As they prepared to send next year's $70.4 billion budget to Gov. Charlie Crist, Republican lawmakers said their plan protects important priorities such as education while the state is still emerging from the recession. In a floor speech on the last day of the 2010 legislative session, state Rep. Anitere Flores, the chief education budget writer in the House, noted that per-pupil spending slightly increased this year – despite the tough times.
"The facts are very clear," said Flores, a Republican from Miami. "We all knew going into this year that we were going to have to cut over $3 billion.
"At a time when Floridians had less … At a time when Floridians have sent us $3 billion less of their funding, to be able to say that we kept our promise to you guys – funding education – I think it’s something we should be proud of.”
We were curious if she was right about Floridians sending $3 billion less. We contacted her office for clarification but she did not return our calls.
Her underlying point -- that lawmakers had a difficult budget year -- was correct. As lawmakers cobbled together the 2010-11 budget, the deficit -- the difference between state revenues and the money needed to pay for key services -- was $3.2 billion. (If you only include what lawmakers termed the "critical needs," the deficit shrunk to $1.1 billion.)
But the reason for the budget squeeze wasn't because Floridians were sending $3 billion less in tax money. The amount of general revenue actually went up from $21 billion in last year’s budget to $22.9 billion for the new budget -- an 8 percent increase.
That's largely because last year lawmakers balanced the budget by hiking taxes and fees to the tune of $2.2 billion. So contrary to what Flores said, Floridians sent more money to Tallahassee, not less.
In fact, the reason for this year's budget crunch was that expenses -- particularly mandatory ones such as Medicaid -- went up substantially.
The largest built-in cost increase is for Florida's Medicaid system, which serves the poor and disabled. To qualify for federal stimulus money, the state had to keep services at roughly the same level. As the ranks of the poor swelled during the recession, more people were added to Medicaid. Spending on that program jumped $1.8 billion this year, for a total of more than $19 billion.
We should note that the budgets were propped up with stimulus cash from the federal government: $5 billion last year and $2.4 billion this year. But we don't think that's what Flores was referring to when she mentioned the $3 billion reduction.
So to recap, looking at the overall budget, it's clear spending has increased. Last year, lawmakers passed a $66.5 billion budget. This year, the spending plan totaled $70.4 billion – almost $4 billion more.
Bottom line: the state can still have a deficit while bringing in more funding, which is just the case this year. Flores misspoke when she said Floridians have sent the government less money. They've done just the opposite. Her statement earns a False.
UPDATE: Flores e-mailed PolitiFact after this item was published and said she inartfully worded her statement and meant to refer to the budget shortfall, not the amount of revenue the state brought in.