TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott wants larger tax cuts and more money to lure companies to Florida next year, but his fellow Republicans who run the Legislature did not endorse either idea Wednesday and Democrats railed at Republicans for being incompetent and "tone deaf" to Floridians' needs.
At the annual AP legislative seminar for reporters and editors, Scott revived a re-election campaign promise from last year to cut taxes by $1 billion over two years. He wanted $673 million in cuts in this year's budget, but lawmakers agreed to only $427 million, so Scott is less than halfway to fulfilling his tax cut pledge.
"As we get more people moving to our state, our taxes should be going down," said Scott, accompanied by a cheering section of his staff members who repeatedly applauded their boss during his 15-minute speech. "We should be able to do it. We're growing revenues. We're paying down debt."
Scott did not say which taxes he would cut other than a permanent repeal of sales tax on equipment used in manufacturing, which Scott's office said would save businesses $144 million a year. The Legislature repealed the sales tax on manufacturing for three years in 2013, and Scott said he plans to step up efforts to attract more corporate headquarters to Florida.
Florida is projected to have at least $635 million more in tax revenue next year, and Republican legislative leaders support the concept of tax cuts. But neither House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, nor Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, endorsed Scott's proposal.
"Potentially, we can," Crisafulli said.
Gardiner wants senators to support at least $250 million in tax cuts, about a third of what Scott wants, partly because of costly increases in Medicaid caseloads.
Scott dodged questions on other topics, such as a House plan to raise the sales tax and lower the property tax and other proposals to allow more than 1 million Floridians with concealed weapons licenses to carry firearms in the open and at public meetings.
Scott, who has been at odds with the Senate all year on various issues, reiterated that Enterprise Florida is running short of money for incentive programs to carry out his No. 1 goal of attracting jobs to Florida.
"The companies aren't going to come here if they don't believe the money's committed," Scott said.
Crisafulli later echoed that sentiment to reporters. But Senate leaders want multiyear jobs deals to be funded year-by-year or on a pay-as-you-go basis.
Gardiner has said Enterprise Florida has no legal authority to keep hundreds of millions of dollars in escrow. The money is paid as employers meet job-creation goals over a period of years.
Next week, lawmakers will return to the Capitol for a three-week session to redraw Senate districts after Senate leaders admitted in a court filing that the current districts were drawn with partisan intent in violation of the state Constitution.
During her speech, Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, cited that admission as evidence of the Republicans' "grand abdications of the public trust." She cited failure to pass a form of Medicaid expansion, abuse and neglect of children in state care, "corporate welfare" for companies that move to Florida and the Republicans' unwillingness to allow a legislative hearing on a Democratic bill to increase the minimum wage.
House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, described the Republican majority in the Legislature as a subsidiary of the Republican Party and the corporate interests that support it.
He said the failure to fix problems with CONNECT, the online system for filing for jobless benefits, shows how "tone deaf" GOP leaders are.
"This state deserves leadership," Pafford said. "It's so corrupted at this point."
Five candidates for Florida's open U.S. Senate seat also spoke at the seminar and steered clear of criticizing one another.
Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, a Republican candidate, said he did not know what set him apart from his GOP rivals who spoke earlier, U.S. Reps. David Jolly of Indian Shores and Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach, because he doesn't pay attention to their campaigns. A fourth GOP candidate, Todd Wilcox, was not invited.
Lopez-Cantera also couldn't identify areas where he disagrees with Scott. He said that the state's economy has improved since the governor took office.
"Over the last 41/2 years, we have turned this state's economy around and made it easier for small businessmen and women to live their version of the American dream," he said.
Lopez-Cantera, who spent eight years in the House and is a former majority leader, is rarely in the spotlight in the Capitol, but said he often talks with the governor and legislators.
Pressed to explain how he has helped Scott deal with lawmakers, Lopez-Cantera was vague.
"It's very difficult to give you specificity," he said. "It's a team, and it all works together to accomplish a goal."
Times/Herald staff writer Kristen M. Clark contributed to this report. Contact Steve Bousquet at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263. Follow @stevebousquet.