News from Tallahassee for 5/28/15

Scott sees special session with tax cuts, increased education money in budget posted on 5/5/15

by matt dixon | Tribune/Scripps Capital Bureau

fl gov rick scottGov. Rick Scott reappointed state agency and department heads Monday whose nominations were casualties of last week's hastily ended regular legislative session, and restated his hope that lawmakers pass a state budget soon that includes tax cuts and increased education funding.

Lawmakers, unable to agree on a state budget, will return this summer to finish what they couldn't during the 60-day regular session. Scott had proposed, and House and Senate leaders agreed, to a new state budget that offered tax cuts and increased education spending. But an unexpected fight over expanding Medicaid and uncertainty over federal money to pay for hospital care for the poor left the House and Senate nearly $5 billion apart on the state budget.

Scott said Monday at a minimum, lawmakers could pass a conditional budget during a special session that would provide basic existing state services while the questions related to federal health care money are resolved. But he said House and Senate leaders want to approve more than that.

"I think if you talk to House and Senate members, they are focused on what´s good for families," Scott said during a visit to Altair Training Solutions near Immokalee. "They know that tax cuts are good. They know education funding is good. They want to make sure there is a water policy. They want to take care of our citizens."

Shortly before his stop at the business, Scott's office announced the reappointment of agency and department heads, who were not confirmed by the Senate during the regular session. Each pick has two years to receive final confirmation, but the other 132 appointments the Senate did not vote on must leave office if Scott does not reappoint them within 45 days of the end of session.

Many of those appointments are to little-known boards like the Board of Hearing Aid Specialists or the Florida Inland Navigation, but 16 lead state agencies that craft things like transportation, child welfare and environmental policy.

Some of those appointees had open verbal fights with Senate committees during confirmation hearings, which angered Senators.

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Cost of gridlock: Special session likely to cost taxpayers six figures posted on 5/5/15

by Gray Rohrer | Orlando Sentinel

TALLAHASSEE – Florida taxpayers are likely to shell out an additional $156,000 this year as a result of the gridlock between the House and the Senate, at least if recent history is a good measure.

For the last 14 years, special sessions have cost an average of $156,411, according to numbers released by the Office of Legislative Services, which weren’t adjusted for inflation. Those figures do not include two special sessions in 2003, for which records were not available, and a special session in November 2010, when lawmakers were already in Tallahassee for an organizational session and opted to override some of former Gov. Charlie Crist’s vetoes.

The costs come mainly from travel and per diem food and lodging reimbursements for 160 lawmakers. Lawmakers receive a per diem allowance of $80 for food for the duration of the session, or can opt to have a $36 meal allowance per day and have their lodging reimbursed during their stay in the capital. Travel by road is reimbursed at a rate of $0.445 per mile, or by the lowest economy fare for air travel.

The precise cost of the session won't be known until after it ends, but the length of the special session adds to the cost and since the session will address the budget and likely be two weeks at least, it could cost more than the average in recent years.

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Budget impasse, other issues remain on lawmakers' plate posted on 4/27/15

by William March | AP

FL Capitol RotundaTALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - With a week left in its planned 60-day session, a Republican civil war over health care has stalled the Florida Legislature on its single most important job, completing a balanced state budget.

The budget, tax cuts and education spending are mired in a standoff between the House and Gov. Rick Scott on one side, and the Senate on the other. Legislators are heading for an extended or special session, but with no clear way out of the mess. Both houses have large GOP majorities and Scott is also a Republican.

"We can't get out on time," House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said late last week. "That would take miracles at this point."

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, vowed to stay in session until the end of the fiscal year, June 30, if necessary.

The underlying conflict: The more-conservative House opposes expanding health insurance for those just above the poverty line as intended by the federal Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. The Senate has proposed such a plan in its version of the budget.

Behind-the-scenes bickering got acrimonious last week as House and Senate leaders both held meetings - the House in secret - to rally their troops. Meanwhile Scott called in individual Republican senators, threatening to veto pet projects if the Senate doesn't go his way.

The situation is reminiscent of fiscal standoffs between the Obama administration and congressional Republicans, except that fight is between opposing parties. Some Florida Republicans fear the stalemate will hurt their party's image.

"Public policy is a message" to voters, Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, told reporters. "I think our unwillingness to embrace some of these health care problems that we face could reflect very negatively on us as a party."

Here are key issues still facing the Legislature in the remainder of the session:

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Gardiner tells Gov. Scott his tax cuts are 'on the shelf' in Senate posted on 4/16/15

by Steve Bousquet | Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, had a phone conversation with Gov. Rick Scott Wednesday about the session's budget stalemate.

"They had a cordial conversation," said Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, who was listening in Gardiner's office. "The president indicated that we're anxious to get a budget and we'd like to do it on time, and we're anxious to get a budget that responds to the (health care) issues -- and we've got the tax cuts on the shelf. We're also supportive of the education funding that the governor wants to do. But before we decide how to do it, we've got to get this big elephant tamed. There's a $2 billion elephant in the room."

Florida House passes nearly $700 million tax cut package posted on 4/10/15

by GARY FINEOUT | AP

TALLAHASSEE (AP) — Taxes on everything from cellphones to college textbooks and gun club memberships would either be cut or eliminated under a nearly $700 million package of tax breaks overwhelmingly approved by the Florida House on Thursday.

The legislation including the roughly two-dozen tax breaks heads next to the Florida Senate, which so far has been reluctant to endorse any tax cuts amid an ongoing standoff over the budget. The two chambers are roughly $4 billion apart due to a divide over health care and whether the state should accept federal aid to help provide health coverage to 800,000 Floridians.

But Republicans in the House contended that despite the budget stalemate the tax cuts will help Florida's economy.

“One of the best ways to have a vibrant economy is to put money right back in the pockets of taxpayers,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach and one of the main architects of the tax cut package.

The tax breaks tucked into the House bill range from familiar ones such as a three-day back to school sales tax holiday to specific ones such as sparing school booster groups from paying taxes for concessions.

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.

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