State Politics

Gov. Scott proposes $1.1 billion spending increase for state budget

Florida Gov. Rick Scott gestures during a visit to Beneficial Blends Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017, in Tampa. Despite what could be a bruising budget year with competing priorities, Gov. Scott called for $618 million in tax cuts, including a dramatic cut in the sales taxes charged on commercial rents.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott gestures during a visit to Beneficial Blends Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017, in Tampa. Despite what could be a bruising budget year with competing priorities, Gov. Scott called for $618 million in tax cuts, including a dramatic cut in the sales taxes charged on commercial rents. AP

As he enters his final two years in office, Gov. Rick Scott rolled out a proposed budget Tuesday that bears a strong resemblance to the ones he’s drafted in previous years.

His $83.5 billion proposal — $1.1 billion more than this year’s budget — was vintage Scott: stuffed with tax cuts for businesses, millions for corporations to create jobs, millions for tourism marketing and an uptick in education spending financed mainly by homeowners.

But this time Scott faces a deep philosophical divide with state lawmakers that threatens to wipe out much of Scott’s agenda.

During the Associated Press’ annual state legislative preview with the state’s political reporters and editors, Scott made his pitch only to have it challenged later by legislative leaders. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, declared that Scott’s touted job incentives were unlikely and that the state budget should be $1 billion less than what the governor proposed. Senate President Joe Negron repeated his wish to improve higher education and to finance a $2.4 billion land purchase to improve water quality, measures that conflict with Scott’s aims.

Scott said he knows what is best for creating jobs in Florida, the centerpiece of his campaigns for governor in 2010 and 2014.

“When jobs are created, it helps the poorest, most disadvantaged families who need a job the most,” Scott said.

Scott tried to counter Corcoran’s opposition without mentioning him by name.

“I believe that those who oppose investing in growing businesses, simply don’t understand how businesses work,” Scott said. “We need to compete for jobs here in Florida so we can diversify our economy for generations to come.”

Scott proposes to cut $618 million in taxes mostly for businesses, boost education funding by $815 million, restore $85 million for his job creation incentive program and dedicate $76 million to Visit Florida marketing programs.

The education funding would get paid by homeowners as property tax revenue grows with rising home values. That increased revenue would account for nearly $558 million of the extra money in Scott’s plan.

“If we’re going to make Florida the best state for future generations, we have to invest in our students,” Scott said, saying the higher taxes from home values wasn’t a tax increase.

Corcoran said many lawmakers see it as a tax increase: “We’re not raising taxes.”

Similarly, Scott defended spending for Visit Florida amid growing criticism from Corcoran over the agency’s spending, which has included millions spent on contracts with a race car team, a British soccer team and music star Pitbull.

“We have to continue marketing Florida,” Scott said. “Anyone who thinks otherwise is turning their back on valuable jobs.”

But Corcoran referred to the spending at Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, which directs the job incentive spending, to turning on the lights in the kitchen and finding an infestation of cockroaches.

“I don’t mean this in a disparaging way to anybody, but there’s cockroaches everywhere,” he said. “Bonuses, severance packages, furniture, trips.”

On healthcare, Scott, who spent last year feuding with hospitals over what he deemed “price-gouging” and too-high profits, wants to rewrite Medicaid rules to reduce hospital payouts by $929 million.

Medicaid, supported by both federal and state dollars, is the most costly program in the budget, making up nearly one-third of taxpayers’ annual expense.

The potential budget differences with the Legislature is not good news for Scott. While Scott is required by law to propose a budget, the Legislature is solely charged with writing the budget and need not follow any of Scott’s recommendations. Scott can veto the budget or individual items.

Times/Herald reporters Michael Auslen, Steve Bousquet and Kristen M. Clark contributed to this story.

Highlights in Gov. Rick Scott’s proposed $83.5 billion budget.

• $1.1 billion more than the current state budget

• $815 million increase in state and local funding for education, $558 million via higher property tax collections

• Per pupil spending would increase from $7,204.58 to $7,420.99

• No college tuition increases

• $618 million in tax cuts, including $454 million alone in cuts to sales taxes on commercial leases paid by businesses.

• $85 million in economic incentive programs for corporations

• $76 million for Visit Florida tourism marketing programs

• No across the board pay increase for state employees

• $14.6 million for a 5 percent pay increase for the state’s 4,800 sworn law enforcement officers

• $38 million to raise minimum salaries of corrections officers and probation officers

• $5.8 million to hire 46 counter-terrorism agents with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement

• $225 million for Everglades restoration

• $6.3 million to hire 90 new staff at state-run mental hospitals.

• $1.5 million to help at-risk people in Pinellas access mental health services and $500,000 to provide transitional housing, job training and behavioral health care in Broward.

• $1.9 million for 21 additional epidemiologists to address outbreaks like Zika

• A prohibition against use of $177 million of sea port improvement funds for projects that results in an “expansion of trade with the Cuban dictatorship.”

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