BRADENTON, Fla. - Florida Gov. Rick Scott recommended a $77 billion budget and new tax cuts Wednesday.
Scott's total spending plan technically proposes a 0.1% reduction compared to the current year's budget, though the general fund portion is a 4% increase at $28.3 billion due to higher projected sales tax collections, he said.
State revenue collections are expected to be $1.1 billion higher in fiscal 2016.
"Our budget reflects the priorities I spoke about during the campaign last year," said Scott, who was re-elected in November. "It is a strong budget because our economy is strong."
To shore up general fund spending, Scott wants to sweep $272 million in revenues from various trust funds established to support specific programs. The biggest sweep - or reduction in funding - would be $106.2 million from state and local housing programs.
Scott, a Republican who won reelection last fall, is recommending that the state maintain $1.5 billion in general revenue reserves and $1.4 billion in the budget stabilization fund.
Another $1.7 billion is also available for emergency spending from certain trust funds, if needed.
The governor's proposal continues to reduce the state's workforce; 1,018 positions would be eliminated with most expected to be vacant by the time the new budget goes into effect July 1.
Scott also continued limited use of debt financing, and recommended $268 million in bond issuance for transportation programs.
Scott "believes debt represents a tax burden on our children and grandchildren and only supports issuing new debt for projects that benefit both current and future generations, and includes a return on any taxpayer investment," said a statement accompanying the budget.
Last year, Scott's budget authorized $2.7 billion in bonds. However, $2.3 billion of that amount was set aside for the Ultimate I-4 transportation project in central Florida and was not used because the private consortium led by Skanska Infrastructure Development Inc. and John Laing Investments Ltd. opted for bank and federal loans to finance the project.
For a second year, Scott has proposed new tax cuts totaling $673 million as part of his plan to spend projected surplus revenues.
For 2016, the largest tax cut he wants the Republican-led Legislature to implement is a 3.6% reduction in the communication services tax on phones, cable and satellite television bills, which represents a $471 million tax cut. The state has shared those revenues with local governments but Scott said there would not be a reduction in state revenue sharing due to adjustments he's proposing.
Legislators, who are in committee meetings preparing for this year's session to begin on March 3, were muted in reaction to the governor's budget and indicated they may consider tax cut initiatives other than those proposed by Scott.
On Wednesday, Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, also rolled out their top priorities for the upcoming session, and said they planned to focus on tax relief, education and workforce programs for people with disabilities, developing natural resource policies, restoring an adoption subsidy program, and education funding.
"Moving forward, much of the legwork, negotiations and compromise needed to finalize these initiatives will be completed at the committee level as individual senators and representatives work their bills through the process," Gardiner said in a prepared statement. "We are looking forward to the work ahead and believe we have a solid foundation for a productive session."
Gardiner and Crisafulli did not comment on recommendations made by the governor. It is up to the Legislature to craft next year's budget though Scott has line-item veto power.