A massive tax-cut package and the governor’s push for a “historic” increase in education funding could be in jeopardy as the health care-fueled budget impasse continues in the Legislature.
The Senate remains firm that a tax-cut package isn’t going to move while the impasse is in place.
Gov. Rick Scott said Monday night on FOX News that he expects lawmakers will simply approve a base budget — which he calls a “continuation” budget — during an upcoming special legislative session. Such action, Scott said, could require a $690 million tax-cut package that the House has proposed and his requested increase in funding for schools to wait until the 2016 regular session.
“We’ll just do what we’ve done this last year,” Scott said during an interview with Greta Van Susteren. “We won’t put more money into schools, which I wanted to do. We won’t cut taxes, which I wanted to do. We’ll just leave the money there and deal with it in our next session, which starts in January.”
Scott was in Washington, D.C., on Monday and Tuesday meeting with the media and Republican members of Congress to discuss health-care funding.
Jackie Schutz, a Scott spokeswoman, said Tuesday the governor isn’t giving up on his requested $673 million in cuts to taxes and fees or on his proposal to increase funding for public schools to $7,176 per student. But, Schutz said, the budget is the priority.
“Obviously where we are right now is getting through a special session and making sure that we pass a budget,” Schutz said. “And if we don’t get tax cuts this year, then the governor’s focus will be getting $1 billion in tax cuts next year.”
As part of his 2014 re-election campaign, Scott pledged to cut $1 billion in taxes over the next two years.
The House voted 112-3 last month to approve its own tax-cut package (HB 7141), which topped Scott’s request. The highlight of the package was Scott’s call for a 3.6 percentage-point reduction in the communications-services tax on cell-phone and pay-TV bills, comprising about $470 million of the package.
The House proposal would have also eliminated sales taxes on college textbooks and made a series of other tax cuts, including reducing a tax on commercial-real estate leases from 6 percent to 5.8 percent and providing a three-day sales-tax holiday for back-to-school shoppers.
In the Senate, individual bills were proposed offering a variety of tax cuts and business incentives. But Senate leaders held off on introducing a single tax package and never took up the House measure before the regular session ended.
On the other hand, school funding could still see an increase through the budget process, though the amount of money might not be as large as Scott requested.
Scott called his proposal “historic,” as it would mark a roughly $261 per student increase from the current year which ends June 30 and stand $50 per student above the previous high in the 2007-08 budget year.
Spokespeople from the House and Senate agreed Tuesday with Scott that the priority is the budget, with issues such as the tax cuts viewed as secondary issues.
“The president’s position has been that the Senate would not advance a final tax-cut package through to the Senate floor while we still have billions in critical health care funding hanging in the balance,” Katie Betta, a spokeswoman for Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said in an email Tuesday.
“The House would prefer to have a joint call with the Florida Senate to complete a budget before the July 1 deadline,” Michael Williams, a spokesman for House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said in an email. “The House is working hard toward that goal.”
House and Senate leaders remain engaged in a debate about how to handle health care in the state budget that must be in place by the July 1 start of the new fiscal year.
The Senate has proposed spending $2.8 billion in federal Medicaid money to help hundreds of thousands of lower-income Floridians purchase private insurance.
Senate leaders argue that could help in negotiations with the federal officials over $2.2 billion in Low Income Pool, or LIP, funding, which mostly sends money to hospitals and other health providers that care for large numbers of low-income residents. The LIP program is scheduled to expire June 30, unless federal official approve an extension.
Scott has joined the House in fiercely opposing any health-care expansion funded by the federal Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.
The governor has sued the Obama administration in an effort to prevent federal officials from linking the LIP decision to Medicaid expansion.
“I will not stand in the way of the federal government if they want to take care of the low income families,” Scott told Van Susteren. “I said the same thing about high speed rail. If the federal government wants to run a program in my state, have at it, but don’t expect me to tax my citizens. And I still stand by that.”
–Brandon Larrabee, News Service of Florida