TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Gov. Rick Scott could wind up salvaging his top legislative priorities in a year when he and legislative leaders have often been sparring with each other.
But with just days left before the session ends, the final product handed to Scott appears unlikely to be what he asked for in his opening day speech to the Florida Legislature.
House and Senate budget negotiators late Sunday signed off on a $74.5 billion budget that includes a $480 million pay raise for teachers. But lawmakers tied the pay raises to teacher performance. The raise also would not take effect until June 2014.
Scott contends that the final deal is still a win for teachers because it should ensure that most teachers get a pay raise of at least $2,500 or even as much as $3,500.
Teachers ranked as effective will be eligible for a $2,500 pay raise, while those ranked as highly effective would be eligible for $3,500. Teacher performance would be linked to student achievement, but the final plan would be developed and approved by each school board across the state.
"This is a victory for our students and our teachers," Scott said.
Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, praised Scott's effort, saying "it's more money than we have seen in years." But he criticized the decision to delay the raise until next year and to tie the raise to teacher evaluations.
Scott is also still trying to get legislators to embrace his other priority: The complete elimination of the sales tax now charged on equipment purchased by manufacturers. The governor has contended that the tax needs to be eliminated in order to encourage more manufacturers to come to the state.
Scott announced Monday that legislative leaders had agreed to the tax break but with one significant catch: It would only last for three years.
Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, however, disputed Scott's assertion. He said that while there had been "fruitful" discussions it was premature to announce that there was a deal on the tax break, which would cost an estimated $141 million a year.
"I think the governor may be announcing an agreement to which all parties have not agreed," Gaetz said.
Scott's announcement about the tax cut comes just two days before Scott must act on key bills dealing sought by legislative leaders. Lawmakers could be using the tax cut as leverage in order to ensure that Scott does not veto measures that raise campaign contributions and change the state's ethics standards for legislators.
The governor said Monday he was still reviewing both and had not made a decision. He did repeated, however, that he has trouble with raising campaign contributions from their current $500 limit to $3,000 to statewide candidates.
But the tax cut isn't even a sure thing even if legislative leaders get behind it. It still must pass each chamber by a two-thirds vote, which means it would require approval from both Republicans and some Democrats. House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, said no one has yet consulted the Democrats about whether or not they would vote for the tax cut proposal.
Associated Press writer Bruce Schreiner and James L. Rosica contributed to this story.
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