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Florida Budget Includes State Employee Pay Raises, Money for Lake Okeechobee

Florida Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran presides over the final vote on the budget in the Florida House of Representatives to end the 2017 legislative session late Monday, May 8, 2017, at the state Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla.

Florida’s legislative session ended Monday night, three days later than originally planned.

Lawmakers spent roughly eight hours on the day debating and passing the state’s $83 billion budget for the 2017-2018 fiscal year, along with approving a $90 million tax cut package and an education bill that would encourage charter schools to open up near academically struggling traditional public schools, while also allowing traditional campuses to seek funding to provide additional services to students.

The overall budget includes pay raises for all state workers and a small increase in school funding.

The tax package would create two sales tax holidays; one for hurricane season and another prior to the start of the school year, among other tax breaks.

The education bill would also expand the “Best and Brightest” teacher bonus program and limit testing in public schools.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran said the education bill, in particular is good for Floridians.

“It does more to transform kids lives, frees up teachers and administration to go out there and educate our youth and it also goes in there and says for those situations where they are not doing it, and they are stuck in failure factories, we have game changing legislation that says that won’t happen anymore,” said Corcoran.

Senate President Joe Negron was proud of legislation passed last week to speed construction of a reservoir near Lake Okeechobee intended to help clean South Florida waterways.

That bill aims to reduce the recurrence of toxic algae outbreaks that have impacted areas of southeast and southwest Florida.

“History will record that this legislature not only acted, but we funded to have southern storage so that we can stop and then ultimately completely get rid of all of the discharges that come from Lake Okeechobee,” said Negron.

The speaker and senate president were non-committal as to whether a special session will be needed this summer to deal with the implementation of last year’s Amendment Two dealing with medical marijuana.

The legislature could not agree on a bill to carry out Amendment Two before time ran out on session.

Additionally, the budget will not include economic-development incentive money sought for Enterprise Florida by Governor Rick Scott and will slash Visit Florida’s tourism-marketing funds.

When asked about rumors that Scott may veto the budget because it doesn’t include some of his priorities, legislative leaders said they were confident there was enough in the spending plan that the governor likes to avoid the veto pen.