In the Miami Herald, Mary McGrory writes:
TALLAHASSEE – There isn’t likely to be any new money for school construction and maintenance for the next few years, Florida economists said Friday.
That’s because state officials expect to receive less revenue next year from the Gross Receipts Tax, a tax on electric, telephone and cable bills that supports the Public Education Capital Outlay, or PECO, fund.
Adding to the problem, the state will no longer be able to sell a $250 million bond issue – and will have to pay down existing projects out of a cash account, said Amy Baker, director of the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research.
The result: no new PECO money until 2014-15, according to the latest predictions.
For a time, public school districts, community colleges and universities relied heavily on PECO dollars to support new construction and routine maintenance. But the dollars have been steadily dwindling.
Smacks of a Friday dump, doesn’t it? McGrory goes inside the numbers:
This year, traditional school districts did not receive money from the PECO fund. About $55 million went to the state’s charter schools.
Public colleges and universities received about $57 million.
In light of the projected shortfall, state officials this week stopped payments to some projects, including some that may only be halfway completed.
Additionally, Gov. Rick Scott asked schools and colleges to return as much as $250 million to the state in order to cover other projects that had already been approved.
“Due to this significant shortfall, it has become necessary for difficult decisions to be made on which projects may be funded and which must be discontinued at this point in time,” Scott wrote in a letter that he sent out to top education officials this past Tuesday.
It was unclear which projects would move be halted.
You’ have thought that Scott and his republican allies should have foreseen such a drop during the last legislative session when they gave $55 million to their charter school cronies. Or when they were creating cozy tax loopholes for alcohol distributorships.
At any rate, such a drop in the source of PECO funding – taxes to telephone and cable bills – serves as a rebuke of Scott’s economic policies. A supply-sider like Scott thinks that his tax-breaks for corporation and incentives for new businesses will trickle down to the consumer level and essentially broaden the tax base.
Can we say that Scott and his republican legislative allies have been irresponsible? Or that we are beginning to witness the start of the breakdown of the state’s education apparatus that results from excess dollars going to contractors for standardized tests, the creation of standards, online schools and individuals to open charter schools?
And the list above doesn’t even include the hidden costs associated with SB736. Florida’s last in per pupil funding. Scott’s DOE and the legislature committed 98 percent of Race to the Top funds to contractors. Now that a source of public school funding has apparently dried up, Floridians will begin to ask questions.