Peltier column: With halftime over, legislators begin end game

TALLAHASSEE —The halftime show is over and spectators have returned to their seats as the third quarter begins in a 2012 legislation session that is expected to include a flurry of last-minute action, a few timeouts and inevitably a trick play or two.

With committees wrapping up much of their work this week, the attention turns to the chambers as a whole as leaders gear up for a final push to bring the session to a close by March 9.

With redistricting behind them, lawmakers turn their attentions to the state budget and a relatively shortlist of high priority items. The rest of the time will be spent jockeying the priorities of members in both chambers in this election-year session that takes on wider significance as party leaders use the forum to push political agendas tied to their respective 2012 general election campaigns.

So look for major legislative issues like health department reorganization to mingle with the naming of a bridge or two as the statewide meets the parochial during the next three weeks.

Some issues have been put to rest. Legislative efforts to privatize a third of Florida prisons fell by the wayside last week as senators killed an effort pushed by their Republican leaders. The issue won a reprieve when Gov. Rick Scott said he may privatize those facilities anyway.

Likewise, a move to bring in resort casinos also appears to have fallen by the wayside.

But work remains. The Senate is expected this week to complete work on its $70.8 billion spending package. The House has had its proposal ready for more than a week awaiting the upper chamber to complete its deliberations before negotiators from the two chambers can meet to forge a final deal.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos has already hinted he'd be willing to extend session or return to deal with the budget, which will include filling a $1.5 billion gap between revenues and critical state programs.

As part of election year posturing and a continuing effort to lower taxes, the House has passed a series of tax breaks, freeing thousands of businesses from corporate-income taxes and putting extra money into the pockets of back-to-school shoppers and the cash registers of retailers.

House members went along with Scott's proposal to increase the corporate-income tax exemption from $25,000 to $50,000, passing it as part of a broader economic-development bill. A House analysis said the package eventually would eliminate about $121 million a year in tax revenues for state and local governments.

The sales tax holiday, which has become a perennial incentive, would run from Aug. 3 through Aug. 5 and allow shoppers to avoid paying sales taxes on items such as clothing, shoes and bags that cost $75 or less and schools supplies valued at less than $15.

A number of other proposals to restrict the ability of local governments to levy taxes continue to move, prompting city and county officials to again gird for yet another hit on their ability to pay for local services.

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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