News from Tallahassee for 3/28/15

Florida House Rolls Out Hefty Package of Tax Cuts posted on 3/25/15

by GARY FINEOUT | AP

FL House ChamberTALLAHASSEE | With a budget stalemate still possible, the Republican-controlled Florida House on Tuesday rolled out a hefty package of tax cuts and tax breaks that it wants to push through during this year's session.

House leaders are pitching nearly $700 million in tax cuts, including a substantial cut in the taxes charged on cellphones and cable television, a three-day back to school sales tax holiday, and exempting college textbooks from sales taxes.

"We want to send that money back to the kitchen tables all across this great state, because the decisions made at the kitchen table about how to spend money are always better than the decisions made by politicians far away," said Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican and main sponsor of the tax package.

The House package includes more than a dozen tax breaks, ranging from sparing school booster groups from paying taxes for concessions to creating a sales tax holiday for small businesses in late November. It also includes tax breaks being sought by some of the state's business interest groups, including a slight reduction in the tax now charged on commercial leases.

The biggest part of the $690 million package is a reduction in the taxes now charged on cellphones and cable television. The proposed cut would save the average Floridian about $40 a year and would divert nearly $500 million out of the state's main budget account.

A cut in the tax known officially as the "communication services tax" is one of this year's top priorities for Gov. Rick Scott.

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Get me rewrite! Film tax incentive program gets revamp posted on 3/12/15

by Gray Rohrer | Orlando Sentinel

Lawmakers are hoping to redesign Florida’s defunct taxpayer incentive program for the film and entertainment industry, promising to “get more bang for less bucks” to get it approved.

Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, and Rep. Mike Miller, R-Winter Park, are sponsoring bills to restart the program. The old program ran out of money last year after film, TV, commercials, digital shorts and video game projects exhausted the $296 million set aside for the program in 2010.

“We’re trying to overcome where we failed with our program. Where we failed was no matter how much money we put in the program, it was all gone in a day,” Detert said.

Detert’s bill, which passed through a Senate panel Tuesday, would transfer the state film office from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity to Enterprise Florida, a public-private entity that entices businesses to relocate to Florida.

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Lawmakers could limit governor’s job incentive program posted on 3/9/15

by matt dixon | Tribune/Scripps Capital Bureau

FL Gov Rick ScottTALLAHASSEE — Lawmakers want to put limits on how Gov. Rick Scott uses large pots of money set aside to lure jobs to the state, complaining that his administration has too frequently let businesses off the hook in fully complying with all their wage and return-on-investment requirements.

Scott used the incentive money during his first term to spur job creation, a main tenet of both his campaigns. Lawmakers signed-off on big incentive projects, including $41 million to two companies in 2014 as Scott was running for re-election, but are now expressing concerns.

House and Senate bills would limit when Scott’s top jobs agency, the Department of Economic Opportunity, could waive requirements needed to finalize incentive contracts.

One provision would prevent the Department of Economic Opportunity from signing off on incentive deals if a company plans to create low-paying jobs. A House bill would prevent wages from dipping below 105 percent of the average wage in the county where a project is planned. A Senate plan, SB 1214, would prevent the department from waiving a project’s wage requirements when they fall below a county’s average annual wage.

The office of House Speaker Steve Crisafulli has had direct input in the bill, which includes several other unrelated economic development provisions. Crisafulli says the waiver provisions will “go a long way to bring more confidence that our tax incentives are being used effectively.”

The House bill, managed by state Rep. Mike La Rosa, R-St. Cloud, passed its first committee stop, while the Senate bill gets its first hearing Tuesday.

Scott declined to answer specific questions related to the proposals. His proposed budget requests $85 million in economic incentive money.

Bills in both chambers would only allow the Department of Economic Opportunity to waive two requirements for any proposed project and would prevent the agency from granting any waivers if a project’s return on investment falls below two-to-one. There is currently no limit on how many requirements can be waived.

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Florida budget battle may doom tax cuts and school spending posted on 3/6/15

by GARY FINEOUT | AP

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Their session only days old, the Florida House and Senate appeared to already be on a collision course Thursday over how to balance the state budget.

Sen. Tom Lee, a Brandon Republican and the Senate budget chief, warned Thursday that the potential loss of more than $1 billion in federal aid for hospitals is forcing the Florida Senate to reconsider big ticket spending items.

Lee acknowledged that Gov. Rick Scott’s push for nearly $700 million in tax cuts is in jeopardy as well as his push to boost spending on public schools to record levels.

“We’re at a standstill right now on every funding priority of state government until we address health care,” Lee said.

Lee said that the Senate would likely move ahead in coming weeks with a “mean and lean” budget that would keep the funding of many programs at their current levels with no increases. He added that a “lack of clarity” over health care spending could wind up forcing legislators to push off any final decisions until a special session in May.

But House Republican leaders so far don’t share the bleak viewpoint offered up by Senate leaders. They say they plan to work on a budget that assumes that the state will keep the federal money that is now provided to help pay for the care of the poor and uninsured.

“It’s day three and we are continuing to work through the process,” said House Speaker Steve Crisafulli.

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Gov. Rick Scott delivers upbeat State of the State address posted on 3/4/15

by Steve Bousquet | Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

FL Gov Rick Scott State of the StateThe 2015 session of the Legislature began Tuesday with two starkly different visions of Florida, as Republicans and Democrats used the opening day to mark their political territory and set contrasting priorities for the next two months.

In his fifth State of the State address to the Legislature, Republican Gov. Rick Scott described a thriving land of opportunity with low unemployment, low taxes, low state debt and a shrinking state workforce, using the term "Florida exceptionalism" to describe the state's vast potential.

Democrats defined Florida as a state with a disappearing middle class where too many people have to work two low-wage jobs to make ends meet, lack health insurance and have no access to a doctor.

Addressing a Republican-dominated Legislature, Scott pitched his goals of cutting taxes, spending more for schools and job training, and capping graduate school tuition at state universities. His remarks were repeatedly interrupted by applause as lawmakers sat at desks adorned with flower baskets that traditionally mark Day One.

"We agree on more than we disagree on," Scott said. "We want to give families back more of the money they earn, and reduce the burden of government."

Scott's brisk, 20-minute speech was also notable for what he did not talk about. He said nothing about the raging controversy over high-stakes student testing, pervasive violence that has overwhelmed the prison system and two big health care issues: an expansion of Medicaid to help the uninsured, and a loss of $1 billion in federal low-income pool money to treat poor patients at Florida hospitals.

Immediately after his speech, Scott darted down a side hallway to a waiting elevator, avoiding reporters' questions.

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