At long last, with mail-in ballots already on their way to voters, Ron DeSantis is ready to share details of his economic plan for Florida and it promises to only further widen the ideological chasm between the two candidates for governor.
The Times/Herald obtained a copy of the plan before its release.
While Democrat Andrew Gillum has faced a barrage of negative ads by Republicans for his early proposal to raise the corporate income tax rate to better fund education, DeSantis will propose reducing that same tax rate, along with phasing out the business rent tax and reducing regulations on small businesses.
“At the end of the day, we have a very clear contrast on the economy,” DeSantis told reporters at a Tampa event on Thursday. “My opponent is running on a 40 percent tax increase, which I think would be devastating for jobs and our economic momentum. I will not do that; I will continue to have low-tax policies and recruit and maintain more businesses.”
While Florida is rife with talk of a “new era” in politics — with DeSantis representing the Donald Trump-transformed version of the GOP and Gillum as Florida’s embodiment of the emerging progressive movement across the country — the two candidates’ economic policies in many ways represent the most traditional differences between the two parties.
Gillum’s centerpiece economic proposal has been to raise Florida’s corporate income sales tax rate from 5.5 percent to 7.75 percent, with the goal of generating $1 billion to be funneled into education. (He’s also proposed legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana to contribute to that total). Specifically, Gillum has said there should be a statewide minimum teacher salary of $50,000 with higher pay for longtime educators.
“Mayor Andrew Gillum’s plan will keep middle-class taxes low while having Florida’s wealthiest corporations pay their fair share to invest in our schools, give teachers a raise, and make sure our children have access to the quality education they deserve,” Gillum campaign spokeswoman Carlie Waibel wrote in a statement.
Raising taxes in Florida has historically been a political tough sell and will be very difficult for Gillum to enact in the Legislature, which is currently controlled by Republicans.
DeSantis is expected to pitch a reduction in that same tax, though his plan does not specify by what amount. Asked to elaborate, DeSantis said he’d have to “see how it goes” but would operate on the assumption “we’re competing with 50 other states” to attract businesses.
At its current rate, the corporate income tax raises a whopping $2.5 billion annually.
In his previously released education proposal, DeSantis did not advocate for an increase in education funding. Rather, he suggested 80 percent of all education funding be “used in the classroom.” Some superintendents expressed skepticism about how that would be defined and how it could affect essential non-classroom services like school buses and cafeteria staff.
More broadly, DeSantis said he supports the constitutional proposal on the November ballot, Amendment 5, which would require a super-majority of the Florida Legislature to raise any taxes or fees. He said he would veto any bill that raises taxes, period.
DeSantis’ economic plan includes some measures that have failed to gain traction in Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature, such as tamping down on excessive litigation and “phasing out” the business rent tax. Florida is the only state with such a tax on commercial leases.
Despite Gov. Rick Scott’s promises to eliminate the tax, it was only reduced by .03 percent during his eight-year tenure.
Notably, DeSantis’ plan also emphasize bringing in additional “higher-paying jobs.” Scott has made the improved economy under his watch the rallying cry of his campaign for the U.S. Senate, but has faced criticism that not all the jobs have been high paying or haven’t reached smaller counties.
DeSantis said that his emphasis on these jobs is only possible because of what Scott accomplished.
“The posture I’m coming in is different than for Rick coming in. We were hemorrhaging — I mean, we had an 11, almost 12 percent unemployment rate,” he said in Tampa. “Now, we have a lot of economic momentum.”
Neither gubernatorial candidate has addressed a major economic question mark surrounding the way property taxes fund local school districts.
It may not sound sexy, but it has been the source of substantial disagreement between the state House and Senate, as the Senate has advocated for local tax rates to remain the same to allow districts to reap the benefits of increasing property values, while the House has pushed for rates to go down.
In the 2018 session, the chambers compromised but Republicans in the Senate, like budget chair Sen. Rob Bradley, have indicated they will continue to raise the issue.