After several years of steep cuts to the state budget, including education spending, Sen. Jack Latvala said Tuesday the time is ripe for the state to look at raising new revenue, including closing a loophole on Internet sales taxes.
"I'm in the business world. I've been in the business world a long time. And I've never seen a business yet that survived and prospered by cutting," Latvala said at a legislative delegation breakfast organized by the Pinellas County School Board. "You have to plan for the future and you have to pay for the things you need to do.
"And I think our real challenge in Tallahassee this year is going to be whether we cut some more, or whether we finally say, 'It's enough, we got to find some ways to enhance the budget so we don't have to keep doing that.' "
Latvala, known for his maverick streak, also suggested it might be time for fellow Republicans to buck legislative leadership and do what's best for their local communities.
"That's going to be the challenge this year," he said. "That's going to be the test of whether we have people who will stand up for the local community or who are just going to go with the leaders up there who say no new money" for anything.
School Board members said afterward that they appreciated the remarks, but remain cautiously optimistic about the upcoming legislative session.
"I'm a glass-half-empty kind of girl," said board member Janet Clark, "and I'll believe it when I see it. Words are empty. It's the actions that matter."
"I really need to hear it's more than our Pinellas County delegation," said board member Terry Krassner. "We've been burned a few years in a row."
"He was able to speak from a senator's perspective," said board member Carol Cook. "We didn't hear what the House will do."
In an interview after the breakfast, Latvala said Gov. Rick Scott's call for $1 billion more for education is "a good start." But he also said it was not realistic to better fund education by cutting money for hospitals. Asked if he wanted the state to grow the revenue pie, he said this:
"I just need to see if the pie is big enough to do everything that we have to do," he said. "And I'm just advocating things like closing the loophole on Amazon. Doing what they did in California on Amazon. That's a couple hundred million dollars a year."
The session begins Jan. 10.
Board member Linda Lerner said such loopholes should have been closed "a long time ago."
"I wish I could say I'm cautiously optimistic about it. We need a few more leaders like Sen. Latvala to get behind it."
Also attending the breakfast, which was held at the PTEC campus in Clearwater, were Reps. Larry Ahern, Jeff Brandes, Jim Frishe, Ed Hooper, Rick Kriseman and Darryl Rouson.
Superintendent John Stewart and School Board member Peggy O'Shea made brief remarks.
O'Shea also made a plea for more money, noting the district has made budget cuts each of her five years on the board. "While we all want to be leaner and meaner and more efficient, there's still a job that has to be done and kids that have to cared for," she said. "So if we could have a year with level and stable money, it would mean an awful lot to the kids of Pinellas County."
And O'Shea called for more accountability for private schools that accept vouchers.
"We feel that accountability should go wherever the taxpayer dollars go," she said. So if private schools accept vouchers "they should be held to the same measures and accountabilities as public schools and charter schools. . . . That way, we can compare and contrast and know if the job is being done."