Gov. Scott’s $87.4 bil­lion bud­get plan calls for more spend­ing, few tax cuts

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - LOCAL - By Gray Rohrer Staff writer

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 in en­vi­ron­men­tal projects and 565 new state jobs, mostly to hire new prison guards.

The bud­get pro­posal is the last one for the termlim­ited 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,” Scott 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 fights with the Leg­is­la­ture this year that ended in a spe­cial ses­sion.

Scott 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 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 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 Gov. Scott,” Cruz 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. Scott’s plan counts on $628.7 mil­lion in re­im­burse­ments from the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency, but one law­maker is skep­ti­cal the money will 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 as­so­ci­ated with peo­ple com­ing to Florida from Puerto Rico after Hur­ri­cane Maria. No cost es­ti­mates hav been made, but the plan does set aside $230 mil­lion for af­ford­able hous­ing pro­grams, with $100 mil­lion of that specif­i­cally for those af­fected by Irma.

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