Gov. Rick Scott, narrowly re-elected just seven months ago, is discovering that the ongoing budget fight among members of his own party is leaving his own agenda in tatters.
The Republican-controlled Legislature is in the middle of a contentious special session to pass a new state budget. A deep divide between the House and Senate over health care prevented the two sides from enacting a spending plan during the regular session that ended in late April.
During his re-election campaign — and again earlier this year — Scott called on legislators to use a projected budget surplus to enact large tax cuts, boost school spending to historic levels and change state laws to make textbooks and graduate school tuition cheaper.
But the surplus has largely vanished amid a tug-of-war over health care. Senate leaders pushed to steer money away from tax cuts to help replace federal aid for hospitals that is being lost this summer.
Scott, who is suing the federal government over the loss of the aid, had maintained that there was a way to change the state’s hospital funding formulas that would have preserved state money for other items. But his plan has been rejected because it would have resulted in millions in cuts to some of the state’s largest public hospitals in metro areas such as Miami.
Scott, who promised voters to cut taxes by more than $1 billion over two years, asked for nearly $700 million in cuts during the first year of his new term. House Republicans have scaled it back to just under $300 million, although they have proposed additional cuts that would increase the size of the cut by another $100 million in the second year. They have reduced the size of a cellphone tax cut pushed by Scott from roughly $43 a year to $10 a year. The House also jettisoned a proposal to exempt college textbooks from sales taxes; in its place, legislators proposed to waive the taxes during three days over the next year.
House and Senate budget negotiators have also proposed a 3 percent boost in per-pupil funding. That increase, however, would fall short of the record level promised by Scott. The governor is also having trouble winning support for a proposal to set aside $85 million for incentives to attract new companies to the state.
Scott angered Senate Republicans when he switched his position from two years ago and came out against their proposal to expand healthcare coverage. But state Sen. Tom Lee, a Brandon Republican and Senate budget chief, maintained “this isn’t personal.”
“This is an independent body, it has its own views of the world,” Lee said.
Both House and Senate leaders say Scott’s priorities are no longer in sync with the budget “reality” they maintain they are now dealing with due to the loss of federal aid for hospitals.
“Using a lot of those resources to go into that pot is something that’s taken away from him and his priorities,” said House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican.
Crisafulli, however, asserted that the House tax-cut package was still a “significant chunk of change.” The Senate hasn’t endorsed the plan yet, but Lee said the Senate was aiming to match the amount.
Scott has not spent much time in Tallahassee since the special session started. On Monday, he hailed job growth during a business visit in Tampa and then helped release three endangered sea turtles in South Florida.
The governor is also scheduled to leave the country later this week on a trade mission to the Paris Air Show. A spokeswoman maintained, however, that it is a “game time decision” on whether he will still make the trip. Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, a former legislator who was initially picked to help Scott’s relationship with the Legislature, has also been away from the Capitol.
Jackie Schutz would not comment directly on Scott’s problems getting legislators to enact his top priorities. She said instead that the administration was “continuing to monitor the process.”
Correspondent Brendan Farrington contributed to this report.