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Senate Budget Details Yet to Emerge as House Pushes Potential $2.2 Billion Tax Cut

| April 26, 2017

The visitors' gallery at the Florida Senate. Some people are watching. (Second Judicial Circuit)

The visitors’ gallery at the Florida Senate. Some people are watching. (Second Judicial Circuit)

House and Senate leaders continued negotiating the state budget behind closed doors Wednesday, more than 24 hours after saying they had an early agreement on the overall size of the spending plan.

Generally, a deal on the broad contours of the budget — known as “allocations” — would lead in short order to meetings by joint House-Senate committees to hammer out details of state spending for the year that begins July 1.

But for a second day, optimism from legislative leaders that those conference meetings could begin produced no actual public negotiating sessions.

“I think that we’ve reached an agreement on the substance of the budget, and I think we also have reached agreement on a way that we can get to conference,” Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said Wednesday morning.

But lawmakers pushed back against the idea that a deal that many believed had been sealed Tuesday had fallen apart.

“When we closed business yesterday, the major issues had been agreed on, at this point there is some tweaking going on what I call second- and third-tier issues,” said Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican set to take Negron’s place late next year.

The annual legislative session is scheduled to end May 5. But lawmakers face a Tuesday deadline to complete a full budget agreement or go into overtime, either through a special session or an extension of the regular session. That is because of a constitutionally required 72-hour “cooling off” period before lawmakers can vote on the budget.

Negron confirmed some of the broad strokes of the agreement Wednesday morning. The Senate would get wins on higher-education funding and policy, as well as Negron’s plan to build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.

In return, House leaders would largely get their way on public education. Local education property tax bills would not rise with property values; as a result, the increase in money for schools distributed through the state’s main funding formula would rise by a relatively modest amount per student.

However, the House would also get $200 million for teacher bonuses tied to teachers’ performances on certain tests, and $200 million for its proposed “schools of hope” program, meant to encourage qualified charter schools to set up near academically troubled traditional schools.

Those would be outside the Florida Education Finance Program, or FEFP, a formula usually used to calculate per-student increases in school spending.

“It would be a mistake to only count in the education budget what comes directly through the FEFP,” Negron said. “I think there are other educational opportunities that we’ll give to our constituents, and I think that improves the overall quality of our system.”

The Florida Education Association, the state’s main teachers union, lambasted the “schools of hope” legislation and similar ideas that have circulated in the Senate.

“Legislation like this makes it clear that the real goal of some of our political leaders is not to provide a high quality education to our children, it’s to dismantle public schools and profit off our students,” FEA President Joanne McCall said in a statement issued Wednesday.

Negron’s comments to reporters Wednesday also raised the prospect that he and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, were delving deeper into the budget than leaders have done while discussing allocations in recent years.

For example, Negron said leaders were talking about “issues related to whether language is included in a bill, whether it’s included in a conforming bill.” But legislators have recently touted swapping language on conforming bills — which brings state law into line with the budget — and fine-print known as proviso during the public conference process.

Gov. Rick Scott was in Argentina on a trade mission most of the day, but his office continued pressing for more funding for Visit Florida — the state’s tourism marketer, which is expected to get far less in the budget deal than the $100 million Scott requested.

The governor is scheduled to meet with 10 senators Thursday after his return to Tallahassee.

Meanwhile, House leaders will be able to boast they moved forward Wednesday with a potential $2.2 billion in tax cuts, but it remains unknown what breaks Floridians will get from the legislative session.

The House unanimously backed a nearly $300 million tax-cut package (HB 7109), while being more divided on a proposal that would ask voters to expand the homestead property-tax exemption.

Senate committees have advanced a number of individual bills that match key items in the House package, including sales-tax “holidays” for back-to-school and hurricane-preparation items, along with eliminating taxes on diapers and feminine hygiene products.

But the final details of tax cuts likely will emerge from budget negotiations between the House and Senate.

The House’s property-tax proposal would ask voters in November 2018 to expand by $25,000 the non-school homestead exemption. A similar Senate measure (SJR 1774) has been approved by one committee.

Rep. Mike La Rosa, a St. Cloud Republican who is sponsoring the House version, said it could boost real-estate sales. The proposal passed in an 81-35 vote.

“Home ownership across our state is getting lower and lower and lower,” La Rosa said. “This tax cut gives them an option to make that reality a possibility.”

According to the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research, “A recently released report from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that as of 2016, the Florida homeownership rate has dropped 8 percentage points to 64.4, the lowest since the government started tracking in 1984. The Florida homeownership rate is still higher than the U.S. rate, but the drop since the pre-recession high was greater in Florida than nationwide. The U.S. homeownership rate had peaked at 69.0 percent in 2004, then fell 5.6 percentage points to 63.4 percent in 2016.”

House members have estimated the savings for homeowners to be an average of about $170 a year. For local governments, the revenue reduction could collectively top $750 million in its first year and grow to almost $850 million a year within five years.

Rep. Matt Willhite, D-Wellington, said the proposal would take money away from essential services that local communities provide, such as fire protection and law enforcement.

“It sounds great to give our residents a tax break,” Willhite said. “But I also understand that myself and constituents want services and those services don’t come free.”

For Palm Beach County, the impact could be $29 million a year, Willhite said.

The savings for homeowners would cut Seminole County revenue by more than $16.5 million, Orange County would see a revenue reduction of $35.3 million, and Leon County about $9 million, according to local officials.

Rep. Wengay Newton, D-St. Petersburg, said the proposal is effectively an unfunded mandate that would result in the need for local governments to raise tax rates to maintain services.

But Rep. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Boynton Beach, said the proposal should be left for voters to decide.

“How do I go back to the district and tell people I could have given you the chance to have an additional homestead exemption, but I took that away, I voted against it?” Abruzzo said. “That’s not going to happen.”

Similarly, Rep. Al Jacquet, D-Lantana, said lawmakers should trust their constituents.

“I’m not saying cut the taxes,” Jaquet said. “What I’m saying is, I trust the people that sent me up here to make that decision themselves.”

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, warned that the proposal could get lost on a ballot in 2018 when there may be a lengthy list of constitutional amendments proposed by the Constitution Revision Commission.

“I do not want to be complicit in making the ballot any longer than it needs to be,” Smith said. “Not because of the underlying issue, but because of the reality that it will have the unintended consequence of disenfranchising voters.”

While the proposed constitutional amendment was contentious Wednesday, the House’s tax-cut package enjoyed unanimous support.

The package is highlighted by a 1.5 percentage-point drop in a 6 percent tax on commercial rent. The rate would increase to 5.5 percent in two years.

The reduction is projected to save business owners $190.7 million next fiscal year.

The Senate has proposed a single percentage point reduction in the commercial-rent tax.

House Ways & Means Chairman Jim Boyd, a Bradenton Republican who is sponsoring the tax-cut package, said after the House session that he expects some progress on tax cuts as House and Senate leaders continue to work on the budget.

“I think some of our issues are certainly consistent, our initiatives and theirs,” Boyd said.

The House proposal also would eliminate sales taxes on diapers, feminine hygiene products and college textbooks and offer tax-free holidays for purchasing school and hurricane supplies.

–News Service of Florida and FlaglerLive

5 Responses for “Senate Budget Details Yet to Emerge as House Pushes Potential $2.2 Billion Tax Cut”

  1. Concerned Citizen says:

    Why in the world would the state feel that Charter Schools is a good place to put funds – hasn’t the State had enough trouble with the failing of Charter Schools. How about using the funds for the public schools and most of all the Teachers who teach the students instead of Charter Schools where the students do not receive the education they deserve and the money goes to the Administration. Come on Florida – lets look at the big picture and start putting money where it should go – to the Public School System and the Teachers who work so hard preparing our children for the future!

  2. Pogo says:

    Once again the gangsters organized as the Republican party of Florida are busy stealing everything they can get their claws on. Led byTricky Ricky and Big Pam – they have squandered billions of dollars of federal revenue, that Florida paid in but did not receive back, because of their opposition to Medicaid and Medicaid expansion. Add thousands of deaths and incalculable human suffering and sorrow.

    Once again, they serve the few and rob the many with cost shifting, theft, and lies. Lies told as magical thinking about how everyone on the farm will be well and prosper by feeding everything to a few privileged pigs. It’s a matter of debate as to who is worse – the Republican politicians, or the fools who vote for them. What is not debatable are the results:

    Chickens voting for Colonel Sanders – way down upon the Swindlers (sic) River…

  3. Joan says:

    They are also agreeing to substanitally reduce funding to Visit Florida, a major economic engine of our state. We will lose our bond rating as a result of lost tax revenue and the decrease in taxes collected from the tourism segment will affect every citizen of this state. See

    Watch what happened in Colorado when they tried this…

    The final decision is currently in the hands of Joe Negron and Richard Corcoran and barring a major outcry from the residents of this state it is a done deal.

  4. Sherry says:

    I couldn’t agree more Concerned Citizen! We are being bamboozled by those that are completely “obsessed” with “tax cuts” (mainly for the “wealthy”) and moving ALL vital services, such as education and health care, to the “FOR PROFIT” sector. Does any educated, sane person really believe that “FOR PROFIT” companies are the way to go when it comes to a higher quality of service at a lower price. . .REALLY????

    We are now living with the “dark side” of Capitalism!. . . that puts PROFITS OVER PEOPLE! High quality education is the foundation of the future of our planet! Making education just another “profit center” is outrageous! All our American children deserve much better!

  5. Pogo says:

    April 28, 2017 at 9:11 am

    The bad struggle with the worst – behind closed doors – to produce an illusion. Big tax cuts for the few paid for with cost shifts to the rest of us; and tax cuts of small change for most. As always, kick the poor as hard as possible.


    “…Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth…”
    – Abraham Lincoln


    Government of all, by the few, for the few. Our God (what we worship in public) and our money (what we actually worship) – first and last. We got us, to hell with the rest of you.
    – Florida Republicans

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