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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Rep. Marti Coley Gives Overview of New State Budget

Legislative session ended on Friday
By Sid Riley
At the Republican Club of West Florida meeting at Jim’s Buffet and Grill in Marianna on Tuesday, the membership was addressed by State Representative Marti Coley. Coley gave a brief overview of actions taken during the just completed legislative session in Tallahassee.
"This was a very difficult budget, and a very difficult session", Coley explained. "I am glad we were able to complete the budget by extending the session a week instead of being required to come back in a special session which would have cost the taxpayers $40,000 per day." She felt the final outcome represented progress, although a lot of compromises had to be made.
On the issue of education, Coley stated that although many programs were cut, she is very glad that the funding per student, which is the basic measure of educational spending, was not cut. She stated the stimulus funding given for education doubled the funds for "special education" programs, also that agencies were warned not to initiate any new programs because these funds are temporary in nature. The class size amendment installation procedures were slowed, with the "school class size average" being the unit of measure, instead of requiring every class to comply. This approach leads to building new class rooms and hiring new instructors in many instances. Coley reminded the group that during the Bush era, educational spending in Florida was increased by 44%.
Coley related that after a lot of discussion and soul searching, the state did accept $9 billion in federal stimulus funding. Five billion was used for state programs, and four billion was set aside for unemployment compensation payments and transportation.
State salaries were cut 2%......a 5% cap on non-homestead housing was implemented….and the "drop" program was modified. The "drop" system now requires a retiring state worker to wait six months instead of two before being rehired. Also, upon being rehired the worker can not re-enter the State retirement program and begin building a second retirement. Coley stated she felt the system needed further attention, but this is at least a step in the right direction to prevent abuses of the retirement programs. However, these changes do not take effect until July of 2010, giving legislators and state workers a year longer to exploit the system.
Marti stated that this session she received more e-mail from Jackson County than she has ever received before. "We were very happy to hear from people here and to get their input on our actions." Coley was given a standing ovation at the end of her presentation.

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