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Florida's Budget

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

Higher Education

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.

Public Schools

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

Joint Agenda

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.

Internet Sales

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.

Pension Reform

Weatherford is expected to renew his push for pension reform for state workers. In 2013, the House passed a bill — defeated in the Senate — that would have closed the state’s $132-billion pension plan to future hires and replaced it with a system similar to 401(k) accounts. Sens. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island) and Jeremy Ring (D-Margate) have crafted legislation to shore up underfunded local government pensions by requiring retirement plans that are underfunded by more than 20% to use half of tax revenue from the property insurance premiums to plug that gap. The remaining revenue could be used to fund other benefits. Rep. Matt Caldwell (R-Lehigh Acres) has fled companion legislation in the House. The Florida League of Cities is opposing the legislation. The Florida Chamber supports both state and local pension reform efforts.

Medicaid Expansion

Prospects that the state will accept $51 billion more in federal Medicaid funds — a move advocated by Florida hospitals, insurers, AARP, labor unions and a number of other political, health care and civic organizations — appears unlikely in 2014. Gaetz blames U. S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for the impasse, stating that she has not allowed the state the flexibility it needs to create a Florida-specific solution. The Senate president says options he’s interested in include using the federal money to help the uninsured buy private insurance and incorporating a cost-sharing element for participants. “If Florida could develop a Florida plan, I think we could develop it over the weekend, but unfortunately, Medicaid is a system in which the feds set the rules, and we get the bill,” Gaetz says.

Wish List: Who Wants What

Accuracy in Damages

The Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Retail Federation are pushing for legislation that would ensure that damage verdicts in personal injury lawsuits are based on real expenses and not amounts that are billed, which are often substantially higher than the amount that is actually paid. The Florida Justice Association, which represents the state’s trial lawyers, opposes the effort.

Charity Reform

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is proposing a “major rewrite” of the state’s charity laws to crack down on fraud. One possible move would ban organizations that have violated laws in other states from coming to Florida to solicit money. Felons would also be prohibited from soliciting funds, and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services would be empowered to perform background checks on professional fundraising solicitors. Groups that raise more than $25,000 a year would also be subject to more onerous reporting standards and audit requirements.

Scope of Practice

Scope of practice laws dictate which procedures can be performed by health care professionals who are not licensed physicians. One proposal, by Sen. Alan Hays (R-Umatilla) would double the number of physician assistants a doctor may supervise as well as expand the Pas’ scope of practice. Lawmakers are also looking at whether nurse practitioners should be given broader authority to sign death certificates, prescribe controlled substances and practice independently — changes that the Florida Medical Association has historically opposed. The Florida Association of Nurse Anesthetists is asking lawmakers to remove the physician supervision requirement and allow Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) to work in collaboration with other health care professionals. Sixteen other states allow CRNAs to practice without physician supervision. The Florida Retail Federation’s pharmacy council has proposed expanding the number of registered pharmacy technicians a pharmacist can supervise, as well as expanding the types of immunizations that pharmacists can give at a retail pharmacy.

Trade and Logistics

The Florida Chamber of Commerce is advocating $600,000 in recurring funding for two new Enterprise Florida offices in Japan and China and additional funding for the state’s export promotion program for small businesses and manufacturers.

Matching Grants

The Manufacturing Association of Florida is pushing for a manufacturing research matching grants program to foster research between universities and their partners in the manufacturing industry. The group is recommending that $5 million be appropriated to each research university in the state for a total of $25 million. Industry partners would be required to provide a 2-to-1 match. The association is also pushing for continued incentive funding at or above the current level for public schools that allow students to earn industry certifications, an increase of funding for Enterprise Florida’s small-business export assistance program to $1 million or more, and continued funding of the Quick Response Training Funds at $12 million. The program helps train workers to transition from sectors like construction into manufacturing.

Wish List: Who Wants What

Private Flood Insurance

After dramatic increases in flood insurance rates for policies issued under the National Flood Insurance Program, the Legislature is looking at creating private market alternatives to federal flood insurance for homeowners. One proposal spearheaded by Sen. Jeff brandes (R-St. Petersburg) and Rep. Larry Ahern (R-Seminole) in the House would give private insurers more flexibility in setting rates and provide more options to homeowners. Private flood insurance rates, meanwhile, would be capped at the rate offered by the national program. Unclear is how many private insurers would want to enter the Florida marketplace to offer flood coverage.

Citizens

Lawmakers may again consider prohibiting Citizens Property Insurance Corp. from providing insurance to the 180,000 out-of-state homeowners it presently insures. Tom Feeney, CEO and president of Associated Industries of Florida, and others have argued that non-Floridians should not be allowed to purchase subsidized insurance coverage from the state’s insurer of last resort. Senate Banking and Insurance Committee Chairman David Simmons (R-Altamonte Springs) has indicated he may address the issue in a broader Citizens package, which would also look at eliminating wind-only policies and reducing the insurer’s exposure in commercial/residential properties, which are primarily buildings owned by condominium associations.

CAT Fund

Sen. Alan Hays (R-Umatilla) has filed a bill that would shrink the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe fund’s coverage from $17 billion to $14 billion by 2017. Sen. Jeremy Ring (D-Margate) has offered a competing bill that would keep the CAT fund, which provides insurance to companies operating in Florida, at $17 billion and lower its deductible from $7.5 billion to $5 billion.

Premium Tax Credit

Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Insurance Council will continue to fight legislative efforts to eliminate a 28-year-old premium tax credit that allows insurance companies to reduce their tax by up to 15% of the salaries paid to employees located in the state. Lawmakers attempted to repeal the tax credit last year to pay for a reduction in motor vehicle fees but were unsuccessful. While a repeal of the tax credit would pump $230 million annually into state coffers, the insurance industry has argued that the tax credit has attracted insurance companies to the state and stimulated job growth in the industry. Florida TaxWatch has said that repealing the tax credit would be “unwise” and should not be considered “without fully evaluating the potential effects on both existing insurers and the growth of the industry.”

Medical Marijuana

An amendment legalizing medical marijuana is headed for the ballot this fall, and lawmakers will consider legislation that would legalize the medical use of certain strains of marijuana that contain a high level of the chemical compound that reduces pain but is low in the chemical which creates marijuana’s “high.”

Sports

The Miami Dolphins football team is expected to make another push for funds to help renovate Sun Life Stadium, using sales tax rebates on items sold at the stadium and a share of local hotel taxes. Dolphins’ owner Stephen Ross says the stadium will be unlikely to attract future Super Bowls without significant upgrades. Daytona International Speedway, meanwhile, is seeking $60 million in sales tax rebates over 30 years to help offset its $400-million renovation project known as “Daytona Rising.” The legislation, which is being sponsored by Rep. Dorothy Hukill (R-Port Orange), would put the speedway on even footing with other Florida sports franchises such as the NBA’s Orlando Magic and the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Jacksonville Jaguars, which also receive sales tax breaks in exchange for stadium construction.

In addition, retired soccer star David Beckham and a group of investors are seeking state funding via a sales tax subsidy to help build a soccer stadium for a new Major League Soccer franchise in Miami. Backers of Orlando City Soccer, Major League Soccer’s newest expansion team, will likely seek a sales tax rebate for their downtown stadium project.

Beer

Florida’s growing craft beer industry is seeking a change in state alcohol laws that would permit brewers to sell 64-ounce containers of beer called growlers. The craft brewers would also like to be able to offer samplings of their products at retail establishments in the same way wine and liquor samplings are allowed [“Coming to a Head,” January].

Veterans

Senate President Gaetz and House Speaker Weatherford are pushing for out-of-state tuition waivers for veterans; scholarship funding for members of the Florida National Guard; and a waiver of licensing fees for returning veterans.

Private College Funding

The Independent Colleges & Universities of Florida (ICUF) is lobbying the Legislature to restore funding of the Florida Resident Access grant (FRAG), state financial aid available to Florida residents to attend private schools, to $3,000 per student for all eligible students. Current funding for the grant is at $2,500 per student, except at Keiser University, where students receive $2,071. ICUF is seeking the same funding level for students at all institutions.