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