Gov. Rick Scott proposed a $83.5 billion state budget proposal on Tuesday that would cut $618 million in taxes mostly for business, boost education funding and would revive a state job incentive program the Legislature eviscerated last year.
Scott said decreasing taxes, even though mostly for businesses, helps all Floridians.
“When jobs are created, it helps the poorest, most disadvantaged families who need a job the most,” Scott said Tuesday.
But the tax cut plans and his quest revive the state’s program to give tax breaks to private businesses has already been coldly received by state lawmakers who say tough budget conditions will make both ideas difficult to agree to.
While Scott as governor is required to propose an annual state budget, it is the Florida Legislature that must pass a spending plan. Scott does have veto powers to remove funding from the budget.
On education, Scott is proposing a 4 percent increase in combined state and local funding for schools. That would boost funding from $20.2 billion to almost $21 billion and increase per pupil funding from $7,204.58 to $7,420.99 if agreed to by the Legislature.
Most of that increase in spending would come from local property tax dollars, which would account for nearly $558 million of the extra dollars.
Scott insisted that the additional money required from local property taxes don't amount to a tax increase, because -- although homeowners will pay more on their tax bill because of higher property values -- the tax rate isn't changing.
"If we're going to make Florida the best state for future generations we have to invest in our students," Scott said.
Part of that committment he said is $58 million in teacher recruitment and retention initiatives.
Other proposals highlighted by Scott on Tuesday:
-$360 million for water quality projects including $65 million for Florida’s springs, $60 million for Indian River Lagoon and Caloosahatchee clean-up efforts; and $225 million for Everglades restoration funding.
-$454 million in cuts to sales tax on commercial leases for businesses.
-$38 million in pay raises for corrections officers and $5 million for signing bonuses of up to $1,000 for officers at understaffed prisons, and $2.5 million to increase pay for officers assigned to prisons with mental health units.
-$5.8 million for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to hire 46 new employees dedicated to counterterrorism.
For the first time in five years, Scott’s budget calls for no cuts in staff at the state Department of Health and county health offices. Those cuts were criticized last year by lawmakers who said disease outbreaks were exacerbated by the cuts.
However, there remain 1,500 “phantom” jobs currently authorized by the Legislature but not filled by the health department. That trend could continue.
Scott’s budget calls for nine additional employees to help put in place a medical marijuana program under the voter-approved Amendment 2, as well as 21 new epidemiologists to address outbreaks like Zika.