Budget deal done, but questions on raises, taxes

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Legislature officially released a budget agreement Monday afternoon, starting a 72-hour clock that will ensure the 2013 session ends on time, if lawmakers choose to approve the measure.

The $74 billion measure, which covers the spending year that begins July 1, was officially made available to members of the Legislature at 1:37 p.m., meaning that the budget can be approved and the session adjourned any time after 1:37 p.m. Thursday.

"We can see the end from here," said Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.

The early publishing of the budget -- the one thing lawmakers must do -- marked a striking contrast from recent years, when lawmakers struggled to come up with a way to handle deep cuts to the budget as state revenues lagged. In 2009, the Legislature overshot its scheduled conclusion by a week, and House-Senate tensions led to close calls in 2011 and 2012.

At the same time, the agreement was coming under fire from some even before it was officially published. The Florida Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, slammed the deal in a statement early Monday for putting off the $480 million in education salary increases until June 2014 and basing them on performance.

Scott had called for across-the-board raises.

"However, we are disappointed that the House and Senate leadership have thwarted those efforts by delaying any salary increases, if they are to be provided at all, until June of next year and by requiring that any raises be based on procedures for performance measurement that don't currently exist," the union said.

Gaetz essentially blamed Scott for the June date for releasing the raises.

"No, actually it was the governor's proposal, and we have that in writing from the governor's office, that the pay raises would not occur until then," he said. "We simply followed the governor's proposal."

A document provided by Gaetz's office to back up his recounting of discussions with the governor's office calls for standards to "be put in place for teachers, principals and school district superintendents in order to qualify for performance funding in the 2013-14 school year," which would not conclude until late May or early June.

But the document does not specifically reference the June timeframe.

Meanwhile, lawmakers and Scott disagreed over whether a deal had been struck to cover Scott's other major priority: eliminating the sales tax on manufacturing equipment. Speaking to reporters Monday afternoon, Scott suggested the issue was decided.

"We came to an agreement with the House and the Senate that they're going to eliminate that tax for a three year period," the governor said. " ... This will create more jobs for Florida families. We still are at a disadvantage as far as the number of manufacturing jobs, but this will level the playing field."

But Senate Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and Gaetz both said later Monday that nothing had been finalized despite what Gaetz characterized as "very, very fruitful discussions" with Scott's office.

"I think we're in discussions," Gaetz said. "But I think the governor may be announcing an agreement to which all parties have not agreed."

Speaking a couple of hours before Scott, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, also suggested that lawmakers were working on the measure but hadn't agreed.

"We have to make sure that we can afford it," Weatherford said. "I think it's something that we're strongly considering."

The speaker did not answer directly when asked whether the fate of the tax cut could be tied to Scott's decision on signing or vetoing campaign finance and ethics bills that are priorities for Weatherford and Gaetz, respectively.