@BR Ednote:EDITOR’S NOTE: The final votes in the House and Senate on the budget were not completed in time for this edition. Please find the latest news at Bradenton.com.
By BILL KACZOR
TALLAHASSEE -- Special education teacher Hal Krantz hasn’t had a raise in two years, but he’ll be among 650,000 public employees whose paychecks will be cut to help balance an annual state budget that also slashes spending by nearly $4 billion.
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The $69.7 billion budget (SB 2000), which would go into effect July 1, was set for final votes in the House and Senate late Friday to close out Florida’s annual legislative session.
It would save more than $1 billion for the state and local governments by requiring public employees such as Krantz to contribute 3 percent of their pay to the Florida Retirement System, now fully funded by taxpayers.
“Every expense I have has been going up, except my salary, so it’s going to be a hardship for me and every other teacher out there,” said Krantz, who teaches at Coral Springs Middle School in Broward County. “You’re going to have a lot of teachers that are going to be looking for second jobs.”
That’s assuming they still have their first jobs.
The budget eliminates nearly 4,500 state positions, about 2,000 of which are vacant, while 1,700 jobs are in prisons slated to be privatized. School districts also are anticipating layoffs and furloughs due to state spending cuts.
Some private sector employees who depend on state funding, such as road builders and nursing home workers, also may get the ax.
There’s fiscal pain as well ahead for college and university students who will be paying higher tuition, and many will see their state-funded scholarships cut. Public school classrooms will become more crowded.
Hospitals and nursing homes will take a reduction in Medicaid payments.
Everglades restoration spending will be cut and funding will be eliminated for the Florida Forever environmental land buying program.
“Although this has to be one of the most difficult budgets in the history of Florida, I think it’s one that most of us can go home and feel like it’s a workable budget,” said Senate Budget Chairman JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales.
Yet lawmakers also found enough money to cut taxes by $308 million and pay for dozens of their pet projects. Those include college and university buildings, a rowing facility near University Parkway and a $400,000 study of House Speaker Dean Cannon’s proposal to expand the Florida Supreme Court. The budget also maintains $2.28 billion in reserve funds.
The pension contributions will help make up for a $1.3 billion cut for schools that could drive down per-student spending by $542.03, or 8 percent, to $6,267.97.
The pension contributions along with local option tax increases and federal jobs money that most districts are carrying over from the current year are expected to drop the net reduction to about 1 percent. School districts also will save some money from legislation loosening the state’s class size limits.
Tuition is going up 8 percent at state and community colleges and public universities. Most if not all universities are expected to seek Board of Governors approval for another 7 percent increase to the legal limit of 15 percent. Lawmakers also are cutting the popular Bright Futures scholarships by 20 percent.
The budget will cut Medicaid reimbursement rates by 12 percent for hospitals except rural and children’s hospitals, which will be cut 3 percent. That’s after hospitals were cut 7 percent by the current year’s budget and 1.6 percent cut in 2009-10.
Nursing homes will get a 6.5 percent cut but can offset some of that through a budget provision that also reduces minimum direct care for each patient from 3.9 to 3.6 hours daily.