News from Tallahassee for 12/20/14

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State budget surplus nears $1 billion; Scott calling for tax cuts, school spending hike posted on 12/16/14

by BRANDON LARRABEE | News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE The surplus for next year’s state budget is nearing $1 billion, giving lawmakers more room to bankroll their priorities as well as Gov. Rick Scott’s call for additional tax cuts and record per-student school funding.

At a meeting Monday, state economists added $622 million to the total available for Scott to use when he proposes his spending plan for the coming budget year, which begins July 1. That would be in addition to the approximately $336 million surplus that had been projected earlier.

The new numbers come with some caveats.

Since the earlier projections, there are increased spending needs in some areas of the budget, though projected spending in other areas has been reduced. Economists will meet to predict whether a few other areas of the budget might demand more or less money in the future.

Scott, who won re-election in November based in part on the strength of the state’s economic recovery, wasted no time pushing for the extra money to be devoted to his priorities.

“Because we are creating an environment where our private sector can succeed, our economy is growing, which makes it possible for us to invest in areas important to Florida families,” Scott said. “I look forward to working with the Legislature to continue to cut taxes by $1 billion over the next two years and increase K-12 per pupil funding to the highest level in our state’s history this coming year.”

During his campaign, Scott pledged to increase spending on public schools to $7,176 a student — about a $50 increase over the previous high-water mark, which happened in the 2007-08 budget year. Critics like the campaign of former Gov. Charlie Crist, Scott’s rival in November, said the proposal wasn’t as generous for schools when inflation was factored in.

Legislative leaders were more measured than Scott about spending the extra money.

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Jobs, Education, Tax Cuts Top Priorities In Gov. Rick Scott's Second Term posted on 12/11/14

by gina jordan | wlrn

Gov. Rick Scott’s inauguration is less than a month away. Scott is only the second Republican governor in Florida history to win reelection. Jeb Bush was the first.

Scott told reporters at the Capitol this week he'll focus on education and tax cuts, as well as growing jobs during his second term.

“I want to have the highest per-pupil funding for K-12 education in the history of the state. I will continue to hold the line on college tuition. I think we’ve got to look at what it costs to go to higher education,” Scott said. “Then I want a billion dollars in tax cuts over the next two years. Those will be the big priorities next year, but we’re going to continue to make this a state were you want to live.”

Scott also wants to spend $1 billion on environmental issues, although that doesn’t include a plan to deal with climate change.

On the jobs front, Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Jesse Panuccio told the Florida Cabinet Tuesday that the state has added nearly 680,000 private-sector jobs in the last four years. He said most of the jobs added during that time were in industries with an average annual wage above $39,000.

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Lawsuit Drives Local Officials To Consider Charging Fire Fees Through Property Taxes posted on 12/9/14

by regan mccarthy | wfsu

Tallahassee is facing a lawsuit over the way it collects funds to pay for the area’s fire protection services. The city and county are considering a plan to change that collection policy during two public hearings scheduled for this week, but the lawyers bringing the case argue the city’s tenants would still deserve a reimbursement.

Right now, the city collects a fire services protection fee though citizens’ utility bills. But Miami Attorney Matthew Lines calls that fee an unconstitutional tax.

“The way that taxes are supposed to work in Florida is that you get taxed on the value of your real-estate and the government is supposed to use those taxes to pay all the various things it has to pay like for police services and everything else,” Lines says.

Lines is working to address the assessment with a group of attorneys including Tallahassee lawyer and Florida State University professor Steve Bailey. Bailey says when the city imposes that fee through utility bills it’s especially difficult for low income renters.

“You know, you don’t put people’s street camera or traffic tickets on utility bills. You don’t put their parking ticket on utility bills," Bailey says. "You don’t put all these things on utility bills because when you cut off somebody’s utilities, they don’t have utilities!”

Bailey’s group is pushing for a class action lawsuit, a move Assistant City Attorney Cassandra Jackson says the city plans to fight. She maintains there’s no problem with the city’s current collection method.

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IRS seeks tax docs from Florida tribe chairman posted on 12/8/14

by AP

MIAMI (AP) — A Miami federal judge has set a Dec. 15 hearing for the Miccosukee Indian tribe chairman to explain why he hasn't turned over tax documents to the Internal Revenue Service.

The IRS has been attempting for months to obtain the records from Colley Billie. The hearing is to determine whether Billie should be held in contempt of court if the records are not turned over as previously ordered.

The Miccosukees have for years resisted IRS efforts to investigate whether it is failing to report and withhold federal income tax on money it distributes to members. The Everglades-based tribe operates a profitable casino in western Miami-Dade County.

Officials say bank records indicate the tribe failed to report some $300 million in income over several tax years.

Obamacare tax-credits uncertain in Supreme Court case. What will FL do? posted on 12/1/14

by marc caputo | miami herald

Nearly 900,000 Floridians could lose Obamacare tax subsidies under a new U.S. Supreme Court case, but state political leaders say they’re making no plans to deal with the potential fallout.

The court case — affecting as many as 4.7 million people in 37 states — revolves around a dispute over how the federal government provides tax credits to those who buy insurance plans in Obamacare marketplaces, which are called “exchanges.”

Under the Affordable Care Act, people get the tax credits if they bought insurance on exchanges “established by the State.” Florida and 36 other states didn’t set up an exchange. So they left it to the federal government, which then issued a rule saying residents in those states would get the subsidy-like tax credits anyway.

Conservatives sued, saying the decision by the Internal Revenue Service violated the strict letter of the law. If the tax credits are struck down in 37 states, Republicans hope it could lead to the “implosion” of Obamacare. Liberals and defenders of the Obama administration say the lawsuit is politically motivated and that it fails to consider the design and context of the ACA: to make everyone insured.

The states in question could make the controversy go away by establishing their own exchanges. But Florida and other conservative-led states want Obamacare to fail — and they’re content right now to leave this in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court, which leans Republican.

“I’d wait and see what happens. That’s down the road,” said Gov. Rick Scott, a phrase repeated by his fellow Republicans who lead the House and Senate in Tallahassee.

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