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As mixed-bag session ends, Florida Chamber warns ‘voters are paying attention’

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Despite philosophical differences, Florida lawmakers finished the special overtime session this afternoon by passing a $78.8 billion state budget that was hammered out between the chambers over a 20-day special session.

 The 2015 Special Session A sine die was bittersweet for the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

In a statement, the Chamber noted that lawmakers passed 232 bills of the 1,795 bills introduced – including 20 Chamber-backed measures.

The 2015-2016 budget – passed by the House 96-17 at around 6 p.m. Friday The spending plan, officially known as the General Appropriations Act of 2015, was approved by the Senate about a half hour earlier.

The Legislature had passed a $427 million tax reduction package, separate from the budget, earlier in the week.

“While Florida lawmakers passed 20 Florida Chamber-backed competitiveness measures and helped stop 12 attacks on Florida’s business climate, the 2015 legislative sessions will likely be known for missed opportunities,” said Chamber CEO Mark Wilson.

Wilson added that, as expected, lawmakers were able to finish the 20-day scheduled Special Session A before the budget expired June 30, despite the inability to pass the budget during the 60-day regular session. Those philosophical differences on health care that bogged down the Legislature during the regular session resulted in some crucial votes missed on “pro-business priorities.”

“Florida voters are paying attention,” Wilson warned.

State lawmakers are hovering slightly underwater with voters. According to a recent Chamber political poll, 41 percent disapprove of the job the Florida Legislature is doing while only 40 percent approve.

“Although the League of Women Voters’ push to expand Medicaid failed, the Florida Chamber of Commerce looks forward to further uniting Florida’s business community behind our ‘Smarter Healthcare Coverage in Florida’ plan in the coming session,” Wilson added.

Among the list of disappointments in the 2015 session, according to the Chamber, includes failing to vote on securing Florida’s water future; ending what the Florida Hospital Association calls an eight percent “cost shift” on Floridians; phasing out sales tax on commercial leases; ending a $500 million “annual bailout” of government pensions; and resolving Florida’s “broken and unfair legal system.”

In contrast, the Florida Legislature did have some successes on the organization’s agenda. Among Chamber-backed priorities that passed:

  • Targeted Tax Reform:

Communication Services Tax – Reduces cell phone and TV taxes. ($226 million savings)

R&D Tax Credits – Increases the cap from $9 million to $23 million for 2016.

Sales Tax Holiday – 10-day back-to-school sales tax holiday.

Enterprise Zones – Allows current businesses receiving incentives to continue receiving them for three years.

  • Championing Educational Reforms for a Globally Competitive Workforce:

Bright Futures Scholarships – Changes community service requirements to include workplace-based internships.

Personal Student Learning Accounts – Expands the pool of students eligible for the Florida Personal Learning Scholarship Account Program. ($55 million)

Digital Classrooms – Establishes classroom digital technology standards.

Educational Professional Practices – Establishes teacher liability insurance through the state of Florida.

  • Infrastructure and Transportation Investments:

Investing about $10 billion in Florida’s transportation and infrastructure.

  • Strengthened Florida’s Economic Development Efforts:

Market Florida – $10 million investment in Florida’s first statewide business climate marketing effort.

Economic Development Toolkit – $43 million to help attract and keep businesses in Florida.

International Export Grants and Programs — $1 million for export assistance grants and international programs for small- and medium-sized enterprises.

Military Base Protection and Defense Reinvestment – A $1 million investment to continue protecting and improving Florida’s military bases.

Space Florida – A $17.5 million investment in space projects and infrastructure.

  • Amendment 1 Implementation:

Better management of land Florida already owns (over $700 million total).

Securing Florida’s water future by focusing on spring’s protection ($38 million), Everglades ($58 million) and non-Amendment 1 water projects ($50 million).

  • Addressed Florida’s Forthcoming Doctor Shortage:

A $100 million investment in Florida’s medical residency education.

A comprehensive list of supported legislation in the recently ended regular and special sessions is available at the Florida Chamber’s 2015 Legislative Summary Report.

“On behalf of the Florida Chamber, I appreciate the dozens of local chambers of commerce and business associations that partnered with us and worked tirelessly to pass as many pro-business issues as possible,” said Chamber Executive Vice President David Hart.

As for the future, the Chamber announced that its Political Operations Team is already interviewing candidates for 2016 elections, and the Policy Department is already developing the group’s 2016 Florida Business Agenda.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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