TALLAHASSEE — Florida Gov. Rick Scott, in a nod to a challenging political environment he may confront in coming months, made a personal pitch Tuesday for lawmakers to endorse his $1 billion tax cut package.
Scott, who rarely interacts with legislators publicly outside of press conferences or bill signing ceremonies, spent more than an hour before a Florida House legislative committee. There he defended his push for his tax cuts, many of which are targeted toward businesses.
Republican leaders have already said they will support passing another round of tax cuts when the regular session convenes in January.
But the size of Scott's tax cut package — and who would benefit from the cuts — is far from settled. Additionally, some Republican legislators are grumbling that Scott wants to cut taxes for business, but he wants the state to rely on an increase in property taxes to boost money for schools.
Scott, a multi-millionaire former health care executive who has made job creation the central focus the past five years as governor, contends his business-oriented tax cuts are needed to help diversify the state's economy before the next recession. Scott's most expensive proposal would eliminate corporate income taxes for manufacturing firms and retailers.
He maintains Florida is too dependent on areas such as tourism. Scott told legislators that cutting taxes to help businesses was more important than pursuing other types of tax cuts that may be aimed more directly at consumers and residents.
"Wherever you are in this state, the most important thing we can do for anybody is help them get a job," said Scott, who cited his own personal upbringing when his stepfather would routinely be laid off from his job. "This tax cut package is all about jobs. It's 100 percent tied to the jobs."
Rep. Matt Gaetz, the chairman of the House and Finance Tax Committee, predicted that the Legislature would cut taxes by at least $250 million since that figure is already in initial budget forecasts. But the Fort Walton Beach Republican conceded that legislators may not go along with all of Scott's proposals.
"I think anytime a governor has a billion dollar tax cut it's a heavy lift," Gaetz said.
Florida's overall budget this year, which includes both state tax dollars and billions in federal aid, is more than $78 billion. State economists in September estimated that the state will have a budget surplus of about $635 million during the fiscal year that starts in July 2016. And most of that money is a one-time windfall, so setting it aside for ongoing tax cuts could create a budget problem in future years.
Last week Scott released his budget recommendations for the coming year. The governor proposed increasing school spending by nearly 2.6 percent, but most of that increase would come from increased in property taxes triggered by rising property values. That has triggered some complaints from GOP legislators.
Rep. Frank Costello, an Ormond Beach Republican, complained during a presentation on Scott's budget that the proposal was essentially a "tax hike."
Scott, however, defended his approach to reporters, saying it shows that the economy is doing better.
"It's positive when people's value of their homes go up," Scott said. "It's way better than what happened in the four years before I got elected."