Despite Pushback, Scott Guarantees Tax Breaks Coming

By: John Kennedy, The News Service of Florida
By: John Kennedy, The News Service of Florida

Tallahassee, FL - Despite getting steady pushback from top lawmakers, Gov. Rick Scott said Wednesday that he expects his budget blueprint to sail through the Legislature, promising it will include deep program cuts and more than $2 billion in tax reductions.

Speaking to the Associated Press annual legislative planning session at the Capitol, Scott derided the state’s current $70-billion spending plan as “bloated.”

Two weeks into his first elected job, the governor promised that the budget proposal he plans to roll out Feb. 4 will include sharp spending reductions aimed at covering a $3.6 billion shortfall caused by the end of federal stimulus dollars flowing to Florida and a three-year decline in tax collections caused by the feeble economy.

But Scott still promises to make good on his campaign pledge to phase-out the state’s corporate income tax and cut property taxes.

“I’m going through every line item in the budget,” Scott said. “But I don’t think we should be spending this much money. I don’t think we do a good enough job of how we buy things.”

Scott shrugged off growing skepticism from fellow Republicans in the Legislature about whether the budget balancing act – which the new governor conceded was “thankless” – could include his promised property tax cut of $1.4 billion and a first-year rollback of more than $800 million in the state’s business tax.

House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, -- preceding Scott at the same event – said lawmakers were struggling to close the state’s budget gap, and saw little chance of tax cuts being handed out this spring.

“If there’s a way they can be reduced and still meet the critical needs, I’m open to it, but…it’s going to be very difficult, “ Cannon said, adding that it would be up to the governor to show lawmakers the path to tax-cutting.

“I haven’t seen a way (to cut taxes) yet that I’m persuaded is doable,” Cannon said. But he added, “If there’s a workable way they can be reduced, great. I haven’t seen proposals yet that I think can achieve that.”

Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, described Cannon, Scott and himself as “the Three Amigos.” But speaking at the AP session Wednesday, Haridopolos also said that he was focused on closing the $3.6 billion budget hole. Tax cuts weren’t in his plans right now, although if Scott wanted to pitch his proposals, “I’m all ears,” Haridopolos said.

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, who last spring was Senate president, defended the $70 billion spending plan that Scott blasted. Atwater disputed the characterization of the budget as “bloated,” but said, “we can do better. We can do more,” when it comes to Scott’s plan for reductions.

Scott didn’t provide any plans Wednesday. But he did offer a general condemnation to the state’s current approach to spending – a product of a dozen years of Republican control of the governor’s office and Legislature.

Scott said the state spends far too much on unnecessary services and that too many people see state government as a money-making venture.
“We’re not here to solve every problem,” Scott said. “We’re here to make life better and help people get jobs.”

The former health care executive also broadly described his approach to budget-making, likening it to his experience in private business. “You’ve got to pick and choose,” Scott said. “You can’t do everything. You’ve got to do the things that are the most important at the time.”

Scott conceded that his budget style is not likely to win him many friends. A workout enthusiast, Scott said that he and his wife, Ann, want to have a gym installed at the Governor’s Mansion to keep the couple from having to visit Tallahassee fitness centers.

Otherwise, Scott said he fears, “Everybody will protest me.”

Scott reaffirmed his commitment to cutting state regulations, overhauling state agencies, and courting business leaders across the globe to help blunt Florida’s roughly 12 percent unemployment rate. He touted Tuesday’s announcement by Vision Airlines that it was adding flights through Destin in the Florida Panhandle as an example of an early success by his office in achieving his job-creating goal.

Scott said that if Vision’s expansion brought 150 jobs to Florida, it would slightly winnow down his promise of creating 700,000 new jobs over the next seven years.

While Cannon, Haridopolos and other state leaders have said the state will steer clear of offshore-drilling proposals for at least two years, Scott said drilling was likely something in the state’s future. But, “we’ve got to figure out a way to make it safe,” he said.

Scott’s appearance at a media-sponsored event comes even as the governor is drawing heat from reporters and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors for limiting media access. Reporters have complained that Scott’s office has been slow to respond to media requests for information and has limited access to a single “pool” reporter at some events.

Scott, though, downplayed any criticism, while promising to be as accessible as possible. The governor also acknowledged that he doesn’t read media reports about his administration – although he does get news briefings from staff.

“I’ve done press conferences. I’ve done gaggles. Everybody can come to those,” he said. “We’ve had 30 requests for public information (public records requests). I feel very comfortable that we’re open.”

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  • by Realist Location: NW Florida on Jan 23, 2011 at 10:00 AM
    "Scott said that if Vision’s expansion brought 150 jobs to Florida, it would slightly winnow down his promise of creating 700,000 new jobs over the next seven years." Two weeks into Scott's job, and HE has "created" 150 jobs. So, let's do the math to chart his success course related to his PROMISE of creating jobs for Florida: 150 jobs X 26 = 3,900 jobs created each year 3,900 jobs X 7 years = 27,300 jobs created for Florida over the next seven years 700,000 jobs promised - 27,300 projected = 672,700 jobs still not created after seven years On the current course (and if re-elected), Scott will have "created" just under four percent of the jobs he PROMISED us for our state. I'm guessing that, in four years, when the job creation numbers are not on course to meet the 700,000 target, he'll tell us he needs another term to be able to fulfill his promise. After all, he didn't promise to create ANY jobs in four years. Slick… Did YOU vote for this "leader"?
  • by Anonymous on Jan 20, 2011 at 09:55 AM
    State spends too much???, The Governor's mansion already has a gym. If you remember back in 1998, Gov. Chiles was working out in the gym when he died. Scott is only upgrading it.
  • by Anonymous on Jan 20, 2011 at 09:30 AM
    You democrats and liberals are very dunzed!(yeah I know, I made it up, but the meaning is there)
  • by Pete Zahut on Jan 20, 2011 at 06:39 AM
    LESSON # 1 - Republicans in charge does not equal less government OR less government spending. LESSON # 2 - Republicans in charge means the rich continue to get richer at the expense of small businesses, education, the environment, and your personal safety and privacy. LESSON # 3 - voters are idiots for putting up with this for over 10 years now.
  • by Cut cut cut on Jan 20, 2011 at 05:19 AM
    Tax breaks mean less money coming in to the state sooooo.....cut cut cut. Florida is already ranked the lowest in the country in many areas. Cutting is the easy way out. The economy in the state will not change until loopholes are closed and money coming in is increased. 12 years of republican cuts and that is not enough I guess.
  • by State spends too much??? on Jan 20, 2011 at 05:14 AM
    He says the state spends too much money but he wants the state to pay to build a gym for him and his wife so he does not have to associate with the common folk? And now it begins.
  • by mad-voter on Jan 19, 2011 at 07:09 PM
    Going through every line item?? I doubt that. Cut the excessive spending on pet projects but please, please, please - do the job that you were elected to do, don't steal, be truthful, and help us get rid of crooked politicians. I realize that 1/2 of the legislators would lose their jobs but help us weed them out. Term limits are needed on every office, from local government to the Congress.
  • by Kiki Location: Tallahassee on Jan 19, 2011 at 06:44 PM
    Please remember...when Republicans say "Tax Breaks are Coming", they're talking about the tax breaks they're giving to their corporate sponsors, not you. The idea is that they will then create jobs, but most likely they'll just reward their stockholders. The Republicans haven't created a single private sector job in the past 10 years.
  • by Anonymous on Jan 19, 2011 at 06:13 PM
    Yes, Jonathan those of us who were not part of the 49% know what kind of program cuts are commming and none of them will be "corporate welfare" and business credits and exemptions either. I have asked and will continue to ask if everyone is proud and happy of the Republican majority that controls this state until we have a moderate Democrat Governor and at least a balanced Legislature that DOES work for all citizens in a bipartisan manner.
  • by bad math Location: looney land on Jan 19, 2011 at 04:50 PM
    he must know some new math !
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