Florida lawmakers dealt another blow to Governor Rick Scott’s budget priorities Thursday, when the Senate Appropriations Committee pushed through a scaled back tax cut package.
With the end of Session looming, the Senate Appropriations committee pushed through a last round of bills Thursday. At the top of the list is a $129 million tax cut package, a fraction of Governor’s Rick Scott’s $1 billion goal. The measure would permanently eliminate the sales tax for manufacturing equipment, and it also includes special breaks for aviation fuel, veterans group, and pear cider. The popular back to school tax holiday also made the cut, although it will be trimmed from 10 days to 3. Nonetheless, Senator Dorothy Hukill of Port Orange stands behind the bill.
“This is a good bill, this provides substantial tax relief to our citizens, and along with what we’re going to do on the required local effort,” she said.
The tax package also carries a last minute amendment by Senator Don Gaetz of Destin. The controversial amendment would allow three Panhandle counties to use tourist development tax dollars for public safety, instead of marketing.
“These are, with respect to three different counties, local dollars, collected locally, used locally, for local purposes, with the local hospitality industry having to sign off on their use. That is the bill,” he said.
The measure would let Walton, Okaloosa and Bay County use funds for police and lifeguards for Spring Breakers. Gaetz filed the contentious amendment mere minutes ahead of the 8 am meeting, fanning the flames of his long-time feud with Senator Jack Latvala of Clearwater.
“And I just doubt seriously that you in good conscience can say that this is a transparent way of doing business, to bring an amendment into a committee, 9 minutes before the committee meeting,” he said.
Members of the hospitality industry strongly oppose the bill, and Senator Hukill says the measure is out of bounds.
“The statute is very clear on what the authorized uses are for tax development funds, and that’s to promote tourism. It’s very specific in the statute, that statute was adopted for specific reasons. Not for things like, and I’m not denigrating it, but not for things like lifeguards and paying salaries, et cetera, et cetera,” she said.
The Senate’s anemic tax package is but a shadow of Governor Rick Scott’s longtime priority. With $400 million in tax cuts offered this year, and $450 million last year, the total lands well below Scott’s two year goal of $1 billion. Senate Appropriations Chair Tom Lee of Brandon says too many lawmakers are philosophically opposed to Scott’s plan.
“I think it’s more of an ideological problem. It’s not about the money I don’t think. And I’ve had enough conversation with enough of my colleagues to get a pulse of their perspective, that too many of them do not believe there’s any bang for the buck. They think this is more of a marketing program than it is a real job creator,” he said.
With his top priorities falling by the wayside, some say the Governor could get heavy-handed with the veto pen. Still, Chair Lee says they did the best they could.
“He’s gonna be the governor for the next two years, we’re going to work with him for the next two years. And some years it goes better than others. We did everything we could to get him as close to what we could as possible. He’s our friend, he’s our governor. And to the extent that he’s disappointed, we’re disappointed,” he said.
Lawmakers have until March 8th to finalize budget negotiations ahead of the end of session.