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House Dems strongly urged to support budget -- or else


Just two days ago, Rep. Dennis Baxley said he was fighting for Democracy in sponsoring a bill that would give the Cabinet, not state parks administrators, the final say in making any changes to historic sites in state parks.

“Let’s do it by elected officials,” Baxley, R-Ocala, told reporters Monday. “We live in a democratic republic and that’s how you make policy.”

Yet there was Baxley on Wednesday trying to take a very big vote away from House Democrats, otherwise known as elected officials, by urging them to not vote against the House’s proposed $75.3 billion budget.

“My concern is to hear people at this juncture vote against the budget, it’s discouraging,” said Baxley. “It’s hard to work with people and negotiate with them about adding and fixing or changing things when they’re aleady locked down in opposition. What is the reason they’d even work with you?”

The implied threat -- vote yes or it’ll be more difficult to negotiate the projects you want in the final budget  -- came before the House Appropriations Committee voted. Did it work? Well, six Democrats did end up voting against the budget.

They were: Janet Cruz of Tampa, Reggie Fullwood and Mia Jones of Jacksonville, Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach, Cynthia Stafford of Miami, and Minority Leader Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale.

But at the same point last year, all 10 Democrats voted against the House budget, meaning four votes were peeled away by Republicans. They were Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg; Joseph Gibbons, Hallandale Beach; Hazelle Rogers, Lauderdale Lakes; and Alan Williams, Tallahassee, switched over.

“It’s illogical to me that every member on the other side votes for the budget, as every Democrat votes against it,” Rouson said. “There’s enough good things to vote for it, and enough bad things to vote against it...I hope moving it in conference we can do more. I support it today not because I agree with every aspect, but I intend to challenge it, and make it as good as it can be.”


Along those same lines, Gibbons suggested that he was voting yes so he could get maximum advantage later in negotiating with the Republicans who control the budgeting process with their 75-45 majority.

“I too support the budget because this is a process,” Gibbons said. “We’re still early in the process. The senate has a budget. We have a budget. And in the end, we’ll negotiate the best budget we can. It’ll be a collaborative process.”

So by the rationale provided by Rouson and Gibbons, they have a better negotiating position with Republicans then do the Democrats who voted against the budget. The why is left unsaid. Republicans certainly don’t need the Democrats to vote for the budget, it just looks better, especially for a House Speaker like Will Weatherford who likes to promote a cheerful, go-along-get-along political persona.

But the Democrats who voted against the budget had their reasons.

“I’m disappointed that we’re not expanding the Medicaid system,” said Cruz, who also objected to the state attorneys getting a higher share of state revenue than public defenders.

Pafford and Thurston argued the budget proposal doesn’t do enough to help the middle class and relied too much on property taxes.

But Republicans characterized any no votes on the budget as pure politics.

“It’s discouraging to think that someone is going to say no at the starting line,” said Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples. “To vote no on this budget means you’re voting no on $90 million in cancer research, biomedical research, Alzheimer’s research. Do your constituents really want you to vote no on that? Truly? I know mine don’t. I can assure you I’ll be voting yes on this budget.”

After the vote, House Appropriations Chair Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, said Democrats had no excuse for voting no.

“In a year in which we’re increasing public education spending, higher education spending, taking people off the (Agency for Persons with Disabilities) waiting list, increasing child protection throughout the state,” McKeel said. “There seems to be plenty of opportunities for them to hang their hat on a ‘yes’ vote.”

McKeel said there weren’t too many differences to bridge with the Senate, which will discuss its budget Thursday.

“We’ve certainly seen larger differences between the House and the Senate,” McKeel said. “I feel very confident to a comfortable place relatively quickly. It doesn’t seem insurmountable from my perspective.”

Both chambers seem eager to spend much of a projected $1.2 billion surplus on tax cuts.

The House's Finance & Tax subcommittee voted 16-2 Wednesday on a total plan to cut fees and taxes by more than $500 million. Rep. James Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, and Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, were the lone dissents. 

The reductions include:

-- Four temporary tax holiday periods, including three days in August for clothes and shoes priced at $100 or less, school supplies priced at $15 or less and the first $750 on computers and other accessories; 12 days in June for hurricane supplies; three days in September for the first $1,500 of certain energy and water appliances; and seven days in September for physical fitness center memberships.

-- Permanent sales tax exemptions for child restraint systems and booster seats for use in motor vehicles and for bicycle helmets marketed for use by youth.

-- An increase in the exemption for corporate income tax from the first $50,000 of income to the first $75,000 of income for each corporate income taxpayer.

-- Creation of the Qualified Television Loan fund with the Department of Economic Opportunity, funded with $20 million in nonrecurring General Revenue, to encourage the production of television programs in Florida by assisting television production companies to acquire financing.

-- Addition of cement mixing drums to an existing temporary sales tax exemption for manufacturing machinery and equipment, which will expire in 2017.

-- Expansion from $178.8 million to $227.55 million of the credits available under the New Markets Tax Credit program, which directs investment into low income communities.

-- A one year, $14 million extension of the sunset date of the Community Contributions Tax Credit program.

-- Modernization of the statutory definition of “prepaid calling arrangement” to clarify that certain prepaid mobile communications services are subject to state and local sales taxes instead of state and local communications services taxes.

-- Redirection of sales tax collections on sales of electricity to the Gross Receipts Tax on utilities, thereby increasing revenues for public education capital outlay. The current 7% sales tax rate on electricity purchases by most businesses would be reduced to 4%, and the gross receipts tax on electricity would be increased by like amount.

-- Annual redirection of $100 million in sales tax revenue to the State Transportation Trust Fund to be used for statewide strategic and regionally significant projects.

-- And of course, lower vehicle registration fees that will kick in starting in September that should lower costs for the typical driver by about $20.

 "Today the House introduced a fiscally responsible, balanced budget that maximizes every dollar to fund the top priorities of our state and provide meaningful tax relief to Floridians," said incoming House Speaker Rep. Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, in a statement. "The legislation advanced by these House committees today will provide direct tax relief to Floridians and improve the quality of life in our state."