TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ In an uncharacteristic moment, Florida Gov. Rick Scott is already raising questions about some of the early budget proposals emerging from the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Scott on Tuesday openly questioned whether or not House Republicans were going to recommend a $2,500 across the board pay raise for teachers. It's one of Scott's priorities for the session.
The Republican governor noted that the initial outline for the House budget calls for across the board pay raises for state workers but not teachers. Scott called the distinction “interesting.''
"State workers deserve to be paid fairly,'' said Scott, who recommended a one-time bonus for state employees in his proposed $74.2 billion budget. "But I find it interesting that the speaker is against the pay raise for classroom teachers but is ok with an across the board pay raise for state workers.''
Weatherford responded to the governor initially on Twitter, suggesting that the governor's staff had misread the initial House proposals.
He ended his message on Twitter with (hash)truth.
He pointed out later that the House had pledged to set aside more than $1 billion in extra money for public schools.
Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said that was enough money for school districts to raise teacher salaries following negotiations with local unions.
"The governor must be confused,'' Weatherford said. "His staff must have misinterpreted our budget. Every teacher is going to benefit from our investment in education.''
This year marks the first time in six years that state legislators actually have a budget surplus as they craft a new spending plan for the fiscal year that starts on July 1.
The state is expected to take in an extra $3.5 billion in the coming year. Based on the latest forecast, legislators could set aside $1 billion in reserves, meet crucial needs such as increased student enrollment and still have roughly $1 billion left over. That's money that could be used for the pay raise, or tax cuts or even incentives sought by some of Florida's professional sports teams
Both the House and Senate are just beginning to work on budget proposals. It's normally a process that isn't resolved until right before the end of the 60-day session.
Scott, like past governors, has generally remained on the sidelines publicly while lawmakers begin work on the state budget. Former Gov. Jeb Bush one year did threaten to veto the budget unless lawmakers agreed to put aside money for an education program he was championing.
In his budget proposal Scott called for the state to set aside $480 million for teacher raises.
Weatherford has hinted that the House would rather see teacher pay raises go to those teachers who receive high marks under a new evaluation system that has been put in place. That point of view has been echoed by Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.
Scott this year has a limited agenda for the 2013 session. He has made the teacher pay raise and his push for a tax break for manufacturers the top two items he has stumped for again and again. If lawmakers rebuff Scott on the teacher pay raise, it could damage him as he enters what will likely be a tough re-election fight in 2014.
*Pictured above is Gov. Rick Scott.