

“The big picture is, we’re not starting the year having to automatically make drastic reductions,” Negron said Thursday after the committee received an update on its credit outlook.

“If you look at the cost to keep our pension plan in the high 80 (percent funded) where we want it to make sure we have adequate reserves, and there are increased costs in our state health-care plan based on the Affordable Care Act, it’s going to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. I think we have to be cautious before we commit to new expenditures.”

The Florida Retirement System is reportedly about 86 percent funded. The state has about $1.5 billion in reserves and could improve its credit ratings by pumping the total to around 10 percent of the budget, which could require an additional $1 billion.

“I’m going to be pushing hard to keep our reserves at a high level,” Negron said. “I’m not sure we know what the future holds and I want to be prudent.”

The state also is expected to add about $300 million to $500 million into the state pension system and there is talk of restoring about $300 million to the Florida University System.

Meanwhile, Scott, expected to release his 2013 agenda next week, appeared at Gainesville High School and Twin Lakes Elementary in Tampa to continue rallying support for his teacher pay increase proposal.

“Investing in Florida’s teachers is important to our children’s future and I ask the Florida Legislature to join me in supporting my proposed budget, which will include $480 million in funding to support these raises,” Scott stated in a release after appearing at Twin Lakes Elementary.

“I am focused on the fact that our teachers have done a great job. By 2014, Florida teachers will be a part of our performance pay structure that will help attract and advance the most high-performing teachers in our education system. We believe in teacher accountability and we know our teachers do, too. With the new performance system in place, now is the time to increase our investment in Florida’s teachers with an across-the-board raise.”



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



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