Fla. Governor Rick Scott announces his proposed reduction of the sales tax on business property rental fees as part of his 2014-2015 state budget, while visiting an Ace Hardware in Orlando, Tuesday, January 28, 2014. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel)
TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Rick Scott unveiled an election-year budget Wednesday that has something for everyone: tax cuts for motorists, shoppers and businesses, more environmental and classroom spending, and extra dollars for investigating child abuse.
And Scott used the unveiling to take multiple shots at his Democratic challenger this fall: former Gov. Charlie Crist, who steered the state during the Great Recession and was in the job when Florida lawmakers passed a massive, $2.2 billion tax hike in 2009.
"We have cut taxes dozens of times, but the previous four budgets raised taxes $2 billion," Scott told reporters and editors at an Associated Press legislative planning session in Tallahassee.
"Florida was in a hole and for four years, it just kept digging."
Crist -- a former Republican who has called Scott's tenure in office a "disaster" -- said later that Scott would "say anything and do anything to win the office."
Crist signed the 2009 tax hikes into law, but has said he would have pushed sooner to roll them back once the economy started to recover.
Last year, the Senate passed a bill to roll motorist registration fees back nearly $300 million but the House declined to do the same.
This year, both chambers' GOP leadership plans to support Scott's request, they said.
"I wish they would have rolled it back a lot sooner. Why'd it take three years?" Crist said.
Scott has dribbled out the details of his $74.19 billion spending plan in recent weeks, including details of the $560 million in tax cuts he is asking lawmakers to deliver to motorists who saw fees go up in 2009, businesses paying sales taxes on commercial leases and income, and shoppers buying hurricane and school supplies.
Scott's fourth proposed spending plan is just a hair -- .1 percent -- smaller than the current year, $74.24 billion budget, but roughly $8 billion bigger than the one he pitched his first year. This year's increase in program funding and tax cuts are made possible by the anticipated $1.2 billion revenue surplus lawmakers are expecting this next year.
"As always, the House will take the Governor’s proposal into careful consideration as we work to develop a responsible budget that maximizes every dollar and prioritizes funding in the best interest of all Floridians without raising taxes on our hardworking families," House Appropriations Chairman Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, said in a statement.
The spending plan eliminates 1,243 government jobs -- although only 68 are currently filled. But it also adds back 1,197 of them in for child abuse investigations and to handle increased prison populations. Florida is planning to open five new prisons in the next year.
It also maintains $5.1 billion in reserves, $400 million more than this year.
And it includes $11.1 million for completing stretches of the Coast-to-Coast Connection bike trail in Seminole and Volusia counties -- $10.6 million for the East Central Florida Rail Trail in Volusia County and $550,000 for the Rinehart Road Path in Seminole County.
Besides previously announced tax-breaks for motorists ($400 million) and on commercial leases for businesses ($100 million) the budget also contains another $21.6 million cut to the corporate income tax, which the governor pledged to abolish on the campaign trail. Despite that pledge, lawmakers have resisted doing so --and the highest-grossing corporations in the state still pay roughly $1.9 billion in income taxes here annually.
On the education front, the budget provides $18.8 billion for PreK-12 classrooms, which the governor repeatedly hailed as "historic" funding for education.
The increase breaks down to $6,949 per student, or an increase of $169 per student o ver the current year.
But Scott repeatedly dodged questions Wednesday about whether that increase was largely financed by local property taxes, which are expected to rise next year.
"We're headed in the right direction," he said.