The Florida Legislature was poised Wednesday to give final approval to its $74.5 billion 2013-14 budget — including money for several key local projects.
As the budget heads into the home stretch, it includes $6.5 million for Palm Beach State College to start work on a new campus in Loxahatchee Groves and $4 million to build a new levee on the south end of the J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area.
The financing to begin the Loxahatchee Groves campus was good news for PBSC President Dr. Dennis Gallon. However, money for the campus has made it into the budget twice before, only to be struck by the governor’s veto pen.
“Our plan of action is to continue to move forward to develop the campus master plan,” Gallon told the Town-Crier in an e-mail on Wednesday. “If the governor approves the $6.5 million state allocation, we would have the funding we need to begin work on the infrastructure no later than the beginning of next year, and perhaps even later this year.”
Gallon said the college has not been discouraged by a group of Loxahatchee Groves dissidents trying to get an up-or-down referendum on the campus put before town voters.
“Our enthusiasm for proceeding has not diminished at all, and I truly believe the majority of the people in the community do support our building that campus,” Gallon said.
The legislature reduced money for the Corbett berm by about half from Gov. Rick Scott’s original $8.3 million request. South Florida Water Management District officials have not yet ascertained how that would affect the project since a cost analysis has not been completed.
SFWMD representative Gabe Margasak told the Town-Crier Wednesday that it was too early to say one way or the other, since the budget had not received final approval. “The district will evaluate the options based on the final Florida budget,” he said.
Indian Trail Improvement District Administrator Tanya Quickel said she was unsure what the impact of less money than originally anticipated would be.
“We were aware based on the news this week that it appears that the funding is in the $4 million range at this point,” Quickel told the Town-Crier on Wednesday. “We anticipate the funding to be finalized by the end of the week, within the next few days.”
She said ITID is discussing the options with SFWMD officials. “We have another interagency meeting with them this Friday where we will be reviewing some of the options, considering the changes in the funding as well as updated limitations from the ongoing work analyses of the geotech and survey information,” Quickel said.
State Rep. Pat Rooney (R-District 85) said he was pleased about the money apparently coming through for the college and the levee. “I know they both wanted more than that, but it’s a good start for both of them,” Rooney said Wednesday. “I hope both of them end up being good projects for the western communities.”
State Rep. Mark Pafford (D-District 86) said that he, Rooney, State Sen. Joseph Abruzzo (D-District 25) and Palm Beach County Legislative Affairs Director Todd Bonlarron worked to get as much as they could for county projects. He especially credited Bonlarron for his work on local issues.
The proposed budget of $74.5 billion is about $4 billion greater than last year’s and marks the first time since 2008-09 that the state has not had a budget gap to fill. “It’s a significant increase,” Bonlarron told the Town-Crier on Wednesday.
The recommended budget would reduce the state work force by 3.1 percent, from 117,930 to 114,283 positions, due to Scott’s call to implement efficiencies in state government.
However, after years of austerity, many government employees will get raises this year.
The recommended budget provides $148 million for discretionary raises of $5,000 for employees receiving an evaluation of outstanding and $2,500 for employees receiving an evaluation of commendable.
The budget also provides $167 million for all state employees with at least a satisfactory evaluation to receive a bonus of $1,200.
The recommended budget includes $18.47 billion in total financing for K-12 education, an increase of $1.2 billion over the current year, which will result in per-student funding of $6,799, an increase of $412 over the current year.
The budget would also provide $480 million to fund $2,500 raises for K-12 teachers and other instructors teaching courses that earn students credit toward graduation, as well as career education teachers.