Elected on a platform of cost cutting and economic development, Gov. Rick Scott on Monday must show his hand as he unveils a spending request expected to include calls for tax cuts, pension plan changes and reductions to health and education programs.
Scott is meeting with tea party backers in Eustis on Monday to unveil his spending blueprint, which must also address an estimated $3.6 billion budget deficit that has to be filled.
What remains unclear is just how deep the former CEO of Columbian/HCA Health Care is willing to cut into core programs in public education, human services and optional Medicaid services, areas that absorb the bulk of state discretionary spending. The 2010/11 budget totaled $70 billion, of which $23 billion is not tied down to trust funds, federal programs and other encumbrances.
Over the past several days, Scott has released snippets of his program, which under Florida law amounts to little more than a request. The Legislature is empowered with putting together the state budget, the only act it is required to approve every year.
Among his initial proposals, Scott is calling for a change in Florida retirement system, one of the nation’s largest with current assets of $125 billion. Scott wants state employees to contribute 5 percent of their salaries to their pension, which is now completely funded by the state.
The governor has also called for shifting the pension paradigm for new employees to portable retirement accounts similar to 401(k). Together, the changes would save the state $1.3 billion a year, according to legislative estimates.
Scott’s budget plan is also expected to include a provision to roll back corporate income taxes from 5 percent to 3.5 percent, a reduction that will save businesses – and reduce state revenue – by $1 billion a year. Scott, who first proposed the cut during the campaign, would phase out the entire tax by 2018.
Scott’s dream of dramatically reducing the budget and offering tax cuts may run into some trouble. Florida’s unemployment rate in December remained at 12 percent, compared to an adjusted national figure for December of 9.4 percent.
Meanwhile, leaders of the Republican-led Legislature agree that government needs to reduce taxes and cut regulation, but with a $3.6 billion budget hole that has to be filled to accommodate health care increases and a tail-off of federal stimulus funds, now may not be the time to provide tax cuts to businesses.
Scott has responded to such skepticism by saying his spending plan will address those issues while providing a template for future economic growth in the nation’s fourth most populous state.
“We’re going to deal with the deficit,” Scott told reporters during a visit to the state’s emergency operations center in January. “But….the way to get the state back to work is to cut property taxes and phase out the corporate income tax and we’re going to get that done.”
E-mail Michael Peltier at email@example.com.