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Scott proposes $74 billion wishlist budget, focused on tax cuts

Gov. Rick Scott packaged together his election-year priorities Wednesday and offered up a $74.19 billion budget proposal to Florida lawmakers that is slightly below the current year budget.

The budget proposal includes his wish-list of priorities, from more tax breaks for businesses to replumbing the Everglades and lowering the state’s debt ratio. Titled the “It’s Your Money Tax Cut Budget,’’ the governor said "this includes another historic tax cut budget for Florida Families" and is a "sharp contrast to the four budgets before we took office."

Scott, a Republican and former corporate executive, came into office vowing to shrink government and said, in a statement on Wednesday "more revenue does not mean we should grow government. Instead we should grow our businesses." 

His proposed spending plan is about $297 million smaller than current budget of about $74.5 billion. Even though this proposed budget is smaller than this fiscal year's, both could have been considered outsized by Scott when he campaigned in 2010 and called that smaller, $70.3 billion plan "bloated."

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, the governor said his budget reduces state debt by $170 million, on top of the $3.6 billion debt reduction he said he has already achieved. After the recession shrunk state revenues for his first two years in office, the governor has more money to work with this year than he had in 2013 – the second year revenues have risen.

Scott used his budget to draw a sharp contrast to former Gov. Charlie Crist, who is now running against him as a Democrat. Scott's budget reduces 1,200 jobs but his initial budget release did not provide immediate details and still unknown is whether he plans to use any of the new money to restore program cuts made in previous years.

It is clear that Scott’s spending plan includes more than $500 million in givebacks, including reducing an increase in the state’s auto tag fee by about $25 per driver and lowering taxes on business rents by $100 million. Scott wants to double state spending on Everglades and has vowed to devote $31 million more to child protection at the Department of Children and Families, including adding 447 positions at the agency that has been plagued by a series of child deaths over the past year.

The menu of tax cuts includes a plan to eliminate $401 million in motorist fee hikes approved when legislators were in the throes of the recession in 2009 and raised $2.2 billion in fee increases in 2009, when Crist was governor. He also wants a 10-day back-to-school sales tax holiday, a 15-day sales tax holiday for hurricane supplies, and a reduction in corporate filing fees by $33 million.

The governor made no mention of his decision last year to support Medicaid expansion under the federal Affordable Care Act. Since he made the announcement, he has all but abandoned any attempt to persuade legislators to draw down the $51 billion in federal funds over 10 years. His budget does include $26 million to pay for part-time state workers as required under the law.

What kind of reception the governor's spending plan will get is still unknown. In the past three years, lawmakers have virtually ignored the bulk of the governor’s recommendations, with the exception of a $1.3 billion cut to education he sought his first year in office, which continues to haunt him with teachers and parents.

That year, Scott called for $4.6 billion in reductions even though legislators didn’t scale back spending that far. Last year, lawmakers restored about $1 billion of the previous cuts to education but schools still faced a net reduction. This year, Scott is asking for $542 million more for public education, an amount some legislative leaders have said is still too modest and relies too much on property tax increases as property values rise. 

Scott defended the education budget as "historic funding" and said fourth graders are scoring No. 2 in the nation and "we're headed in the right direction." Full budget is here.

Rep. Seth McKeel, a Lakeland Republican who is House Appropriations chairman, commended the governor for his focus on reducing taxes. 

"As always, the House will take the Governor’s proposal into careful consideration as we work to develop a responsible budget that maximizes every dollar and prioritizes funding in the best interest of all Floridians without raising taxes on our hardworking families,” he said in a statement.