Thursday, November 23, 2017
Politics

Gov. Scott pitches $618 million in tax cuts, but lawmakers not buying

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TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott unveiled an ambitious tax-cutting plan Wednesday, but given the state's looming budget issues, there's a good chance he'll hear a word from the Legislature that is becoming increasingly common in his final years in office: No.

Just hours after Scott unveiled his plan to cut $618 million in taxes — mostly benefiting businesses — state legislators with histories of backing tax cuts were already pumping the breaks.

"We have cut lots of taxes in the last couple of years, and years before that, and that's great," state Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said. "But we need to make sure we are balanced in our approach on it. So I'm not prepared to just sign off on his $618 million tax cut."

In recent weeks, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and his top advisers sounded a more ominous note for Scott, calling the state's historic spending levels "unsustainable." With Corcoran calling for spending cuts to balance the books, tax cuts look unlikely.

Still, there was Scott on Wednesday flying from Jacksonville to Tampa to Fort Lauderdale in his private plane, telling reporters at staged events how his proposal will save business owners money, allowing them to hire more workers.

More than 75 percent of Scott's tax plan would benefit businesses directly. The centerpiece is a $454 million cut in taxes businesses pay to rent space. Florida is the only state to levy a commercial rent tax, a 6 percent charge on the total rent paid for any commercial property, such as stores, offices and warehouses.

Another part of his plan would cut $15 million in taxes for businesses by reducing the percentage of companies that have to pay corporate income taxes.

His plan also includes:

• A 10-day back-to-school shopping period with no sales taxes.

• A nine-day disaster preparedness sales tax shopping period.

• A three-day sales tax-free shopping period for military veterans.

• A one-year tax break on book sales at school book fairs.

• Eliminating sales taxes on college textbooks for one year.

While pitching his tax cut plan in Tampa, Scott touted the economy and the state's private sector job growth since he was elected.

"If you want more jobs in your state, you've got to keep cutting taxes, and you can do that in the state," Scott said at Beneficial Blends, a Tampa-based organic food packer.

Scott told backers in Jacksonville earlier in the day that cutting taxes gives businesses more money to hire.

"When we cut taxes, it helps businesses create jobs — jobs that ultimately help the poorest, most disadvantaged families in our state," Scott said.

Scott touted the state's more than 1.2 million jobs created since 2010, even though the state's unemployment rate crept up to 4.9 percent last month and economists have warned of a softening in the state's construction industry.

Scott has heard no before on the business lease tax. Lawmakers turned down similar plans last year and in 2014. Although as governor, Scott can propose a budget, the Florida Legislature actually writes the spending plan for the state. Scott has the power to veto items, but cannot insert items into the budget on his own.

Scott seemed to acknowledge the road ahead when he implored employees at About Floors N More in Jacksonville to call legislators to pressure them to support his tax plan. It's a tactic Scott used a year ago, when he used a bus tour and $1 million television ad buy to tell people to call their legislators to back his $1 billion tax cut plan and his $250 million tax incentive plan to lure private businesses to Florida — one of his top priorities. The Legislature responded by passing just $129 million in tax cuts and zero money for incentives.

"Tax cuts are always possible," said House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami. "But how much appetite do we have to be disciplined financially? We've been led by Republicans for the last 20 years and we spend like Democrats."

Times staff writers Alli Knothe and Steve Bousquet and Miami Herald staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report.

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