TALLAHASSEE For the first time in his brief and turbulent political career, Gov. Rick Scott needs a little help from Florida’s Democrats to turn one of his wishes into law.
Scott’s top legislative priority this year — a $141 million tax cut for manufacturers — comes with an asterisk: It has to garner ‘Yes’ votes from two-thirds of the Legislature to pass.
That means Democrats — whose gains in November breached the Republican supermajorities in Tallahassee — suddenly find themselves in an unfamiliar power position as they try to defeat Scott in 2014.
“I doubt that’ll be able to get a supermajority,” said Rep. Perry Thurston, a Plantation Democrat and minority leader in the Florida House. “It’s just another [business] incentive. We don’t know if it works.”
The bill seeks to eliminate sales taxes on all manufacturing equipment and machinery.
Scott has already put considerable political capital behind the tax cut, stating on numerous occasions that this was his top priority for 2013, along with a $1.2 billion boost in education funding.
“We need to build up manufacturing jobs in the great state of Florida,” he said in unveiling a $74.2 billion budget plan last month. Scott said the tax cut would create jobs and increase exports.
A failure on the measure would be politically embarrassing for Scott, who has staked his governorship on job creation and CEO-like efficacy.
It’s not clear if the entire Democratic caucus agrees with Thurston in opposing the tax break, which faces a higher vote threshold because it would hit local governments. Many Democrats have voted in favor of Scott’s tax cuts for businesses in the past. But as 2014 nears and Scott’s poll numbers sag, the party has begun to take a more aggressive stance against such cuts. Democrats recently slammed Scott for supporting “tax giveaways to special interest cronies.”
If Democrats decide to take a united stand against the manufacturing tax cut, it could be the first time the minority party leverages its strengthened numbers to torpedo a Scott-backed initiative. The party has been mostly marginalized for the last two years, as Scott and a Republican supermajority pushed through conservative legislation.
“Politics always come into play,” said Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel-Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, acknowledging her party’s newfound power to buck Scott’s tax cut. “There’s the political piece as well. And yes, that political piece will be in play. As it should be.”
Rehwinkel-Vasilinda, the top Democrat on the Finance and Tax committee, said she has not decided how she will vote on the measure. She said the bill’s supporters would have to convince her that it would create jobs and not overburden local governments, who stand to lose tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue. Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, called the proposal “ridiculous” and “trickle-down, voodoo economics.”
Scott’s team said the governor fully expects to get bipartisan support for the measure.
“Gov. Scott is confident that those who support job creation will support this,” said Jackie Schutz, a spokesperson for the governor. “This is about job creation. It’s about bringing more manufacturers to Florida.”