Scott's tax cuts take hit in Senate revamp of school spending
The Senate on Thursday rolled out its proposal for an increase in per-pupil spending for public schools, but at the expense of Gov. Rick Scott's goal of $1 billion in tax cuts next year.
The strategy reflects the will of senators to shape tax policy around small businesses and homeowners, not corporations that are favored under Scott's tax cut plan. The move puts the Senate squarely at odds with Scott and with the House, which supports Scott's proposal to boost K-12 spending largely by imposing higher property tax payments on homeowners and business owners as their property values rise across the state.
About 84 percent of Scott's school spending increase would come from higher property taxes. Senators call that a tax increase, and Scott's office calls that "flat wrong." This increasingly testy battle centers on the element of school funding known as required local effort, a state-mandated property tax millage rate that school districts must impose by July 1.
The Senate wants to split the school spending increase evenly between local property taxes and state tax revenue. With more than 35,000 new students projected to enroll in Florida schools next fall, the Senate would boost per-pupil spending by $651 million, more than Scott's budget would. The Senate formula uses $324 million from local property taxes and $326 million from state tax revenue, and a draft of the proposal calls it a "tax cut." The proposal is not yet in the Senate budget, which awaits a floor vote Thursday afternoon.
Senate President Andy Gardiner endorses the plan by the two key senators who shape the education budget, Republicans Tom Lee of Brandon and Don Gaetz of Niceville, who defend their approach as a better way to give tax relief to Florida families. Politically, the die is cast with one of two likely outcomes. Either the Senate will get its way and defeat Scott on a major tax policy issue or the Senate will lose to Scott and the House -- in which case senators will claim Scott wants to raise taxes in an election year.