Rick Scott and Richard Corcoran want to make raising taxes super hard

The governor proposes changing the Constitution to require a "supermajority" vote.
Gov. Rick Scott did not specify what he meant by “superma-jority” of legislators for a tax hike. 

Gov. Rick Scott did not specify what he meant by “superma-jority” of legislators for a tax hike. 
Published August 14 2017
Updated August 15 2017

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott wants to make it harder to increase taxes by changing Florida's Constitution to require a new "supermajority" vote by the state Legislature.

Scott floated the idea for the first time Monday. He provided few details and his staff said he won't for several weeks.

It will be debated in the next legislative session in January.

Scott did not clarify whether a supermajority means three-fifths of both houses of the Legislature, or the higher two-thirds threshold. He will be in Jacksonville today and in Tampa on Friday to promote the tax measure.

Before Scott pitched the idea in Orlando, he secured the support of newfound ally Richard Corcoran, the House Speaker from Land O'Lakes. Like Scott, Corcoran has his sights on higher office in 2018. He joined Scott at the announcement.

"It is my goal to make it harder for politicians to raise taxes on Florida families and businesses, and that can be achieved with an amendment to our state's Constitution," Scott said.

A sign of trouble for Scott's proposal, however, is that Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, didn't attend even though he was invited.

He issued a statement that said: "I look forward to reviewing the governor's proposal."

A three-fifths vote in the Senate requires 24 votes. There are now 24 Republicans with one vacancy.

Democratic Sen. Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens called Scott's proposal a "gimmick" that is designed to disguise his mismangement of the state during next year's elections.

"The public is upset about their tax dollars being wasted, but here's what's happening: He is wasting their tax dollars on frivolous lawsuits, on giveaways to corporations, including charter schools," Braynon said. "He's a spendthrift who irresponsibly uses people's dollars and then says people want their money back."

Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, said a supermajority vote should also be required for Scott's tax cuts, too.

"Folks have had enough of his tax cuts for the wealthy," Clemens said of Scott. "He should have to justify his corporate handouts disguised as tax relief."

Florida law already includes some limits on imposing taxes. The Florida Legislature must get a supermajority of three-fifths vote of each chamber when imposing any corporate tax increase. Any new state tax or fee added to the Florida Constitution must be approved by two-thirds of voters. Scott is pushing the idea in the next-to-last year of his tenure, so that even if it became law, it would not apply to his proposed budgets, only to those of future governors. But Scott, who claims to have cut taxes by $7 billion in seven years, wants a safeguard to prevent future tax increases.

Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, who is running to replace Scott, embraced the concept.

"I support his efforts to keep that money where it belongs — in the pockets of Floridians," he told the Times/Herald.

Yet Scott's proposal was so vague that some interest groups, such as the Florida Association of Counties, declined to comment until they see the exact words of the proposed amendment.

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who entered the race for governor Friday, said he will look at Scott's proposal when "specific language" is ready.

Corcoran, who's raising money in anticipation of a possible run for governor, called the amendment a help to businesses and families.

"You can't just go willy-nilly and raise those people's taxes and think it's not going to have a dramatic effect on them," Corcoran said, according to the Orlando Sentinel. "So making it that much more difficult for people to raise taxes or raise fees in the future is a great protection for our state."

More than a dozen states have similar restrictions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, including California, but some states restrict only certain taxes, such as property taxes.

The last time the Legislature passed a major tax hike was in 2009, when Republicans struggled to balance the budget during the Great Recession. Lawmakers raised the cigarette tax by $1 a pack as well as fees for car registrations and drivers' licenses, although they rolled them back a few years later at Scott's urging.

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com. Follow @stevebousquet.