Florida Gov. Scott’s budget: Tax cuts, more for schools

Author: the associated press
Published: Updated:
Stacy Ferris / State of Florida / MGN

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) – Florida Gov. Rick Scott, setting up a potentially messy budget fight with the GOP-controlled Legislature, on Monday released a nearly $79.3 billion spending plan that is heavy on tax cuts and help for businesses.

Scott, in an event that was similar to campaign rallies he held during his successful re-election campaign, chose a sign manufacturing company in Jacksonville to outline his budget recommendations that includes a call for $1 billion in tax cuts.

The Republican governor, using points he will likely repeat in the months to come, said Florida must cut taxes for manufacturers and other businesses to help diversify the state’s economy ahead of the next economic downturn.

“With these investments we are going to get more jobs,” Scott said. “We have the money to be able to do these things.”

Scott maintains that Florida’s bank accounts are growing enough to absorb the tax cuts he wants as well as the creation of a $250-million fund that would be used to lure new businesses to the state.

But the governor’s math is at odds with the state’s economists who say that legislators will have considerably less to spend if they want to maintain the same levels of spending throughout all areas in state government. Some Republicans in the Legislature have been skeptical of the size of the tax cut package and the added money for corporate incentives.

Scott’s overall budget does boost spending on public schools by 2.5 percent, but $427 million of that extra money would come from a rise in property taxes due to rising property values. Past Republicans in state government – including current U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio – have labeled this a tax hike.

Scott, however, brushed aside questions about it.

“Property values, when they go up, that’s good for us,” Scott said.

Rep. Richard Corcoran, a Land O’Lakes Republican and House budget chief, said that he’s supportive of Scott’s request despite the cost attached to it.

“I love his tax cut package,” Corcoran said.

But Corcoran did acknowledge that some legislators were questioning the reliance on increased property taxes to pay for the boost in school spending. He said “a lot of members want to take a hard look” at that part of Scott’s proposal.

Rep. Mark Pafford, the House Democratic leader, blasted Scott’s budget and said the governor has the wrong priorities.

“His budget proposals continue to show that he cares a lot more about corporations than he does the people of Florida,” said Pafford.

Scott’s budget also calls for cuts in other parts of the state budget and would eliminate nearly 1,000 state worker jobs.

Scott is not recommending any across-the-board pay raises for state employees, but instead wants permission to put in place a performance bonus system. The governor is calling for a 10 percent hike for crime lab analysts, but he rejected a request by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam to boost the pay of state firefighters. Scott last summer vetoed a pay hike for the firefighters passed by the Legislature.

“With a starting salary of $24,000 per year, our firefighters are at least as deserving as those who got pay increases last year and those who have pay increases included in the budget this year,” Putnam said in a statement.

For the sixth year in a row Scott has proposed that all state employees pay the same amount for health insurance. Currently roughly 30,000 employees, including Scott and many of his top aides, pay $8.34 a month for individual coverage and $30 a month for family coverage. Rank-and-file state workers pay $50 a month for individual coverage and $180 per month for family coverage.

Scott’s budget assumes Florida will not draw down extra federal money to expand Medicaid as authorized under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. A battle over Medicaid expansion led to a stalemate between the House and Senate this past spring. Lawmakers did not finalize a budget until June because of the divide over health care spending.

Scott released his budget recommendations this month because legislators are starting their annual session in January.

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