House budget would boost state spending by billions

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R- Land O’ Lakes. SCOTT KEELER | Times

Richard Corcoran complains often about how the state spends too much money, and his political website shouts: “Lower taxes. Less spending.”

But if Corcoran has his way, as he often does, the next state budget will be billions of dollars higher than the current one.

The Republican lawmaker rolled out a spending plan of $87.2 billion that’s similar in size to those proposed by the Senate and by Gov. Rick Scott.

But only Corcoran rails against “reckless government spending” in messages to voters on his web site and on social media, where he emphasizes his conservative philosophy.

Unlike Scott and Senate President Joe Negron, only Corcoran is considering running for the Republican nomination for governor in a primary dominated by the state’s most fiscally conservative voters.

Corcoran said growth in public school enrollment and Medicaid caseloads are two budget drivers forcing more spending.

“It’s not so much our actions as it is growth,” Corcoran told the Times/Herald Monday. “I think our budget’s very fiscally sound and very conservative.”

He said it has far fewer parochial spending projects than the current budget does — proof of fiscal responsibility.

But even Democrats were taken aback by the size of the House budget.

“I’m a little surprised at the amount of money they’re throwing around,” said Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, policy chair of the 40-member House Democratic Caucus.

It has big increases in spending on public schools and charter schools, health care and environmental programs.

“Something has changed,” Jenne said.

A spike of nearly $3 billion in health care spending accounts for a large chunk of the budget increase. The House also would boost K-12 spending by $507 million and spend about $200 million more on environmental programs, while cutting $217 million from state universities.

State lawmakers will begin building a budget this week, and the numbers will change.

Democrats criticize Republicans for sweeping $127 million from a local affordable housing program at a time when South Florida and other urban areas are experiencing a crisis shortage of affordable housing made worse by Hurricane Irma.

“Every single year that I can recall, affordable housing gets swept,” Corcoran said.

Scott’s budget totals $87.4 billion. The Senate’s is $87.3 billion.

The Senate and House will have to resolve their usual spending differences, and one of the biggest this session is in higher education, where the differences total nearly $600 million.

The Corcoran spending plan is $4.8 billion higher than the budget that he and other legislators voted for last May.

But Corcoran’s office notes that when all of the state’s actual expenditures are included, the current budget is nearly $85 billion. That includes outside-the-budget expenses such as $1.5 billion for a low-income pool for hospital patient care and $300 million in payments to the state as part of the BP oil spill settlement.

On his web site, Corcoran says: “Reckless government spending is something that plagues governments at every level. Fiscal responsibility has been elusive from local city councils to the U.S. Congress. However, we bucked that trend by looking deep into our budget and rooting out wasteful or excessive spending.”

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