2014 Legislative Preview
Estimates vary, but lawmakers expect to have at least $1.5 billion more to spend than they did last year, with some estimates going as high as $2 billion.
Tax Cuts: $500 million to $600 million
The Legislature is likely to return about half of the new tax revenue to taxpayers. Some proposals for tax cuts and the amounts:
Roll back motor vehicle registration fees ($230 million), a move championed by Senate Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron (R-Stuart). The move would save each motorist about $12 a year. Gov. Rick Scott has proposed a cut that amounts to $25 per motorist ($401 million).
Cut the 7% sales tax businesses pay on electricity by half ($250 million) and redirect the remaining 3.5% funding to the state’s Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) program, which pays for school construction and maintenance.
Reduce the sales tax on commercial leases from 6% to 5% ($236 million).
Increase the corporate tax exemption from $50,000 to $75,000 and also increase the amount of income exempt from the franchise tax imposed on banks and savings associations from $50,000 to $75,000 ($22 million).
Cut the Communications Services Tax, the sales tax Floridians pay on their cell phone, cable TV and other communications services, by 2% ($255 million). The Florida Retail Federation wants the Legislature to clarify that all prepaid calling arrangements are exempt from the tax and subject to local sales tax only at the point of sale. The Florida League of Cities, however, says it’s concerned about the impact the bill would have on cities, which receive a certain amount of state CST and direct-to-home satellite revenue every year.
Revive sales tax holidays, including the hurricane preparedness sales tax holiday ($3.3 million) and back-to school sales tax holiday ($36 million to $55 million). The Florida Retail Federation supports both sales tax holidays, as well as a new one to establish a sales tax holiday on Energy Star appliances and Water Sense products.
New Spending: $500 million to $600 million
Lawmakers are likely to allocate money to retain top professors, construct and maintain buildings and to cover general operating costs ($100 million). The Florida Board of Governors is seeking $50 million for its new performance funding model that will reward the highest-performing universities based on their scores on a series of metrics, including average wages of employed baccalaureate graduates. Universities will have to achieve at least 26 points on a 50-point scale to be eligible, while those earning 25 or lower could lose funding. House Speaker Will Weatherford, meanwhile, is supporting a bill that would grant in-state tuition to undocumented residents.
The new funding ($100 million) will help pay for growth in the public schools. Senate President Don Gaetz, meanwhile, is seeking money to reward middle schools and high schools with career academies when students earn industry certifications and digital tools certificates. Florida currently has 166 middle and 1,650 high school CAPE (Career and Professional Education) academies, which offer industry-certification programs to students.
Water / Environment
Conservation and protection of water resources will take center stage this session as lawmakers pursue funding for springs protection, Everglades restoration, a cleanup up the Indian River Lagoon and other projects ($200 million). Among Gov. Rick Scott’s first budget requests was $55 million for springs protection and restoration and $130 million for Everglades restoration, a $60-million increase over last year’s Everglades allocation. Scott’s proposal would dedicate $30 million in funding to help reconstruct a 2.6-mile section of the Tamiami Trail west of Miami to increase water flow south into the Everglades; $40 million to speed up completion of the C-44 Storm water Treatment Area for Martin and St. Lucie counties; and funds to complete the Kissimmee River restoration project, which will store and clean water heading into Lake Okeechobee. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, meanwhile, is asking for $26 million to expand agricultural water quality and water use programs. Putnam would dedicate $5 million of that amount to spring sheds in north Florida; $10 million would go to expand a pilot program in the northern Everglades, which pays ranchers to hold back water on their land. Putnam is also urging lawmakers and the governor work to develop a comprehensive, statewide water policy. Lawmakers are also expected to consider proposals dealing with septic tanks and fertilizer use, which contribute to springs pollution. Private landowners like Alico are also lobbying the state to allocate funding to the South Florida Water Management District to pay for public private water farming partnerships. Under the proposed partnerships, the water district would lease land from the agribusinesses, which would build systems to capture and store rainwater on their land.
Wish List: Who Wants What
Senate President Gaetz and House Speaker Weatherford have released a joint agenda that backs the governor’s call for a $500-million tax cut. Other top agenda items include:
Education: The leaders are calling for no tuition increases in 2015 and a reduction in tuition differential rates from 16% to 5%.
Sex Offender Reforms: Both are pushing to increase the length of sentences and extend the length of monitoring after the release of sexual offenders. They also support requiring individuals listed in the state’s sex offender database to provide more information and enhanced communication between state and county officials when sex offenders are released from prison.
Child Welfare Reform: They are calling for more funding to reduce the “critical needs waiting list” for persons with disabilities, full funding to expand the guardian ad litem program, increased funding for child advocacy centers, tighter regulation of the state’s assisted living facilities and expanding efforts to stop human traffcking.
Amazon’s decision to locate distribution centers in Lakeland and Ruskin means that Floridians will eventually begin paying sales taxes on purchases from the online retail giant — a move that will generate an estimated $80 million to $90 million in sales tax revenue. The Florida Retail Federation and the Florida Chamber of Commerce are pushing the state to act to ensure that all online sellers collect and remit sales tax on internet sales. Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda (D-Tallahassee) is again offering legislation that would have Florida join the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement, an interstate compact that encourages merchants in one member state to collect and submit another member state’s sales taxes. Sen. Gwen Margolis (D-Sunny Isles) is sponsoring a bill that would require online merchants to pay sales tax when they have affiliates or pay commissions to anyone working in the state.