Gov. Rick Scott may be overreaching with his plan to cut state taxes by $618.4 million, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee said Tuesday.
“I would consider it a little bit ambitious, in light of our current financial situation,” chairman Jim Boyd told reporters after Scott’s aides briefed his committee.
“We certainly share the goal of trying to cut as much as we can in taxes and keep the money in the taxpayers’ pockets,” the Bradenton Republican said.
“Six hundred million dollars is pretty strong,” he said. “I’d love for his number to be correct, because that means we’re in better shape than we think we are in terms of the money that’s be available to us.”
Scott’s $83.5 billion proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 includes a raft of tax cuts, including a 1.5 percent decrease in the levy on commercial rents; and an increase in the corporate income tax exemption from the existing $50,000 to $75,000.
It also includes sales tax holidays on college and university schoolbooks, school book fairs, camping and fishing equipment, back-to-school supplies, hurricane preparedness equipment, and military veterans.
State economists have estimated that lawmakers will have nearly $142 million more than expected to spend in the fiscal year that begins next July 1.
House leaders, by contrast, assume revenues will be more or less flat, and have begun looking for spending cuts to cope with that and with projected deficits during the two subsequent years.
Several members queried Christian Weiss, a Scott budget aide who briefed the committee, about the governor’s plan to leave local school tax rates alone, to capture increased property values into the classroom. House leaders want to reduce the rate, creating a tax cut.
“That’s our position,” Boyd said. “I don’t believe that would change. That’s a fairly decent difference from the outset.”
During Tuesday’s hearing, Weiss reassured Democratic members that the commercial rent tax cut would leave local government with enough money to enforce building codes.
Rep. Evan Jenne worried the corporate tax cut would exacerbate Florida’s wealth gap, which he called the fourth largest in the nation.
Weiss insisted the governor — who speaks often of growing up in a financially struggling family — believes the tax cut will create jobs. “So anybody can get a job and make a decent living.”
A House committee has voted to cut one Scott priority already — state financing for economic development programs including Enterprise Florida Inc. and Visit Florida, which House Speaker Richard Corcoran considers corporate welfare.
Boyd, who sits on EFI’s board, said he sides with his leadership.
“I support business growth in Florida, whether it’s organic or it’s new business. I know the speaker supports it as well. It’s just how do we get there.”