You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.


  • ePAPER

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks


Welcome to

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on

breaking news

UPDATE: Woman dead after shooting in suburban Lake Worth neighborhood

Florida short $36 million for school construction unless it borrows

If Florida lawmakers don’t agree to borrow money to pay for school construction and maintenance projects, they will come up about $36 million short of what state education officials have requested for a key program next year.

State economists made their final estimate last week on money available in the 2017-18 fiscal year for the Public Education Capital Outlay, or PECO, program, which is funded by the gross-receipts tax on utility services, including electricity and communications. They looked at two scenarios: one without bonding and the other with bonds.

With no bonds, the economists estimated PECO would generate $337 million in cash that could be used for projects in the kindergarten-through-12th grade system, state colleges and universities. That funding could be supplemented with other revenue. But if it is not, it will fall short of the $373 million PECO request from state education officials.

RELATED: Complete Florida Legislature coverage

Bonding would change all of that. The economists project Florida has the capacity to borrow more than $2.5 billion in the next budget year, although that is a very unlikely scenario.

But in this year’s budget, lawmakers did agree to borrow $275 million, the first PECO bonds since 2011, resulting in a $625 million PECO program when supplemented with cash.

Florida has a history of major PECO bonds, reaching a peak of $1.4 billion in borrowing during the 2006-2007 budget year. That changed with the election of Gov. Rick Scott in 2010, as Scott aggressively looked to limit state borrowing, resulting in a major drop in state debt. That drop was aided by historically low interest rates that allowed the state to refinance much of its debt at a lower cost.

But as lawmakers begin crafting a new state budget in the coming weeks, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, has voiced opposition to new PECO bonding, while Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said he is open to a “reasonable” amount of bonding.

With Scott’s record of limited borrowing, a major PECO bonding plan is unlikely and a more modest plan remains in doubt.

The debate over bonding has to be put in the context of the $373 million PECO request, which education advocates say is a conservative number that does not reflect the true construction and maintenance needs for public schools, state colleges and universities.

For instance, the official PECO request for state universities is $124 million, but does not include a $284 million list of “supplemental” construction and maintenance projects also approved by the state Board of Governors, which oversees the university system.

The 12 universities last September identified more than $500 million in construction needs for the 2017-18 budget year, which was the list used by the Board of Governors to develop its more modest request.

Similar needs have been identified by the 28 state colleges, with the official PECO request reflecting $55 million in construction projects out of a three-year list of $167 million. The three-year list doesn’t include more than $600 million in other construction and maintenance needs identified by the colleges.

The need for school construction in some of Florida’s smallest, rural counties will go unmet if lawmakers only fund the official PECO list.

As part of a program where the state provides funding in small counties that lack major tax bases, the PECO request includes $16 million to finish public school projects in Hamilton and Taylor counties. It does not include another $131 million in identified K-12 projects in Liberty, Jackson, Gilchrist and Bradford counties.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Politics

Who does history favor if Rick Scott challenges Bill Nelson in 2018?
Who does history favor if Rick Scott challenges Bill Nelson in 2018?

Sen. Bill Nelson in his West Palm Beach office last month. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post) Florida Sen. Bill Nelson is one of 10 Democrats up for re-election next year in states that Republican Donald Trump won in 2016. Republicans, on the other hand, have only one Senate incumbent — Dean Heller of...
Where's Jimmy Gomez? Congressman-elect hasn't been sworn in

The only Democrat to win a special congressional election this year still hasn't shown up for work more than three weeks after winning his race — and more than six months since the seat became vacant. Rep.-elect Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif., won a special election June 6 to represent California's 34th Congressional District but says he wants to...
A cautious Supreme Court sets modern record for consensus
A cautious Supreme Court sets modern record for consensus

The Supreme Court was short-handed for most of the term that ended Monday, and it responded with caution, setting a modern record for consensus. “Having eight was unusual and awkward,” Justice Samuel Alito told a judicial conference a few days after Justice Neil Gorsuch joined the court in April. “That probably required having a lot...
Interior secretary wants more 'front line' help in parks
Interior secretary wants more 'front line' help in parks

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke says he'll ease the impact of potentially huge National Park Service budget cuts by shifting more resources to the "front line." But it's not clear yet what that actually means. The department earlier this year laid out the potential effects in its justification for the funding reductions in fiscal 2018, which...
McConnell’s reputation as a master tactician takes a hit
McConnell’s reputation as a master tactician takes a hit

Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, has long enjoyed a reputation as a master tactician. But when it comes to repealing the health care law, he seems to have miscalculated in the first round of play. He assumed that his conservative and moderate colleagues would come together to make good on their seven-year promise to repeal the...
More Stories