Rep. Steve Crisafulli Week 9 Legislative Report
By By Rep. Steve Crisafulli // May 5, 2014
2014 Florida Legislative Session Ends With a Balanced Budget
TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA – The 2014 Legislative Session ended Friday after the Legislature passed a budget that responsibly prioritizes funding in the best interest of all Floridians and provided meaningful tax relief to our hardworking citizens.
The $77.1 billion budget for the 2014-2015 Fiscal Year passed with strong bipartisan support. With Florida’s improving economic conditions and the Legislature’s continued fiscal restraint, our state is on the road to recovery.
Though we did see a significant budget surplus this year, the Florida House remains committed to the fiscal principles that led us to where we are today. Government must responsibly plan for the future, just like Florida families must do. To that end, this year’s budget maintains $3.1 billion in reserves to prepare for any future economic uncertainty.
Our improved fiscal condition allowed us the opportunity this year to provide Floridians with over $500 million in tax relief – the largest tax and fee cut of its kind in over a decade. Floridians will see a $400 million reduction in vehicle tag and title fees beginning September 1, 2014. Additionally, Floridians will see tax savings with several sales tax holidays.
A “Back to School” holiday from August 1 to August 3; a “Hurricane Preparedness” holiday from May 31 to June 8 for supplies such as fuel tanks, flashlights, etc.; and, a holiday from September 19 to September 21 on the first $1,500 spent on energy-efficient and water-efficient appliances.
We also made significant investments in our state’s education system. The Legislature demonstrated our continued commitment to providing a quality education for Florida’s students by increasing K-12 per student funding by 2.61% and total education funding to $20.7 billion, which exceeds any previous year’s funding. Brevard schools will see a $13 million increase in funding, including a $132.53 increase in per-student funds.
Further, the Legislature worked to strengthen Florida’s safety net by increasing funding to serve our most vulnerable populations. We have provided $20 million to eliminate the Agency for Persons with Disabilities Medicaid Waiver waiting list for all “intensive needs” citizens.
Also, $56.9 million was invested in Florida’s child welfare system to reduce caseloads for Child Protective Investigators and better serve and protect vulnerable children in our state. The budget also increases funds to provide needed services to seniors and fully funds the KidCare program for low-income families.
Another important issue that the Legislature worked on in this year’s budget was protecting Florida’s natural resources. This year’s budget takes a comprehensive and balanced approach to water supply and quality.
We appropriated $30 million for springs restoration, $135 million for Everglades restoration, $22.8 million for the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin, and $10 million for the EGRET Muck Removal project in Brevard County. We have also allocated $57.5 million to Florida Forever for the purchase of lands to preserve Florida’s unique natural resources and provide recreational opportunities.
Lastly, our budget strengthens Florida’s economic development activities to ensure we continue to attract businesses and jobs to our state.
We provided $233.1 million in economic development funding – 18% greater than historical funding levels. Within these resources, $71 million is provided to the Governor so he can best utilize economic incentives to take advantage of emerging trends and opportunities that promote job growth; $74 million is provided to Visit Florida in an effort to promote our state’s vital tourism industry through increased marketing and advertising; and $19.5 million is provided to Space Florida to further bolster the space and aerospace industry in our state.
The budget also fully funds the Transportation Work Program at $9.2 billion to focus on strategic transportation projects which connect major markets and improve the state of our infrastructure.
BREVARD COUNTY WATER PROJECTS
The budget the Legislature passed will directly benefit Brevard County in many ways.
We are all aware of the challenges facing the Indian River Lagoon. We voted to invest $20 million in muck removal projects in the northern and central Indian River Lagoon as well as the Eau Gallie River.
The Brevard legislative delegation also secured money for oyster restoration in the Indian River and FIT’s Indian River Lagoon Research Institute. These crucial projects will be beneficial to help improve the health of the Indian River Lagoon.
OTHER NOTABLE LEGISLATION
Education Reforms to Restore Integrity and Trust in the School Accountability System
This week, the Florida House passed CS/SB 1642 to strengthen the statewide school accountability system and simplify school grade calculations. CS/SB 1642 simplifies school grade calculations for elementary, middle and high schools to focus more closely on student performance in math, English language arts, science, and social studies.
The bill requires the Department of Education (DOE) to develop a district report card to report district grades and other indicators of student success. The legislation also authorizes district superintendents to exempt a child with a medical complexity from statewide assessments and authorizes the Commissioner of Education to grant one- to three-year and permanent exemptions.
As the state transitions to new assessments, the bill exempts all schools and districts from any penalties associated with school grades and school improvement ratings from the 2014-2015 school year. This legislation displays our commitment to ensuring that Florida accurately measures student, teacher, and school performance so that the education system can continue to rise in success.
TAX CUT PACKAGE
This tax cut package, HB 5601, accounts for approximately $105 million in savings for Florida taxpayers as part of the Legislature’s Work Plan 2014 initiative to cut taxes and fees by $500 million. This bill includes significant tax cuts aimed at encouraging economic development in the state while providing savings for hardworking Floridians.
The bill includes a Back-to-School sales tax holiday, a hurricane preparedness sales tax holiday and a sales tax holiday on energy efficient products. It also includes permanent sales tax exemptions for car seats and booster seats, youth bicycle helmets, and college and university meal plans.
The bill maintains the Community Contributions Tax Credit program and increases the available tax credits, and clarifies that the tax applied to prepaid cell phones should be the state and local sales tax rather than higher state and local communications services taxes.
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