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Senate Republicans want more reserves, talk less about tax cuts

Thursday, September 26th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Senate Republican leaders downplayed Gov. Rick Scott’s call for $500 million in tax and fee cuts Thursday, saying it’s more important for Florida to have robust budget reserves heading into next year’s elections.

Senate budget chief Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said lawmakers should first pledge to set aside $1.5 billion in reserves — up from the $1 billion now proposed — before going through the budget and finding cash for other needs.

Negron already wants at least $100 million dedicated to a range of work needed to ease environmental problems stemming from Lake Okeechobee, but he’s not saying ‘no’ to Scott’s election-year tax-and-fee-cut proposal.

“I think that’s a very good marker that the governor has set,” Negron said. “But…to achieve that, we’d have to go through the budget and make reductions and use that money to deploy for those fee-and-tax cuts and other spending.”

The state is expecting an $845.7 million budget surplus next year. But about have the cash is one-time money flowing into the treasury, making it tough to use on cuts that would be a recurring expense, economist Amy Baker told the budget panel.

Scott earlier this month promoted his giveaway plan on a four-day swing across five cities, kicking off the tour in West Palm Beach. Scott hasn’t specified what cuts he’s considering. But the tour gave business leaders a chance to pitch him on a host of ideas, including cutting the state’s sales tax on rental property to lowering utility taxes.

Scott: New jobless numbers shows Florida on the path to recovery

Friday, May 20th, 2011 by John Kennedy

When Florida’s unemployment rate dropped in March by its largest margin in eight years, Gov. Rick Scott was quick to grab credit.

Another decline for April — announced Friday — prompted the Republican governor assuring that the state is headed in the right direction. And his policies are helping, Scott added.

“I remain focused on job creation, so it is great news that this trend is continuing in the right direction,” Scott said. “With tax relief for property owners and elimination of taxes on about half of the businesses that currently pay, I believe we are on the path to getting Florida back to work.”

Florida’s 10.8 percent jobless rate is the state’s lowest level since September 2009. It’s down from 11.1 percent in March and includes 996,000 out-of-work, the first time the ranks of the state’s unemployed dropped below 1 million since October 2009, according to Florida’s Agency for Workforce Innovation.

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.

Cannon: “We’re going to do everything we can” to get Scott corp tax cut

Thursday, April 28th, 2011 by John Kennedy

House Speaker Dean Cannon made a rare visit to the House press gallery Thursday evening, saying he’s optimistic about an on-time finish to the session last week — and hinting Gov. Rick Scott’s corporate income tax break would emerge, somehow.

“I’ll just say this: Number 1, that’s his job, to advocate for his position,” Cannon said. “We’re hammering out the positions of the various conference committees. He has been eminently reasonable throughout this entire session…

“We’re going to do everything we can to get him some meaningful corporate income tax relief. It’s a big issue he campaigned on. No promises, too soon to tell,” Cannon concluded.

Cannon and Haridopolos talk of refereeing budget fight, and then there’s Scott’s tax cut

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011 by John Kennedy

House Speaker Dean Cannon and Senate President Mike Haridopolos made an unusual joint address Tuesday morning to the state House, praising the work – and their friendship — which they said led to the framework of a budget deal unveiled earlier in the day.

“We’re poised to bring this thing in for a landing on time,” said Cannon, R-Winter Park, with an eye on the session’s scheduled May 6 close.

Plenty of differences stand between the two sides. But setting budget allocations — as the two sides did Tuesday – sets the stage for public negotiations to begin Wednesday morning. As usual, Tuesday’s horse-trading was conducted behind closed doors between the leaders – belying Florida’s government in the sunshine constitutional standard.

Cannon apparently was satisfied when the Senate agreed to put on a ballot next year his demand for a proposed overhaul of the Florida Supreme Court — which rejected three constitutional amendments approved last year by state lawmakers.

Even with the court deal, Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, and his House counterpart, Rep. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, traded harsh words. And Alexander accused Cannon of “gamesmanship.”

“I really applaud the speaker. He is my friend. And this friendship really, really made a difference as we got through this difficult time,” said Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, after leaving the House floor. “Yesterday was really and up and down day.”

Haridopolos wouldn’t say what the Senate earned in return for the court concession. But he did acknowledge that some of the focus now is on sated Gov. Rick Scott, who is demanding a reduction in the state’s corporate income tax — part of $2 billion in tax cuts he demanded in his budget blueprint.

“I think you’ll see tax relief within this budget,” Haridopolos said. “We’re going to find out where the most support is, and we’re going to find out where the most support is within the various tax relief items.”

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.

Cannon: Don’t get “hung up” on 60-day session

Thursday, April 21st, 2011 by John Kennedy

This week’s cooling-off period between the House and Senate hasn’t served to help frame terms of a budget agreement between the sides, now separated by $3.3 billion in their bottom lines.

“We’re not there yet, but it’s more important that we do it right than we do it quickly,” House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, said Thursday evening, as the House readied to join the Senate in a Passover-Easter recess.

“But I don’t have reason to believe yet that we’re not going to make progress or get it done on time,” Cannon added.

He acknowledged that no budget negotiators or broad spending allocations have been settled between the two sides.

Cannon said he spoke briefly Thursday with Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, but apparently just about session generalities. The speaker said the Legislature is still intent on meeting its May 6 adjournment date.

“There’s progress. But we’re not there yet….I’m still optimistic we’ll get it done in time,” Cannon concluded.

But the $3.8 billion budget shortfall and $3.3 billion difference between the House and Senate spending plans has been challenging. “It’s more important we do it right, than we be hung up on a 60-day time limit.”

Gov. Rick Scott, meanwhile, has added a $2 billion wild card of his own — the corporate and property-tax cuts that he wants included in the final budget. The House and Senate so far have said no dice.

“I don’t yet have reason to believe that we won’t be able to propose something to him that he’ll find acceptable,” Cannon said. “But that will be up to him.”

Are Scott’s flip flops about to trip him up?

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Remember Rick Scott from the campaign trail?

He was all message, all the time. Candidate Scott put up powerful television ads and rarely strayed from his campaign themes of creating jobs, cutting taxes, trimming regulations, and, oh yes, creating more jobs, jobs, jobs.

Governing, however, is like playing an Xbox game: Things come at you fast, and Florida’s chief executive doesn’t always get to control the game or its pace.

Gov. Scott is learning the hard way. But a dizzying array of policy reversals in recent weeks, combined with the governor’s low public approval ratings, may be damaging his already flimsy bond with state lawmakers. And it also threatens the governor’s first-year lineup of cutting taxes, trimming regulations and shielding businesses from costly lawsuits.

“He sends mixed signals to Floridians – and to the legislature,” said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who has served in the legislature under four different governors. “His unpredictability is hurting him. And I think it’s pretty clear that few of us in the Senate are really concerned any more about what he wants us to do.”

Shock radio: Scott ratchets-up tax cut demand in weekly address

Friday, April 15th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott’s weekly radio address includes a promise to voters — and maybe a threat to state lawmakers who have so far ignored his demand for $2 billion in tax cuts, mostly helping corporations and property owners.

“”I remain certain that any budget I sign into law will do the following things: reduce the size and scope of government, reduce the cost of government, and pass those savings on to taxpayers in the form of tax cuts,” Scott said.

“ The budget proposal I sent to the legislature does those three things. I will not compromise on these principles,” he concluded.

Scott’s fellow Republican House and Senate leaders have punted their attempts to resolve at least $3.3 billion in differences between their rival budget plans until after a Passover-Easter break.

House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, and Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, have said they’d welcome a chance to cut taxes. But to make room for the giveaways, even deeper spending cuts would likely have to be made.

 Lawmakers are already uneasy about cutting public schools by $1 billion, while also reducing health and social service programs. But the first-year governor clearly wants more.

Scott is certain to try to burnish his anti-tax, smaller government cred over the weekend, with the governor slated to participate in tea party events tonight and Saturday in Jacksonville and St. Augustine.

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’s tax cuts fall flat with lawmakers

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Both the House and Senate have so far rejected Gov. Rick Scott’s proposed tax cuts for businesses and homeowners.

Budget chiefs in both chambers, who released their initial spending plans this week, said they just can’t find a way to cut tax collections while they’ve got $3.8 billion less to spend than last year.

“We don’t have it in the budget,” said House budget chair Denise Grimsley, R-Lake Placid, moments after her appropriations committee approved a stark, $66.5 billion on a party-line vote. “We’d like to do them (tax cuts). But we just don’t have the money right now.”

The Senate plan doesn’t have them either, at least “at this point,” Senate President Mike Haridopolos said.

Haridopolos indicated it would be hard to justify tax cuts at a time when lawmakers are handing pink slips to state workers.

“At this point we’re focused on cutting spending first,” Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said. “I think sometimes people look at this very conservative legislature like we enjoy cutting. I mean, these are tough calls. These are tough decisions. There’s a lot of people that are going to lose their jobs. Anybody who says this is with glee or we’re enjoying these cuts, far from it.”

UPDATE: Sink-McCollum smackdown, Part II

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010 by Dara Kam

The gubernatorial campaign fur continues to fly in the battle between Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and Attorney General Bill McCollum, this time over what is a tax “cut” and whether they’re good or bad for businesses.

Sink’s campaign took a swing at McCollum for opposing tax cuts for small businesses to jump-start the economy and create jobs.

In fact, McCollum told reporters yesterday that he didn’t think targeted tax credits or incentives work out so great in the long term.

Here’s what McCollum said after a speech to the National Federation of Independent Business.

“Targeted tax credits, in my experience in Washington, were minimally effective. They can be in the short run but they’re not in the long run very effective,” the former Congressman said.

After the two campaigns traded insults on other matters throughout the day, Sink’s campaign blasted McCollum for being against tax cuts.

“Career politician Bill McCollum says tax cuts don’t work, but he’s just plain wrong- wrong for small businesses, wrong for our economy, and wrong for everyday Floridians. The choice in this election just got a little clearer- a career politician who cites his decades in Congress as a reason to oppose tax cuts versus a businesswoman who knows what it’s going to take to get our economy back on track,” reads a press release issued by Sink’s campaign spokeswoman Conchita Cruz.

Hang on.

McCollum spoke about tax credits or tax incentives. Are they the same as tax cuts?

“He said tax credits and tax credits are tax cuts,” Sink said in an e-mail from Cruz.

This from McCollum’s campaign spokeswoman Kristy Campbell.

“It is laughable that Alex Sink, who has made thousands in personal campaign contributions to liberal tax-and-spend Democrats, would try to assert she is a fiscal conservative. Following more political stunts from her official office at taxpayer expense, Alex Sink has resorted to ridiculous attempts to obfuscate the facts.

“Bill McCollum has a bullet-proof record of fighting to cut taxes across the board for families and businesses that speaks for itself,” Campbell said in a press release.

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