Rick Scott Releases Nearly $77 Billion Budget Proposal
By Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida // January 29, 2015
proposal for the fiscal year that starts July 1
ABOVE VIDEO: Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday released a nearly $77 billion budget proposal for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA – Not long after Gov. Rick Scott unveiled his nearly $77 billion state spending plan for the budget year that begins in July, lawmakers were already casting doubt on whether he would get all of a major tax cut at the heart of the proposal.
There were few surprises in the plan that Scott unveiled Wednesday at an annual meeting of reporters and editors hosted by the Associated Press.
Scott had already released key details, including a record per-student figure for spending on public education and cuts to taxes on cell-phone bills, television services and college textbooks.
Of the $673 million in tax cuts that Scott pitched, a reduction in the communications services tax, applied to cell-phone bills and cable and satellite television, is by far the largest. It would reduce state revenues by $470.9 million and save an average Florida family about $43 a year, Scott’s office said.
Speaking at the Associated Press event at the Capitol, the governor touted the reach of the proposed tax cut.
“The benefit of the CST (communications services tax cut) is that it impacts pretty much everybody in the state. … It’s going to go to everybody,” Scott said.
But House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, told the same gathering that Scott’s plan on the communications tax was higher than what the House had in mind.
And Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said there are “plenty of ideas” about how to reduce taxes in addition to Scott’s request.
“Certainly, that will be on the table,” Gardiner said.
“But there will also be quite a few others.”
Overall, Scott’s budget proposal would reduce state spending by about 0.1 percent from the current budget year, but the plan would still be well above the roughly $69 billion budget that Scott signed during his first year in office.
Scott, who came into office promising deep cuts in government spending, defended the growth.
“Revenues are growing in our state. Our state is getting bigger. We’re now bigger than the state of New York. But if you look at this budget, like I’ve done every year, we’ve cut taxes. … We’ve paid down debt. We’re doing the right things for our taxpayers,” he said.
Still, to cover the tax cuts and education spending while keeping the overall budget relatively flat, Scott’s proposal calls for deep reductions in other areas.
Spending on transportation would fall by almost $235.5 million, though Scott’s office said the Florida Department of Transportation’s work plan is smaller this year and fully funded.
The proposal would also cut nearly $120 million from the Department of Health and the Agency for Health Care Administration.
The plan would reduce the state’s payroll by more than 1,000 full-time positions. Scott’s office said that the “vast majority” of those jobs are expected to be unfilled by the time the budget takes effect.
Most of the positions would come from the Department of Health; the agency would shed 758 full-time positions.
Some agencies would gain jobs. For example, the Department of Corrections, recently plagued by reports of suspicious inmate deaths, would add 163 full-time positions.
Lawmakers will consider Scott’s proposal as they negotiate a budget and tax cuts during the legislative session that starts March 3. In preparation for the session, House and Senate committees will receive presentations about the proposal next week.
But the overall reduction in positions drew questions from House Minority Leader Mark Pafford, a West Palm Beach Democrat who suggested some government functions could be hindered.
“We’re already the leanest state in the nation, I believe, in terms of population versus government employees,” he said.
“We’re the leanest. … What were (those jobs) actually doing?”
Scott’s proposal also calls for $271.9 million to be swept from an array of trust funds designated for specific areas of the budget.
State workers would not get a raise, but Scott pointed out that they would receive the benefits of the state’s tax cuts. And Scott would bank on the extension of an expiring pool of health-care money worth about $2 billion.
“We’re hoping that we can continue to work with the federal government with regard to that,” he said.