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House gives Scott his tax break, but leaves it in legal jeopardy

In a last minute attempt to appease Gov. Rick Scott, the Florida House gave him his long-sought manufacturing tax exemption but left it in legal jeopardy. 

The House passed HB 7007 by a 68-48 vote, and within the hour the governor announced he had signed the House and Senate's campaign finance bill and ethics bill. But because it includes a manufacturing tax break that could have a revenue impact on local governments, opponents say it needed to pass by two-thirds vote of the chamber, or a 79-vote majority.

"We're sure it will be challenged with all due speed,'' said Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, the House Democratic Leader, who later suggested it could be challenged by a city or county government.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said his legal advisors reviewed it and disagreed. "We think it is extremely constitutional,'' he said. "We do not believe it does not require a two-thirds vote."

The bill not only includes the manufacturing tax break but a non-profit corporation to shepherd economic development in the home territory of Senate President Don Gaetz using any proceeds from a lawsuit resulting from the gulf oil spill.

“God willing it will help create some more jobs,’’ said Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, introducing the bill.

But Democrats immediately pounced on the fact that it was a 96-page bill with language lawmakers had never seen before.

“This is just an abuse of the system,’’ said Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek as Republicans jeered. “I don’t really think it’s funny. We invoke the constitutional privilege that’s there for both sides. It’s there to protect against what you are trying to do right now. It is outrageous, improper and, in my opinion borders on unethical.”

Trujillo responded: "Just as you have the right to invoke the constitutional rules to stall democracy, we have the right to invoke the constitutional rules to promote it,'' he said. "To accuse the Speaker and my colleagues of being unethical is very unbecoming of a person for a person of prestige like yourself."

Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, criticized the House for spending less than three minutes on the massive bill.

"I have great concerns that the people of Florida will not know what the impact is on them,'' he said, urging Weatherford to allow legislators to take questions. "At least so that we will know, and the press will report back to our districts." 

Three other Republicans joined Fasano to vote against the bill. Reps. Halsey Beshears, R-Monticello, Holly Raschein, R-Key West, and Kathleen Peters, R-St. Petersburg also voted against it.