As Gov. Rick Scott was on the road Thursday in Tampa promoting his proposal to cut $500 million in unspecified taxes and fees, the lawmakers who will actually vote on next year’s budget huddled during a conference call in Tallahassee.
A joint panel of House and Senate members discussed a projected $845 million surplus in the budget that covers spending from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015. Compared to the surplus of $71.3 million this year, it might sound like it’s time for a spending spree.
But hold on. As chief state economist Amy Baker told the Legislative Budget Commission on Thursday, more than half of the extra money is in one-time revenue. Spend it once, and it’s not going to be available the following year. So it might be a good idea not to spend that money on recurring expenses like salaries. (Baker said if lawmakers spent the entire surplus on recurring expenses, the budget would face a deficit of $264.7 million the following year).
Tax cuts certainly qualify as a dreaded recurring expense. So it’ll be interesting to see what Scott decides to propose. But already, Senate Appropriations Chair Joe Negron, R-Stuart, has staked a claim, once again, to reduce vehicle registration fee increases that lawmakers approved in 2009 by $230 million. He filed a SB 156 on Thursday that does just that.
Negron pushed for the same this year only to see the bill die. That effort would have paid for the fee reduction by eliminating a 15 percent tax credit for the insurance industry that was created in 1987 and was called outdated by Negron.
Negron’s new bill appropriates only general revenue for the cut. But he told reporters after the meeting that he wants to explore eliminating tax incentive programs that have “outlived their usefulness” to help pay for it. He said there are dozens of tax incentives that they'll be looking at.
“If we’re going to do several hundred million in fee and tax relief, I hope this one (vehicle registration fees) can make it to the top of the list,” Negron said. “It was an almost doubling of tag registration fees in 2009, and based on the input that I have gotten from my constituents, it’s one that affects them the most directly.”
Negron’s bill certainly has the support from Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.“I’m glad we’re giving tax breaks to businesses,” Gaetz said. “I was all for them. But it’s past time we help hard-working middle class families.”