Gov. Rick Scott is employing a full-court press to win support for a tax cut plan that is starting out on shaky ground with the Florida Legislature.
On Monday, the same day Scott started statewide television commercials touting his $1 billion tax cut plan, the Republican governor spent nearly 20 minutes at a legislative committee asking for support. Governors rarely make personal appearances at committee hearings, traditionally leaving that duty to staff members.
And Scott isn’t stopping there. On Tuesday, he plans to raise the topic again during his annual State of the State Address, before hitting the road for a nine-city campaign-like bus tour to push the proposal more.
“It’s important to me,” Scott said in explaining his aggressive, personal attention to the issue this week.
While key lawmakers in the Republican-dominated Legislature have said they support passing more tax cuts, they’ve questioned whether Scott’s proposal is too much and whether it misses out on helping average Floridians.
The heart of Scott’s tax plan is aimed at businesses. He wants to eliminate all corporate income taxes charged to manufacturers and retail companies, permanently cut sales taxes on manufacturing equipment and gradually reduce the states sales taxes charged on commercial rents. Scott told the Senate Finance and Tax Committee on Monday that those cuts will help draw more companies to move to Florida and further diversify the state’s economy.
“If we do these things we’re going to make it so difficult for anybody to be headquartered and do their business any place else,” Scott, with an entourage of eight high-level staffers at his side, told the Senate Finance and Tax Committee.
State Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, questioned Scott about why he is not doing more for average Floridians, like homeowners who could use relief from rising property taxes.
But Scott was undeterred, saying the best way to help families is by helping employers grow their companies and their payrolls.
“The most important thing you can do is make sure they can get a job,” he said. “I think these [tax cuts] are going to help to continue to grow our economy, help get people jobs.”
Scott called for continuing a pair of popular sales-tax free shopping holidays. One would be for back-to-school supplies and the other to gear up for hurricane season. He also supports continuing a sales tax cut on college textbooks, something the Legislature approved in 2015.
The governor’s aggressive posture this year comes after years of struggling to get his tax cut plans fully through the Legislature. Last year, Scott requested $700 million in tax cuts but ended up with just over half of that. A year earlier, Scott sought a tax cut for commercial rents and a corporate income tax reduction. Both ideas were rejected by the Legislature.
Scott left little doubt that he believes the state has the funding to cover his latest tax cut proposal despite statements to the contrary by some key legislators. He said the state has more than $3 billion more to spend this year than it did last year through its general revenue and trust funds.
“We have the money to do it,” Scott told reporters after testifying before the Senate committee.
This week Scott started airing television ads statewide to promote his tax cuts. The more than $1 million in ads are being paid for by a political committee he runs called Let’s Get to Work.
Critics point out that instead of a $1 billion tax cut, the state could be spending its surplus on other needs — like improving prisons — that legislators are increasingly concerned about.
As the governor was making his case, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee was in another room in the same Senate Office Building hearing details about an outside audit looking into the prison system since the governor has been in office. The report found that understaffing and stagnant salary levels have led to a 50 percent turnover in the state’s prison system, leaving high-risk prisons manned almost exclusively by officers with two years or less of experience.
Herald/Times reporter Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report.
Contact Jeremy Wallace at email@example.com or (850) 224-7263. Follow @jeremyswallace.