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Bush-era voucher program could gain more cash with sales tax jolt, Weatherford says

Thursday, February 6th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Already calling for a “massive expansion” of school choice, House Speaker Will Weatherford shed more light Thursday on his plans for beefing-up the state’s Tax Credit Scholarship program, a controversial voucher program begun under former Gov. Jeb Bush.

As much as $286 million will be spent this year to send 59,674 low-income students, mostly black or Hispanic, to more than 1,400 private schools across the state, three-fourths of them faith-based.

The program, created in 2002, gives corporations dollar-for-dollar tax credits in exchange for donations they make to a private, non-profit group, which then passes the money to low-income parents for private school tuition.

Under legislation sponsored by Weatherford in 2010, the program’s funding was allowed to grow annually and will reach $357.8 million in scholarship money next year.

But Weatherford doesn’t think that’s enough.

“One of the components will be the revenue streams that come into the program,” Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said of this year’s proposal.

He added, “We’re looking at adding sales tax as a component, which would allow for a revenue stream that would let it grow into the forseeable future.”

Allowing companies to direct their state sales tax revenues to the program could prove a major boost. The program originally gave companies credits only for the corporate income tax obligations, but now applies to income, insurance premium, alcoholic beverage, excise and other state taxes.

Adding sales tax represents a redirection of the state’s biggest single tax source. But Weatherford said he didn’t think that would kick the door open for unlimited funding of private scholarships.

“I don’t think you’ll see a massive jump in the cap,” Weatherford said.

The program is opposed by the Florida Education Association and many school boards, including Palm Beach County, which say it directs tax dollars that should go to public schools into private schools and the companies that run them.

The program has flourished under the direction of Tampa equity fund manager John Kirtley, chairman of Step Up for Students, the non-profit that administers the scholarships.

Step Up for Students receives 3 percent of the program’s money – about $8.6 million this year — for administrative costs, including salaries and office space.

The program’s defenders say it doesn’t drain public school dollars. Instead, they say it saves state money because the scholarships are less than the normal cost of sending kids to public schools.

Step Up for Students says almost 35,000 more students may be interested in drawing scholarships, which could demand an additional $150 million for the program. But Weatherford said Thursday he doesn’t have a dollar amount in mind.

“There’s a finite demand,” he said. “There’s not a million kids that are going to participate in the program.”

Scott unveils three-point budget agenda for election year

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott put out a three-point plan Tuesday that he says will guide his state budget proposals heading into next spring, an election year.

Scott’s top item was unveiled earlier this summer — a $500 million reduction in state taxes and fees. But the Republican governor is following that up with a pledge to continue reducing the state’s debt and the size of government.

Scott dubbed the outline the “It’s Your Money Tax Cut” agenda. The narrative that stretches the three bullet points across six pages includes plenty of pronouncements that fit neatly into next year’s campaign.

“Since taking office, Gov. Scott has insisted on a new way of doing business: the government of the state of Florida must make decisions with Floridians’ tax dollars the way Florida families would if they were sitting around their own kitchen tables,” the agenda reads. “Just as families would do, Gov. Scott has made decisions that respect the difficulty of earning a living.”

The aspirational goals Scott settles on are largely built on steps he has taken his first three years in office.

Scott has reduced state borrowing by slowing environmental land purchases and school maintenance projects, reducing debt by $3.5 billion from a record high $28.2 billion in 2010. Tax and fee cutting also has been a central part of every one of Scott’s budget proposals, although lawmakers have scaled back each year’s recommendation.

One element of Scott’s outline that may be fresh: He wants state agencies to reduce their spending by $100 million in the coming year. Since last October, the governor’s office says state agencies already have identified $146.3 million in cost savings, mostly through renegotiating contracts.

“In business, Gov. Scott knew that companies had to become more efficient and reduce costs for better services by 2 to 3 percent each year to remain competitive,” the agenda states. “Taxpayers deserve no different from the government that they fund.”

Scott’s latest proposed tax break draws praise from manufacturers

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott drew praise Wednesday from business groups for proposing another round of tax cuts for Florida manufacturers.

Scott said he would push the Legislature this spring to eliminate a requirement that businesses show they have expanded their productivity by at least 5 percent to earn a sales tax exemption on equipment purchases.

Scott wants to exempt manufacturers completely from the state sales tax when they buy equipment. It’s expected to steer $57.5 million from the state treasury its first year on the books, and $115 million the following year.

“We know that when manufacturers purchase equipment in our state, they are investing in Florida workers for years to come,” Scott said. “We want more manufacturers to move to Florida, and our existing manufacturing companies to buy the equipment they need to grow and create more jobs to support Florida families.”

Florida TaxWatch President Dominic Calabro said that erasing the tax will spur job growth. TaxWatch urged making equipment purchases tax-free in a report released in 2011.

“This tax has clearly been and remains an impediment to capital investment and the related job creation in Florida,” Calabro said.

The Legislature embraced Scott’s call last year to reduce what had been a 10 percent production requirement to the current 5 percent level.

The break for manufacturers is the second sweetener Scott is offering businesses next year. In November, the governor said he would ask lawmakers to expand the current $50,000 exemption to the state’s corporate income tax to $75,000.

The levy now takes in $2.1 billion, but under Scott’s proposal, businesses wouldn’t have to pay the tax on their first $75,000 in taxable income. The plan would cost $8 million next year and remove 2,000 businesses from the corporate tax rolls.

 

 

Scott’s latest proposed corp tax cut draws ire of Democrats

Thursday, November 8th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott told a business gathering Thursday that he intends to push next year for another cut in the state’s corporate income tax, a $2.1 billion levy that has drawn the wrath of companies and tea party groups.

Scott would raise an existing $50,000 exemption from the tax to where companies would not have to pay until they owe $75,000 in tax. It would remove another 2,000 businesses from the corporate tax rolls, the Republican governor said.

“I’ve made a commitment to the people of Florida to eliminate the business tax over seven years – and over the past two years we have been able to eliminate the tax for more than 75 percent of businesses that fall under it,” Scott said Thursday, after announcing his plan at a National Association of Realtors convention in Orlando.

“Everything  we do must be tied to helping families get jobs, and eliminating this tax will ensure more small businesses can hire people,” Scott said.

Florida Democrats don’t see it that way  — and ridiculed Scott for ignoring themes emerging from Tuesday’s elections.

“On election night, the people of Florida sent a clear message that they have rejected Gov. Rick Scott’s failed priorities and policies which have slashed funding for our public schools while giving hand outs to the corporate special interests who
epitomize the broken politics of Tallahassee,” said Scott Arceneaux, executive director of the Florida Democratic Party. “But Governor Rick Scott apparently didn’t get the message: announcing today that he will hand out even more of our tax dollars in special interests giveaways instead of investing in middle class families.”

But the proposal ignited a vigorousback-and-forth between the parties, with Republicans ridiculing the rival party for ignoring Obama’s own support for reducing the federal corporate income tax rate.

The state GOP called Scott’s approach a  “middle-class tax cut for small business owners.”

“It took less than 48 hours for the Democratic Party to abandon one of Barack Obama’s most important campaign promises,” said Mike Grissom, executive director of the Florida Republican Party.

 

 

Americans for Prosperity launches ’5 for Florida’ campaign

Friday, June 22nd, 2012 by John Kennedy

A conservative group Friday said it is launching an election-year campaign aimed at getting political candidates to endorse dramatic changes to Florida’s public pension plans, its tax system and education.

Slade O’Brien, Florida director for Americans for Prosperity, said the organization will ask the public and those running for office this year to commit to promoting its “Five for Florida,” plan.

The five issues highlighted will make Florida the “most attractive state in the nation for families, businesses and entrepreneurs,” said O’Brien, who is based in Boca Raton.

The plan is posted on www.FiveforFlorida.com. A questionnaire seeking support for the proposals also is being sent to candidates. Results are to be posted on the AFP site. 

AFP, which is supported in the project by the James Madison Institute, is calling for ending the state’s corporate income tax — a move O’Brien said will attract businesses. It would also create a level playing field for businesses when balanced with an end to corporate tax breaks and incentives.

 AFP said Florida’s current tax policy is “dictated by cronyism.”

“Floridians are really clamoring for politicians who will be honest with them,” O’Brien said.

Another plank in ”Five for Florida,” would steer all new employees in the Florida Retirement System into 401(k)-style investment plans, away from the state’s traditional pension plan. The FRS recently received strong marks from the Pew Center on the States, but the groups Friday still warned that the fund is not adequately financed and looms as a potential problem for taxpayers.

Municipal pension plans, which are generally in worse shape than the FRS, also should push new workers into the investment plans to assure longterm solvency, said O’Brien and J. Robert McClure, president and CEO of the James Madison Institute.

McClure said the proposals included in “Five for Florida,” are “another tool in the toolbox for freedom.”

 Americans for Prosperity, a grassroots activist organization, was founded by Charles Koch and part-time Palm Beacher David Koch, billionaire brothers who back of a host of conservative causes and whose Koch Industries is an oil services company.

AFP also is a mainstay of the tea party movement, which was a big supporter of Gov. Rick Scott in his 2010 election.

The pension overhaul and elimination of  the state’s corporate income tax, which brings $1.8 billion into the state treasury, have also been advanced by Scott.

Other provisions of the platform unveiled Friday include a call for expanding charter schools and virtual education, and bringing more public scrutiny to state contracting and permitting at all levels of government. If the changes limit revenue flowing into public coffers, that’s OK, O’Brien said.

“We don’t want government to grow,” he said.

After years of bashing, Scott sends Obama ‘thank you’ letter on taxes

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Republican Rick Scott has spent much of the past few years ridiculing President Obama — leading the Conservatives for Patients Rights campaign against the federal health care overhaul and — as governor — refusing millions of dollars in federal grants linked to the effort.

But when the Democratic president proposed cutting the federal corporate income tax rate to 28 percent, he drew rare praise from his Florida antagonist. At the White House last Sunday for a Governors’ Association meeting, Scott gave Obama a letter thanking him for “taking this step in the right direction.”

“Given that the United States currently burdens companies with the second highest tax rate in the world, every tax reduction makes American businesses more competitive,” Scott said.

Scott is pushing legislation that would double the state’s corporate income tax exemption to $50,000, efffectively exempting about three-fourths of the companies that now pay the 5.5 percent levy on earnings. It’ll cost taxpayers about $30 million next year, legislative analysts said.

Lawmakers balked last year on Scott’s initial plan to for a big cut in the tax. But the governor said he remains committed to ending the tax, which formerly pulled almost $2 billion into the state budget.

Here’s Scott’s letter: Tax letter to POTUS

 

Anti-union language stays in Rick Scott tax breaks for now

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Florida businesses could save more than $100 million in taxes next year and shoppers would get another “tax-free” holiday under measures now on their way to the Florida Senate.

The House approved Gov. Rick Scott’s corporate tax break package (HB 7087) with a 92-22 vote that garnered support from more than a dozen Democrats despite concern from others that an anti-union component adopted late yesterday is unconstitutional.

The $121.1 million-a-year tax break plan would double the corporate tax exemption from $25,000 to $50,000. The new exemption would allow more than 3,500 small businesses to stop paying corporate income taxes altogether.

The tax plan also boosts tax credits for business investments in low-income communities and expands tax breaks for agriculture, industrial machinery, aircrafts and the entertainment industry.

Late yesterday, House GOP leaders amended the bill to require businesses that receive the tax credits to certify that they do not employ union workers. The anti-union language was tacked on in retaliation after Democrats tried to modify the bill to limit who would get the tax breaks.

The union restrictions make the bill unconstitutional, argued some Democrats during debate Wednesday afternoon.

But bill sponsor Steve Precourt, R-Orlando, said that shouldn’t make any difference.

“Yeah, there may be a judge somewhere who disagrees about whether or not it’s constitutional,” Precourt said. “So you’re just going to let some judge who might call it on you later on stop you from helping Floridians in some way?”

The House also unanimously approved a popular three-day sales tax holiday (HB 737) Aug. 3-5. The tax-free long weekend is estimated to cost the state and local governments about $31.8 million.

House poised to OK tax-free shopping days

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012 by John Kennedy

The House gave prelimary approval Tuesday to the latest edition of Florida’s back-to-school sales tax holiday, a three-day break on clothing, shoes and bags costing $75 or less, and school supplies costing no more than $15.

This year’s days would be Aug. 3 through 5, under the legislation (HB 737).

The tax-free days have been around since 1998. And they once ran for as long as a robust 10 days. But after recession belt-tightening eliminated the tax holiday in 2008 and 2009, they’ve been back at a more modest three-day clip.

Still, the proposal pulls an anticipated $25.9 million from the state treasury, but are heavily backed by the Florida Retail Federation as a driver of summer shopping. The Senate’s version of the bill, SB 982, is still making its way through committees.

Scott turns into salesman-in-chief on jobs plan

Thursday, October 13th, 2011 by John Kennedy

A day after unveiling his latest seven-step themed plan – this one toward creating jobs and spurring economic development — Gov. Rick Scott turned into saleman-in-chief Thursday, pitching his plan at appearances in Jacksonville, Panama City and on talk radio.

Scott gained some additional talking points with Congress ending a deadlock that spanned two presidencies and approving a series of free trade agreements, including those with Panama and Colombia.

In his jobs’ plan, Scott highlighted the prospect of enhanced trade with Central and South America as a motive behind his push for more public works projects at Florida’s 14 deepwater sea ports.

“Free trade with Panama and Colombia will benefit Florida’s economy and businesses for years to come,” Scott said after the bipartisan vote in Congress.  “By eliminating the need to pay tariffs in order to export Florida goods and products to those expanding economies, Florida companies will now be able to invest their money in creating jobs.”

Scott on Thursday is scheduled to tour an aviation center at Jacksonville’s Cecil Field and an industrial and retail complex near the year-old Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport outside Panama City.

Scott rolls another ’7′, unveiling job creation and economic plan

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott laid out the “job creation and economic growth agenda” he’s been hinting at lately — a wide-ranging plan aimed at repealing more than 1,000 state rules and regulations, reducing the corporate income tax, and pouring money into port and road projects to spur more jobs.

The Republican governor — who has promised to create 700,000 jobs in seven years — has conveniently settled on seven steps toward jump-starting Florida’s sputtering economy.

Scott unveiled the plan Wednesday morning at a metals and plastics plant in Orlando. With an election year coming, Scott also used the event to draw contrasts between his plan and the jobs proposal pushed by President Obama, now languishing in Congress after a negative vote Tuesday in the Senate.

“Unlike our elected leaders in Washington, D.C., I realize that it is Florida’s families and businesses, taking risks with their ideas, capital and time, that create jobs and grow an economy,” Scott said. “We will continue to attract new jobs by consistently lettting businesses know through our actions that we want Florida to be their home.”

Scott’s latest proposal builds on many of the themes he endorsed in his first-year as governor.

 After scaling back benefits for Florida’s almost 1 million unemployed — to reduce costs for businesses — Scott now wants to require job training for those drawing assistance. He also wants to double the corporate income tax exemption approved last year by the Legislature, an increase that would eliminate the levy for about 25 percent of the companies still paying.

Scott also puts more pressure on state colleges and universities to produce more graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — which he said will help promote economic growth. He also wants the K-12 system to do its part in advancing STEM education.

“Florida will become the nation’s leader in job creation and economic growth by consistently doing the right things month after month to create the nation’s premier environment to start, relocated or expand a business,” Scott said.

Special districts emerge as Scott’s new target

Monday, September 19th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Fresh from cutting $210 million in taxes and scores of jobs at Florida’s water management districts, Gov. Rick Scott is sizing up a new target in his drive to shrink government.

The rest of Florida’s more than 1,600 special districts, and the $15.5 billion in taxpayer money they command, are suddenly in Scott’s cross hairs.

“I was shocked that it was $15 billion,” Scott said last week of district revenues. “On behalf of the citizens of the state, we have to look at what return we’re getting for those dollars.”

The little-understood agencies trace their roots to log-­cabin Florida and provide a variety of environmental, health care, community development and other services. Palm Beach County has 94 special districts, among the most in the state.

Critics deride special districts as “shadow governments” that burden Floridians with taxes, fees and costly bond issues to finance big projects. Members of the tea party movement, an influential supporter of Florida’s Republican governor, have grown increasingly wary of districts’ authority.

Full story here:  http://bit.ly/qkRKCi

After midnight: How the Legislature’s wheels came off

Saturday, May 7th, 2011 by John Kennedy

The tax provision that caused the Legislature to unravel and miss its scheduled Friday midnight close first emerged last weekend — and was ushered into a conforming bill by House and Senate budget-writers, said House Appropriations Chair Denise Grimsley.

“It’s been a very tough year, we had a lot of conforming bills,” Grimsley said shortly after the House adjourned and ended the 2011 session at 2:07 a.m., Saturday. “We just had some members who had some issues with it.”

Grimsley acknowledged she failed to fully gauge how a provision cutting the tax rate on coin-operated arcade machines would be seen as a major expansion of gambling by many in the conservative House.

The Senate, especially Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, wanted the measure to help dog tracks with card rooms.

But by then, the House had little love for the Senate — which Friday night had an uprising of its own over two other conforming bills that would have deregulated a dozen professions, but had never gotten a hearing in the Senate.

The Senate refused to go along with what the House wanted, killing the biggest of the two bills on a 32-6 vote. Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, and his leadership team were on the losing side.

Sifting through the still smoking wreckage of the last night, House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, declined to question whether the 45 conforming bills lawmakers were asked to vote on, may have caused the upheaval.

The bills, containing vast policy changes, some of which were being aired for the first time, had been agreed-upon only by a handful of leaders before being foisted on the full chambers for a final vote.

“A conference committee is an effort where people agree to things that they might not have otherwise have done in their chamber because it’s important to the other chamber,” Cannon said. “That’s what conference is all about. And that’s why conference is sort of an implied agreement between the two chambers.”

Was there a lesson learned? Maybe 45 conforming bills settled by a narrow group of lawmakers isn’t so hot?

Cannon disagreed. But his explanation may have reflected the early a.m. hour.

“Every session is different. And every Legislature is different. And because legislators are made of people, they’re subject to different personalities and different challenges,” Cannon said.

Property tax amendment headed to ballot

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Florida voters will be able to decide whether first-time homebuyers and non-homesteaded property owners should get a tax break under a proposed constitutional amendment headed to the November 2012 ballot.

The Florida Senate narrowly approved the joint resolution by a bipartisan 25-12 vote, one more than needed for the measure to pass. Some argued that the measure would create further inequities in the state’s tax structure that creates a disparity between property owners depending on how long they’ve owned or lived in the structures and that it would not help create jobs.

“I have not had one person call me up and say ‘Please reduce my property tax,’” said Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, one of the three Republicans who voted against the amendment. “In your heart, you all know it’s a cop-out to say let’s let the voters decide.”

But supporters said the proposal would infuse life into the anemic real estate market.

“We have literally tens of thousands of unoccupied homes in the state,’’ said the bill’s sponsor Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. “We’ve got to create some incentives.”
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Scott not retreating on corp income tax cut

Monday, May 2nd, 2011 by John Kennedy

A day after Senate President Mike Haridopolos toughened his stance against the governor’s must-have corporate income tax cut, Republican Rick Scott said Monday that he still expected lawmakers to take steps to reduce the $1.8 billion levy.

A roughly 25 percent reduction in water management district property-tax collections was agreed-on Sunday by House and Senate budget negotiators. The cut was part of Scott’s wide-ranging $2 billion plan for slashing taxes. But is the water management district cut enough for Scott to declare victory?

Probably not, the governor said.

“I’m glad that they are doing the right thing in regards with water management districts,” Scott said. “And I remain confident that we’re going to start the process of eliminating the business tax. It’s clearly the way to get our state back to work.”

Would he veto a budget that didn’t make room for the tax cut, as the governor has hinted in radio addresses and interviews?

“I focused on three things with this budget,” Scott said. “Step one, we need to reduce the size of this budget.

“Everything I’m doing, as you know, as governor, is to get our state back to work….We still have a million people without a job. The budget that I expect to sign will reduce the size of government, the cost of government, and the business tax.”

Haridopolos on Sunday said he didn’t think the Senate would go along with cutting the corporate tax, although he conceded that he and Scott’s office had been working on some reduction plans.

 Scott’s proposal would have reduced the tax by $333 million next year– but Haridopolos said the Senate is more inclined to look at other reductions, leaving the 5.5 percent corporate income tax at its current level.

Budget negotiators OK water management district tax cuts sought by Scott

Sunday, May 1st, 2011 by John Kennedy

House and Senate budget negotiators agreed Sunday night to give Gov. Rick Scott one of his tax-cutting proposals — a roughly 25 percent reduction in water management district property taxes.

House budget chief Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, advanced the offer — which was similar to an even deeper property tax cut and takeover of water management district budgets that had been pushed by her Senate counterpart, J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales.

Florida’s five water management districts collect over $1 billion in property taxes, with the South Florida Water Management District collecting $411 million, alone. But SFWMD’s collections would be capped at $285 million under the deal reached Sunday, roughly a $126 million reduction in the district’s dollars.

Alexander, a citrus grower whose district includes Okeechobee and Glades counties,  has been pushing to more tightly restrict water management district spending for months.  He’s said districts have been sitting on reserves that could be used to cover existing costs and make room for the property tax break.

The South Florida district has $346 million in reserves, according to Alexander.

Environmentalists have said they feared the tax-cut package could threaten Everglades restoration, whose final dollar level is still being negotiated. The Senate has proposed $20 million, and the House $25 million to continue the ambitious state-federal Everglades project.

The water districts tax cut drew resistence earlier this spring from the state House Select Committee on Water Policy, whose chairman, Rep. Trudi Williams, R-Fort Myers, is a former South Florida district governing board member.

She questioned whether the agency could carry out its flood control and maintenance responsibilities with a steep reduction in revenues. Because of slumping property-tax values across the region, tax revenue collected by the district has already dropped about $150 million, from $549 million in 2007-08.

Scott pushes tax cuts; warns against special interest hijackers

Friday, April 22nd, 2011 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott used his weekly radio address Friday to fire another warning shot at Florida lawmakers unwilling to embrace his call for $2 billion in corporate- and property-tax breaks.

He also called on listeners to call their lawmakers, as the Legislature enters its second-to-last scheduled week far from any agreement on a budget deal.

“I will not allow special interests to hijack your tax dollars and squander the opportunity to fix our economy,” Scott said. “Please join me in calling on both the House and Senate to reduce taxes for businesses and property owners so we can get Florida back on track.”

A week ago, Scott hinted for the first time in his radio address that he would reject a state budget that didn’t include the tax cuts — although he stopped short of using the word veto. The latest spot seems to build on that message.

House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, said Thursday night that lawmakers were trying to find a way to satisfy the governor. Of course, Cannon also urged that it was important for Capital watchers not to get “hung up” on the idea that the session would end in its scheduled 60 days.

Tax day protests not just for tea partiers anymore

Monday, April 18th, 2011 by George Bennett

The liberal group MoveOn, labor unions and other groups are organizing tax day protests around the nation today — including events in 14 Florida cities — to accuse corporations of not paying their fair share of taxes.

Gary Coronado/Palm Beach Post

One “Fight For Florida” rally is planned for 3:15 p.m. outside a Bank of America office on East Palmetto Park Road in Boca Raton, with a follow-up event in nearby Sanborn Square. Sanborn Square is where more than 2,000 people showed up Saturday for a South Florida Tea Party rally headlined by Donald Trump.

Find a full list of Fight For Florida events after the jump….

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Will life get tougher for Florida’s poor? Scott: “I hope not.”

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott said Tuesday he still expects the Florida Legislature to embrace his call for $2 billion in tax breaks, mostly for corporations and property owners, even though both the House and Senate are poised to approve budgets this week that ignore his pitch.

“I believe they will,” Scott said. “It’s something that’s very important to getting the state back to work. I really believe that we’ve all got to understand that we’re competing with 49 other states and a lot of other countries. And we’ve got to make this a state where we want to live, work and play.”

In cutting $1 billion from schools and imposing deep reductions in programs serving the poor, elderly and disabled, legislative leaders have said the budget-slashing would have to be even tougher to make room for Scott’s push to phase-out the corporate income tax and reduce property taxes going to schools.

Scott wouldn’t talk about the prospect of vetoing a budget without the cuts. “I’d rather not think about hypotheticals,” the governor said.

But lawmakers also have hinted they are wary of potential political backlash if they cut programs for some of Florida’s neediest — while handing out tax breaks. Meanwhile, higher tuition costs, electric rate hikes and property insurance boosts all look likely to emerge from a Legislature that claims an aversion to tax and fee increases.

Asked if life would get tougher for lower-income Floridians when the Legislature adjourns in May, Scott paused.

“I hope not,” Scott said. “First off, we’ve got to get this state back to work. The thing that impacts people the most in this state right now is the 1.1 million people without a job. If we take the different pieces…my goal is to make sure we’re reducing the cost of state government. But the biggest thing is, people need a job.”

Scott loves teachers, but

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011 by John Kennedy

In his State of the State speech, Gov. Rick Scott made a passing reference to his push to eliminate teacher tenure and introduce performance-based pay over opposition from the state’s largest teachers’ union.

The Republican governor conceded, he loves teachers. But….

“Great educators are priceless. Every one of us has a teacher in our past who made a lifelong difference in our lives,” Scott said.

“Educators, like other professionals, should be rewarded based on the effectiveness of their work, not the length of their professional life. That’s why Florida needs to pay the best educators more and end the practice of guaranteeing educators a job for life regardless of their performance.”

Senate president gets biblical about TABOR, bashes health care law

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Senate President Mike Haridopolos’ opening speech for the 2011 legislative session began with an homage to Winston Churchill, wove in several biblical references and ended with a Shakespearean quote as he set the stage for the next 60 days.

The Merritt Island Republican and U.S. Senate candidate blasted the federal health care law, calling it reckless and arrogant. The Senate will debate one of Haridopolos’ top priorities later today – a proposed constitutional amendment letting the state opt out of the federal law.

Haridopolos, his wife Stephanie seated beside him, waxed biblical over a second priority – a proposed constitutional amendment known as “Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights,” or TABOR, that would cap state spending and debt.

“I call my plan Smart Cap, because it is both. But it could be called the Old Testament Option, as the concept was originally Joseph’s. In the good years, don’t eat all the corn. Save some, so that in the bad years you don’t have to eat sand. Very wise, and very much needed if we do not want our spending in the past to be the prologue for the future,” Haridopolos said.

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