TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Florida legislators have signed off on a long line of spending items, covering everything from tuition hikes for college students to pumping in money for the state's environmental-land buying program.
But they are still racing against the clock to finish up work on a number of high-profile items, including pay raises for state workers and a final decision on how to parcel out a $480 million teacher pay raise.
House and Senate budget negotiators are working through the weekend to put the finishing touches on a proposed $74 billion budget.
They must wrap up their work by Tuesday in order for the session to end on May 3. That's because state law requires the budget to be on the desk of lawmakers 72 hours before a final vote is taken. The final budget will cover spending from July 2013 to June 2014.
Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart and Senate budget chief, said he hopes negotiators will sign off on a pay raise plan for state workers on Saturday. The Senate initially pitched a 3 percent across the board pay raise, while the House proposed a $1,000 pay raise with an additional $400 bonus that would be given out next year.
There have also been discussions about giving a larger pay raise to highway patrol troopers as well as employees who work in the state's prison system.
Budget negotiators did on Saturday sign off on a proposal to put $88 million more into the state's Medicaid program to help the state's nonprofit hospitals as they adjust to a new billing system set to take effect this summer.
Late Friday, budget negotiators agreed to a 3 percent tuition hike this fall. They took this step even though Gov. Rick Scott has been adamantly opposed to any hike.
Negron defended the hike as a modest increase. He also pointed out that in the final go-round of negotiations, legislators agreed to put more money into financial aid programs.
"We have made a number of wise investments in making sure students in Florida can attend college," Negron said.
Florida college students do pay among some of the lowest tuition rates in the nation. But Scott, a Republican up for re-election next year, said earlier this week said that "Florida families can't afford it."
"Every time they raise tuition, which they have done for five straight years, it impacts the poorest families in the state and their ability to go to college," Scott said.
Scott could use his veto pen to wipe out the tuition hike. But Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland and House budget chief, insisted that the governor should be pleased with the budget because it includes many of his priorities.
Scott also wanted a $2,500 across the board pay raise for teachers but legislators have insisted that any pay raise should be tied to teacher performance.