TALLAHASSEE — Think of it as a wide-eyed kid let loose in a candy store.
The pile of sweets is $1.3 billion in surplus tax revenues available this year. But divvying up that cash won't be an easy task for Florida lawmakers.
Working with Gov. Rick Scott, they must decide how to divide it among competing forces of government services, companies and regular taxpayers.
Lawmakers want to steer millions of new dollars into protecting springs and rivers, give more cash to tourism ads, bump up classroom spending and pare down a list of more than 21,000 developmentally disabled Floridians waiting for community services.
Scott and GOP lawmakers also have generally agreed to deliver at least $500 million in tax and fee cuts to residents during the session that begins next month. But Scott's budget rolled out last week includes more than that: $642.4 million in all.
"My goal is to get money back into families' hands and grow the economy," Scott said.
Scott also wants to pursue millions of dollars in tax breaks for businesses that House and Senate leaders are less wedded to so far.
"I think it's a good idea, but we have to wait to see where members fall on the whole mix before we commit," said House Appropriations Chairman Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland. "I'd like it to be as broad-based as possible."
Already, House leaders are balking at the size of the water-protection funding that Senate Republicans are seeking.
A draft springs bill by Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, seeks to steer as much as $380 million a year into water-restoration and protection efforts. Other lawmakers want to spend hundreds of millions of dollars more to clean up Indian River Lagoon and other pollution-choked South Florida waterways.
McKeel said, "I think it'll be tough to hit those big numbers."
But Simmons said, "I'm sure we'll compromise on something somewhere between $55 million and $380 million. It's an area to compromise on."
Then there's the state's recession-racked social-services safety net.
Florida is still dealing with long waiting lists for services for the disabled, the drug-addicted, the uninsured and the elderly.
Scott and lawmakers have proposed beefing up some spending to help move about 1,000 disabled in "critical need" of services off the waiting list. But the overall list is approaching 22,000 people who wait six years on average for services such as nursing, speech therapy, transportation and dental.
Those deemed in "critical need" are developmentally disabled children or adults being cared for by someone 70 or older, or in the child-welfare system awaiting adoption or reunification with their families.
Last year, 3,000 people were in those categories, and about 1,600 were being moved off the list thanks to $36 million extra that lawmakers spent. Scott's $20 million proposal this year would move an additional 1,000 off the critical list, according to the Agency for Persons with Disabilities.
"Making sure we take care of citizens with developmental disabilities is at the very top of my list," said Senate budget chief Joe Negron, R-Stuart.
But Democrats called the GOP's interest in reducing the list an election-year ploy.
"We've never said, 'What is the cost to wipe out these lists?' We've not had an accounting of what these costs even may be," said incoming House Minority Leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach. "I think you can actually win elections without gimmicks and faking concern for people on these lists."
The money for drivers and shoppers includes vehicle-registration-fee cuts for drivers, and bigger tax holidays for school and hurricane-season shoppers.
The sounds good to Phillip Van Blaricom, 66, who retired from Iowa to Deltona four years ago — just in time to get hit by the higher registration fees.
"I about choked when I had to register my two Jeeps," he said. "Anything would help right now.''
The governor wants to cut $104 million in sales taxes that businesses pay when they lease property, which would likely benefit large box-store owners such as Lakeland-based Publix Super Markets the most. And he wants to further scale back the corporate-income tax on an additional 2,000 businesses that pay it — saving them about $21 million.
The governor has pitched two sales-tax holidays on supplies: a 10-day back-to-school sales-tax holiday and a 15-day hurricane-preparedness sales-tax holiday, which would save shoppers about $82.5 million.
He wants to cut the motor-vehicle license-renewal registrations to the tune of $401 million, or about $25 per driver. The Senate has proposed about $240 million in rollbacks, which would save drivers $12 on average.
"We intend to roll those fees back as much as we can and consider other forms of tax relief to hit the governor's goal," said Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.
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