Scott proposes $180 million in tax and fee cuts for Florida's budget


  • Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr
Driver's license fees would be cut and a series of sales-tax “holidays” would be offered as part of nearly $180 million package proposed Monday by Gov. Rick Scott as part of his final budget recommendations.

The proposed fee and tax cuts come as the Legislature faces a tight budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

At a series of campaign-style events across the state Monday, Scott proposed reversing portions of fee increases imposed on motorists in 2009 after the recession hit. He also proposed a 10-day back-to-school sales tax “holiday” on clothes and school supplies and three week-long disaster preparedness tax “holidays” in May, June and July.

“Over the past seven years, we have worked relentlessly to turn around Florida's economy, and the results are clear,” Scott, who is barred from seeking a third term next year, said in a prepared statement.

With the annual legislative session starting in January, lawmakers face a tight budget. The state was expected to have a modest budget surplus, but costs related to Hurricane Irma have altered those projections.

Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican who will take over as Senate president after the 2018 elections, has recently acknowledged that the state could face $1 billion-plus shortfalls in the coming years.

Under the package released Monday, Scott's proposed sales tax “holidays” would account for $88 million of the tax savings.

The governor's office estimates the motorists' savings at $91 million during the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Under Scott's proposal, renewal fees for regular driver's licenses would go from $48 to $20, while fees for first-time licenses would fall from $48 to $27.

Also, Scott is proposing to reduce a fee on commercial driver's licenses from $75 to $67, while providing an 18 percent reduction on traffic-citation fees for motorists who attend a basic driver- improvement school.

Lawmakers approved increased fees for motorists as part of a much-wider effort in 2009 to balance the state's budget after the recession slashed revenues.

This is not the first time Scott has targeted the 2009 increases, which were passed under then-Gov. Charlie Crist. In 2014, vehicle-registration fees were rolled back on average $25 a year.

Scott, who plans to release a proposed state budget in the coming weeks, also reiterated Monday his backing of a potential constitutional amendment that would be make it harder to raise taxes by requiring a “super-majority” two-thirds vote by the House and Senate for future tax or fee increases.

Sen. Jack Latvala, who was removed Monday as Senate budget chief amid an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment, questioned the potential constitutional amendment last week.

Latvala said House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Scott have enough appointees on the Constitution Revision Commission, which is considering a similar proposal, to put the issue before voters in the 2018 general election without the proposal going through the Legislature.

“Why is it necessary to have a legislative fight over an amendment to limit tax increases in the future, unless it's to get some press or get some recognition for the legislators involved?” Latvala asked.

Scott is expected to run for the U.S. Senate in 2018, while Corcoran is expected to join the embattled Latvala in a run for governor.

Throughout his years in office, Scott has made a top priority of cutting taxes.

In January, ahead of the 2017 session, Scott called for $618 million in tax cuts, asking for reductions in a tax on commercial leases, sales-tax "holidays" for consumers and a modest reduction in the state's corporate-income tax.

Five months later, he proclaimed victory in signing a two-year package worth nearly $180 million —- $91.6 million in the current year —- mostly through the elimination of the so-called “tampon tax” and through tax holidays for back-to-school shoppers and Floridians preparing for hurricane season.

In 2015, lawmakers approved a tax cut package that totaled $428.9 million, topped by a reduction in the communications-services tax on cell-phone and cable-TV bills.

A year later, lawmakers handed Scott a tax-cut package of $129 million for the 2016-2017 fiscal year. The focus on the package that year was the elimination of a sales tax on manufacturing equipment.

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