By REGINA CORCORHAN Citizen Columnist
Who gets gold from the state's coffers? Well, let's see. There's that little $200 million windfall Florida received due to the national mortgage settlements. You know, those large mortgage lending institutions that never went to court for improper foreclosure practices and mortgage fraud. Instead they held their hands out for the ruler slapping that amounted to penalties of several billion dollars each.
Florida House of Representatives proposed a plan to use that money on affordable housing programs for those reeling from the foreclosure crisis. Cool beans.
Don't start throwing the confetti yet. Florida has a trust fund, known as the Sadowski trust fund. It was created in 1992 for the unique purpose of financing affordable housing programs in Florida.
For every real estate sale that takes place in Florida, the State collects documentary tax stamps. That charge comes to 70 cents per $100 of sales price. So, a $100,000 sale results in $700 of documentary tax stamps.
Part of those "doc stamps" are earmarked for the Sadowski trust.
Currently, it has about $200 million in it. But not for long. The House of Representatives plans to strip it completely.
They plan to spend it on other priorities, like healthcare and a $2,500 pay raise for each and every full time teacher at a cost of $480 million. What happened to the State policy linking pay to classroom performance?
This isn't the first time legislators got caught with their hands in the honey pot. They have taken $622 million from the trust fund to spend on budget needs in the last four years.
The House Appropriations Committee decided they don't need THAT $200 million because they have the OTHER $200 million from the mortgage settlement.
Other fiscal year 2014 budget plans include giving $250 debit cards to teachers to defray out-of-pocket classroom costs. It's clear Governor Scott is trying to get out of the doghouse for having cut school budgets by $1.3 billion in the previous year.
The Governor's budget also proposes a tax break for 17,500 manufacturing companies. It would exempt them from paying sales tax on new equipment. Currently, they are exempt only if they can show that the new equipment boosts production by 5% or more.
The State has reduced its own workforce by 3,647 positions in the last 12 months and about 12,000 since Governor Scott took office. The new budget includes rewards of $5,000 for employees receiving a rating of "outstanding" on their evaluation, $2,500 for a rating of "commendable" and $1,200 for those with at least a "satisfactory" rating.
Despite these rewards, State employees get no pay increases again this year.
The State ended the last fiscal year, July 2012, with a surplus of about $1.55 billion. You know what a surplus is. That's when the year runs out before your money does.
Thanks to unemployment dropping below 8.1 percent, serious budget cuts in the last two years, and increased tax collections, the State of Florida is looking at having more money in its budget rather than less for the first time in three years.
What do you think?
Regina E. Corcoran, SRA, is a Florida real estate broker, state-certified residential appraiser and residential contractor. She is president of AmeriRealty Corp. and vice president of AmeriMortgage Corp. She can be reached at ReginaECorcoran@cs.com. Corcoran writes her column exclusively for The Citizen. It appears every other Sunday.