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Tax Cuts, State Pay Raises Unresolved As Budget Proposals Head Toward Vote

The Florida House and Senate have finalized their initial budget proposals for the upcoming fiscal year. But major issues remain unresolved. Still, lawmakers are ahead of schedule and budget leaders say they’re confident they can work out any discrepancies.

The sausage making festival that is budget crafting is well underway in the Florida legislature. Lawmakers are now on to Phase 2 of the work: having the budget put before each chamber’s main budget entity. This where the money starts moving around. For example, Republican Senator Joe Negron’s plan to move nearly $7 million from state park maintenance and steer it toward flood mitigation in Lake Okeechobee.

“My view is, if your house is flooding, you take care of the flooding situation first, then you worry about routine maintenance of pavilions and other things at a later time. So that’s the amendment," Negron explained.

“I support the intent of the amendment. I support the Caulkins projects. I think there’s lot of good there. But I don’t approve of the amendment," said Sen. Alan Hays.

In the Senate, the budget committee is chaired by Republican Senator Tom Lee.

There are two ways of looking at the definition of conservative. One is who cuts the most taxes, and the other is, who lives within their means. And we want to live within our means over here.

“I would say by historical standards we’re closer than we are in most years right now," he said. "I’m very optimistic. Everyone seems to be working well together and wants to bring this ship in for a landing on time this year. So I think we’ll move very quickly through the conference process this year."

The Senate has its own set of priorities to fund. It’s looking at putting more money into education in order to reduce property taxes. It wants money for special needs children, Lake Okeechobee and possibly, state employee pay raises. Many of those proposals, including Governor Rick Scott’s tax cuts, are still up in the air:

“There’s two ways of looking at the definition of conservative. One is who cuts the most taxes, and the other is who lives within their means. And we want to live within our means over here. We think our outlook document suggests we’d be betting the farm on a high level of tax cuts. So we’re going to continue to try to educate our counterparts in the House and Governor’s office to educate them," said Lee.

Over in the House, Republican Representative and soon-to-be House Speaker Richard Corcoran is in charge.  And he says big items like state employee pay raises, taxes and others will have to be worked out later in the budget process.  

I think generally the bulk of those issues is out there. They’re being discussed. And we’re sitting down with our counterparts the proper way to figure out what funds we’ve prioritized versus what they have," he said.

Part of the budget decisions depend on what both chambers will do with Governor Rick Scott’s priorities. The governor wants $250 million for the public-private business recruitment agency, Enterprise Florida. Scott has also called for a billion dollars in tax cuts, which mostly benefits business. The House has moved ahead with a tax cut package. But the Senate has been critical of the governors funding plans. Senators say when it comes to education, Scott relies too heavily on local property taxes. They want to a broader property tax cut and say it could impact more people than what’s currently pending in the Florida House, which is largely following Scott’s plan. Still, the Governor continues to make the case for his priorities.

“I’m going to continue to work with the House and Senate to get the property tax plan that gets jobs going," he said.

Both chambers are working with budgets worth approximately $80 billion. The individual proposals now head for full votes on the chamber floors. After they’re approved,  joint committees will start meeting to iron out differences. What’s left over then goes back to Lee and Corcoran, and any remaining differences get bumped to House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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