Gov. Rick Scott releases
His new proposal calls for more spending, few tax cuts
an $87.4 billion budget proposal heavy on increases and light on tax cuts.
TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott released an $87.4 billion budget proposal Tuesday heavy on increases and light on tax cuts, a significant departure from spending plans he’s pushed for in the past.
Scott’s budget plan, a $2.4 billion increase over this year, includes $21.4 billion for K-12 schools, or $7,497 in per-student funding, about $200 more than the current year. He also calls for $50 million to combat opioid addiction, $1.7 billion for environmental projects and adding 565 new state jobs, mostly to hire new prison guards.
The budget proposal is the last one for the term-limited Scott, who is considering a run for U.S. Senate next year. At a news conference in Jacksonville, he touted the tax cuts and spending increases for schools that he has supported in years past, saying they were the reason for the state’s economic turnaround on his watch.
“In the seven years that I have served as governor, we have consistently invested record funding in what’s most important to Florida families,” he said. “These accomplishments have helped secure future success and prosperity.”
Scott is intent on not losing momentum in his final year, which could mean a renewal of bitter fights with the Legislature this year that ended in a special session.
He wants $100 million for Visit Florida, the state’s tourism promotion group, and $43.1 million in tax incentives to lure businesses to move to or expand in Florida.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, initially pushed to eliminate Visit Florida and all incentives, but later he reached a deal with Scott to allocate $76 million for Visit Florida and to put $85 million toward a growth fund for infrastructure projects rather than incentives.
Corcoran didn’t respond to a request for comment, but he released a statement saying he is “confident that together with the Governor and Senate we can produce a budget that cuts taxes, imposes accountability and transparency and ensures the future fiscal health of the state.”
The $180 million in tax and fee cuts in Scott’s plan is far short of the $618 million he recommended last year. The cuts come in the form of sales tax holidays for back-to-school and hurricane preparation items, and drivers license fee reductions.
House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa said Scott’s shift in priorities from tax cuts to spending is a cynical election-year move.
“Unfortunately for Floridians, every year can’t be an election year for Governor Scott,” she said. “Now that he’s apparently a candidate again, but in a different political climate, we get a proposal that seeks to hide all the harm he has already caused.”
More tension between Scott and the Legislature could arise when lawmakers look to pay for expenses incurred by hurricanes Irma and Maria. His plan counts on $628.7 million in reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but one powerful lawmaker is skeptical the money come in so quickly.
“Those dollars that FEMA owes us are not being counted as dollars that could help us balance our budget this year,” said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, the Senate’s top budget writer.
Scott’s plan also doesn’t account for extra costs because of additional residents coming to Florida from Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria because cost estimates haven’t yet been made. But it does set aside $230 million for affordable housing programs, with $100 million of that specifically for those affected by Irma.
Many lawmakers, especially those in Central Florida, where many of the 143,000 Puerto Ricans who fled the island to the state have settled, have stressed the need to help them find jobs, schools and social services.
“Nobody’s looking for a handout, everybody’s looking for a hand up,” said Rep. John Cortes, D-Kissimmee. “A lot of the people that came here are professionals.”
The proposal is a recommendation for lawmakers, who will begin writing the budget when the legislative session begins Jan. 9.