House budget deepens divide between speaker, governor

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Merit raises for teachers, across the board pay increases for state employees, and changes to the Florida Pension Plan are all part of the new House budget proposal.

The budget deepens the divide between Florida's House speaker and the governor.

Education is the big winner in the budget proposal released by the Florida House on Friday.

House Speaker Will Weatherford wants to spend more than $1 billion on education, with money set aside for teacher pay raises.

"If we are going to increase funding for teachers, we believe merit pay should be part of it," he said. "We should be rewarding our wonderful teachers who've gone the extra mile."

Gov. Rick Scott is also proposing teacher pay raises, but Scott wants a $2,500-across-the-board increase. Raises aren't the only area where Scott and Weatherford differ.

The House budget also leaves out money available through the Medicaid expansion. Scott wants the cash, but he can't claim it as long as the House is standing in his way.

The Senate has devised a plan to allow the state to accept the money to insure people through the private sector. Advocates for expansion want the House to fall in line.

"If Florida doesn't find a way to accept these federal funds, it will be in a competitively disadvantaged position," University of Florida researcher Alan Hodges said.

Part of the House budget also relies on money gained from closing the state pension plan to new employees. Unions are crying foul.

"I think this is the breaking point for us. Enough is enough," Joanne McCall said.

But it's not all bad for state workers. The House budget includes a $1,400-across-the-board pay raise for all state employees.

House Minority Leader Perry Thurston released this statement about the budget proposal:

"While increases in education funding, restoration of prior-year university system cuts, and pay increases for hard-working state employees and school teachers are important goals that we hope Florida's new budget will achieve, there also is a crisis of uninsured Floridians that demands legislative attention this session."

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