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Three-day sales tax holiday looks like a deal

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011 by John Kennedy

House and Senate budget negotiators were near agreement late Wednesday on enacting a three-day, back-to-school sales tax holiday next summer.

The House agreed with the Senate’s proposed $25.6 million tax break, with further details still to be ironed out. But it looks like the second straight year of a consumer giveaway, brought back last August after a two-year absence is assured.

“We’re a great believer in a three-day sales tax holiday…and I think the House is, too. We’re probably in agreement on that,” said Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, who is leading Senate budget negotiations with the House over a wide range of tourism and economic development issues.

Still unsettled is Gov. Rick Scott’s push for organizing economic development agencies under a newly constituted Commerce Department. The House and Senate are at odds over how to structure the agency — headed by a secretary reporting to Scott.

The governor Wednesday also suggested he could scale-back his ambitions — perhaps leaving the state’s employment arm, the Agency for Workforce Innovation, out of the department, along with Visit Florida, the tourism organization.

Enterprise Florida, the Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development, and most of the Department of Community Affairs may all roll into the new Commerce Department, under varying proposals.

But one proposal by the House — and promoted by Scott’s office — looks like it faces long odds in the Senate. Scott and the House want the new commerce secretary to be able to have a salary supplemented by private-sector industries once job-performance standards are met.

Democratic Sen. Eleanor Sobel of Hollywood likened the proposal when first floated earlier this year, to ‘payola,’ recalling the radio pay-for-play scandals of the 1950s.

“There was some real concern about allowing someone to in effect be a regulator and also determine where incentives and economic development dollars would go, and then be compensated by some of those same private sector folks,” Gaetz said. “We have some real concerns…It’s very different from the Senate’s view of the matter.”

Scott’s proposed corporate income tax cut — a $333 million first-year reduction — also remains troubled in the Legislature.

Senate President Mike Hardipolos, R-Merritt Island, said about tax breaks, “there are a multitude of things that are on the table.” But the corporate cut may not be among them, he said.

“I know it’s the governor’s priority and we’re trying to get there to help him,” Haridopolos said. “But I’m in my eleventh session now. I’ve had very few people in my career come to me and say the reason why we are not coming to the state of Florida is the corporate tax rate.”

Gaetz ready for road work

Sunday, March 13th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Lawmakers eager to save money are considering merging four expressway and bridge authorities under the Florida Turnpike Enterprise – a move certain to prompt controversy but which could save $24 million, supporters said.

Road authorities in the Orlando and Tampa area would be made part of the state system, along with two Panhandle bridge authorities.

Sen. Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican, acknowledged the move was designed to stabilize his region’s Santa Rosa Bay Bridge Authority, currently running a $5 million deficit.

“It’s a money loser,” said Gaetz, whosaid the state could pocket staffing and infrastructure costs by consolidating the authorities. “We’re trying to find a way to help this sick puppy.”

The move also would increase the bonding power of the Florida Turnpike by $3.5 billion – allowing for more roadwork that could turn into more jobs, said Gaetz, who is spearheading the move as chairman of a Senate transportation budget panel.

Can Gaetz pull off the massive re-org? Much may depend on the political bargaining power the road authorities may hold. Orlando and Tampa’s road boards have had some powerful patrons through the years. 

But Florida’s regional road authorities also usually seem only an exit ramp or two away from trouble. A grand jury two years ago accused the Orlando-area authority of making vendors face an “organized shakedown” that yielded campaign contributions for some of the region’s top elected officials.

House speaker sets up government reorg committee

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011 by Dara Kam

House Speaker Dean Cannon created a new committee to look into reorganizing state government, a good for Gov. Rick Scott and his ambitious plan to merge agencies and shift agency functions, something that requires legislative action.

Cannon’s memo to House members about the Select Committee on Government Reorganization expressed skepticism of Scott’s pledge to run government more like a business but the goal of the committee dovetails with the governor’s proposal to combine certain departments and possibly do away with others.

“Privatization, performance standards, running government like a business, and information technology are appealing ideas but not panaceas. Reform cannot consist of simply combining, recombining, dividing, or redividing government agencies. Our goal instead is to engage in the work of identifying the specific and necessary work of government in order to eliminate the extraneous tasks that have been added over the years. Florida government should be focused on core goals and structured to achieve those goals,” Cannon, R-Winter Park, wrote.

Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey, will chair the committee.

The committee will “look at government programs that purport to promote or regulate private sector economic activity and “look at government programs involved with health and human service delivery systems.”

Scott’s transition team recommended merging the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Department of Health and to combine the departments of Community Affairs, Environmental Protection and Transportation to streamline permitting and regulations.

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