A funny thing happens when a state has extra money to spend — disparate groups that rarely agree, each get something to celebrate. The most amazing thing about the 2016 Florida budget signed by Gov. Rick Scott last week may be that Democrats in the legislature — some of whom have never voted for a state budget before — were on board with the $82 billion deal. The House passed the budget 119-1, moments before the Senate followed with a 40-0 vote.
The budget takes effect July 1, and while it doesn’t give every interest the same weight — such as public school teachers, who continue to lag behind other states — there are a number of positive points that Palm Beach County and the western communities can take out of it during the upcoming fiscal year. State Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, who represents much of the western communities, said even after Gov. Scott’s vetoes, more than $30 million in state spending is headed to his district.
One of the biggest projects to escape the governor’s veto pen was a much-awaited $9 million allocation to complete the first phase of the fifth Palm Beach State College campus, currently under construction in Loxahatchee Groves. PBSC’s long-planned campus will create greater access to higher education and job training for residents and businesses here in the western communities. The campus, located on 75 acres on Southern Blvd. west of B Road, will serve more than 3,000 students. The state had already approved $6 million for the campus in 2014.
The budget also helps Gov. Scott meet his 2014 campaign promise to top the state’s per-pupil school funding record. The average $7,178 for each of the state’s 2.8 million school children breaks by $52 the state’s record, achieved at the end of the boom years in the 2007-08 school year, former Gov. Charlie Crist’s first year in office. But given factors such as inflation and low cost of living increases for the past 10 years, it’s clear that public education is still getting shortchanged in the grand scheme of things.
The Glades area to our west is benefiting from a number of funded projects, including $1.5 million for much-needed Lake Region Water Infrastructure repairs and upgrades, $1.4 million for Glades West Tech HVAC Training, $1 million for road projects in the Glades, $475,000 for the South Bay Park of Commerce, $350,000 for the Belle Glade NW 3rd Street stormwater project and $1 million for the Lake Okeechobee wave attenuation project in Pahokee. A critical project up in The Acreage also got its long-awaited funding when another $500,000 was dedicated to the J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area levee, providing that community with some long-promised flood control protection.
Also included in the budget is $9 million earmarked for the Small County Outreach Program (SCOP) to assist rural counties with transportation projects. The Glades communities have received more than $5 million in SCOP funds over the past two years.
The budget includes $400 million in tax cuts tilted more toward consumers than corporations, with a reduction in school property taxes among the highlights. It reduces the school tax rate paid by property owners by nearly 6 percent, eliminates the sales tax manufacturers have paid on equipment purchases (saving them $73 million), and gives parents and students tax-free shopping for clothing and school supplies over a few days in August.
Is this a perfect budget? Of course not; no such dream is ever achieved. But when it’s approved almost unanimously by an elected body that has rarely seen eye-to-eye on any previous budget, odds are something was done right. Let’s hope that similar bipartisan teamwork, and an improved economy, can make next year’s budget even more consumer-friendly.