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Legislature gets first look at governors 2012 spending plan

By James Call

Tallahassee, FL – Florida Gov. Rick Scott's aides descended on the state capitol Thursday to explain his proposed budget for next year. James Call reports, the Senate Budget Committee listened to a nearly two hour presentation on the spending plan.

A recession and resulting drop in tax collections has forced Florida lawmakers to cut spending four, of the past five years. The governor's proposed 66.4 billion dollar spending plan is seven billion dollars less than the 2006 budget, the year the recession began.

But for next year, Governor Rick Scott wants to increase spending on schools. He says it is part of his plan to build a competitive work force to grow the economy. Jerry Mcdaniel Scott's budget director, walked the Senate budget committee through Scott's proposal. It includes an additional billion dollars for schools. Palm Beach Senator Joe Negron, however is concerned about how Scott wants to spend the
money. Negron says he is worried about a brain drain, years of spending cuts he explained have led to university professors fleeing the state. He told McDaniel he is embarrassed that highly valued teachers and researchers are leaving Florida universities for jobs at schools like Western Michigan.

"Are you and the governor concerned about the steady drain of some of our finest and most prominent professors based on our inability to compete salary-wise? And do you have a suggestion for us as a legislature on how we can address that and the cost for us to look at the issue?"

The proposed budget for higher education is essentially flat. McDaniel told the committee there is a lot of money in the system for universities. And at this time the governor is focused on determining whether the universities are spending it wisely.

"And until we get the information we seek and analyze all the information we have asked from our university system and until we have that confidence I believe he has been content so far because his emphasis is on a high class workforce we want stem degrees and so on he wanted to at least level fund them so far as not to possibly do more damage but we would like some reportable information."

Afterwards, the Senate chief budget writer, J.D. Alexander appeared to agree with the governor's reasoning as explained by McDaniel. Alexander has spent much of his legislative career advocating for some kind of system to measure whether the state spends money efficiently.

"Go beyond this whole broad notion of how much nominal money is given. It is not just that, it is also how do we spend the resources we have, and are we deploying strategically to hope that institution to become a national leader in its expertise."

The governor proposes increasing spending on schools by reducing the Medicaid budget by about $2 billion. McDaniel says the governor office wants to work the Senate and House to control costs by developing a better way to determine how much a hospital should be paid for services. Senate Democratic leader Nan Rich says a $2 billion cut would be devastating.