TALLAHASSEE — State lawmakers struck a deal Tuesday on a roughly $68 billion, no-new-taxes budget that slashes funding to schools and hospitals, eliminates thousands of jobs, provides a few business tax breaks and adds some hometown pork projects in one of the leanest years in decades.
Florida families will get a three-day back-to-school sales tax holiday and taxpayers will see a minuscule property tax break on their water management district bills in a year in which the Legislature was forced to cut spending by nearly $4 billion due to the lingering recession.
"I can't imagine a more difficult budget to work through," said Senate Budget Committee Chairman J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales. "We've been fighting a lot of issues and trying to find the right balance."
The biggest losers in the budget are hospitals, which will absorb a 12 percent rate reduction totaling about $500 million, and nursing homes will face a cut of 6.5 percent. But lawmakers spared two programs that provide medical care to people with complex health problems.
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The Senate and House resolved a series of differences in health care spending overnight to avert a possible overtime session.
At a Tuesday morning meeting, a slew of hometown projects appeared for the first time, including $6.9 million for a Pasco-Hernando Community College classroom facility in Wesley Chapel, home of the next House speaker, Republican Rep. Will Weatherford.
Other projects include $6 million in economic aid to the Panhandle, the area hit hardest by the oil spill; $5 million for a World Class International Regatta Sports Center in Sarasota; and $3.4 million for a neighborhood redevelopment project in the Pine Hills section of Orlando.
"There are a lot of advocates for every part of this budget," Alexander said with a smile.
For the fifth year in a row, rank-and-file state workers will receive no pay increases. They will actually lose 3 percent of their salaries as they are required to contribute to their pensions for the first time. Legislators agreed to sock away about $2.2 billion in cash reserves for emergencies and to preserve the state's bond rating.
Library advocates were smiling after lawmakers agreed to budget $21.3 million in library grants. The Legislature decided to abolish the Office of Adoption in the governor's office, an initiative begun by former Gov. Charlie Crist.
Alexander said the final budget should be available to lawmakers late Tuesday afternoon, which would allow for a smooth adjournment Friday afternoon. The state Constitution requires that the two-inch-thick budget document be available for 72 hours of review before the final up-or-down vote Friday.