STATE CAPITAL BRIEFS (EVENING EDITION):

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 15, 2014
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

UTILITY RATES TO INCREASE FOR 31,000 IN NORTH FLORIDA
The state Public Service Commission on Monday approved an agreement that will lead to customers of Florida Public Utilities Co. seeing increases in their monthly electric bills. The utility, which serves about 31,000 customers in four counties, will increase base rates by $3.75 million, or about $2.07 a month for residential customers who use 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a month, according to the PSC. The utility, which serves areas such as Fernandina Beach and Marianna, had sought a $5.77 million increase. The increases will take effect in November, and the terms of the agreement will last through December 2016. The state Office of Public Counsel, which represents consumers in utility issues, approved the agreement. “We are pleased that all parties reached an equitable agreement that reduces the rate impact on all customer classes and still meets FPUC’s responsibility to provide quality service,” Public Service Commission Chairman Art Graham said in a prepared statement. “Customers will benefit from the agreement’s adjustments that will maintain rate stability through 2016.”

COURT RULING CAUSES ‘IBUDGET’ CHANGES
In a move that affects about 14,000 people, the state Agency for Persons with Disabilities has complied with a court ruling by increasing money available for services through what is known as the “iBudget” program. An appeals court in July said the agency did not properly carry out a law that created iBudgets, which are designed to provide set amounts of money to people with developmental disabilities, depending on their needs, and then give them flexibility in how the money is spent on services. The legal challenge focused on a mathematical formula, or algorithm, that the agency was required to develop and use in allocating money. The 1st District Court of Appeal found that the agency improperly used the algorithm as a starting point and made adjustments that led to lower funding for some people. In response, the agency filed an emergency rule Sept. 3 that would allow the agency to increase iBudget spending for about 14,000 people to the algorithm amounts. The cost of the change could be a maximum of $120 million. Agency spokeswoman Melanie Mowry Etters said Monday the agency will be able to cover increased costs this year but that it will need to look to the Legislature for help with the issue next year. That could involve additional funding or changes in state law.

UNIVERSITIES COULD SEE MORE PERFORMANCE FUNDING
The state university system’s Board of Governors this week will consider a proposal that would seek to increase performance funding by $100 million next year. The proposal is included in a 2015-16 legislative budget request, which the Board of Governors will take up during a meeting Thursday at the University of West Florida. If approved, the proposal would then go to the Legislature for consideration during the spring session. Lawmakers this year approved a plan than included $200 million in performance funding, with $100 million in new money and $100 million in existing funds.

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