TALLAHASSEE -- Florida lawmakers' budget handiwork hit the desks just after 1 p.m. Monday, starting the 72-hour "cooling off" period before the Legislature can take a final vote on the $74.5 billion spending plan that includes $480 million in merit pay for teachers and more money for schools, universities, Everglades restoration and state employees.
House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, told reporters Monday the budget was a "great win" for Gov. Rick Scott, who has demanded lawmakers provide an across-the-board, $2,500 pay raise for all teachers. Lawmakers chose instead of to provide $2,500 raises for teachers deemed to be "effective" and $3,500 for "highly effective" -- but not until the middle of 2014.
The budget "was a great win for the governor ... but most importantly a great win for the teachers and students," Weatherford said.
The budget puts roughly $1 billion in new money into public education system, as well as nearly $100 million for charter-school construction projects, and a raft of college and university construction dollars.
It provides $70 million in Everglades restoration funding, and gives Scott $45 million in economic incentives -- although he requested $278 million.
The budget also includes a 3 percent tuition increase for colleges and universities, a $9 million increase to Bright Futures and $13.8 million increase to the Florida Resident Access Grant, and includes $70 million in spending authority for Florida Forever, although only $20 million of that is cash.
The spending plan is bigger than versions the House and Senate passed earlier in the 60-day session as well as the proposal Scott pitched back in February. But it remains silent on another of Scott's priorities, a $141 million cut in sales tax on manufacturers' equipment purchases. Weatherford said the issue wasn't dead, and "we know it's important to him."
"We have to make sure we can afford it, and it's something we are considering," Weatherford said. 'We want him on Friday to be just as happy with session as we hope we will be."
That statement was a potential reference to the campaign-finance and ethics bills the Legislature already sent to Scott. He has until Wednesday to sign or veto them, and has expressed doubts about the campaign-finance bill, which raises contribution limits from $500 per person to $3,000 for statewide candidates and $1,000 for legislative ones.