Storm expenses no barrier to Florida's governor call for tax cuts

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BRADENTON, Fla. - Florida Gov. Rick Scott plans to back new tax cuts in his final budget, even though the state’s costs for Hurricane Irma and several other hurricanes remain unknown.

In addition to tax cuts announced this week, Scott also said he would push for a state constitutional amendment to be approved during the upcoming legislative session to require a supermajority vote of lawmakers to raise taxes and fees.

“I will fight to cut $180 million in taxes for families,” Scott said at press conferences around the state Monday. “This includes sales tax holidays to help families get prepared for the school year and for hurricane season, which is especially important following the devastation we saw from Hurricane Irma.”

Under Scott’s tax cut plan, the state would forego an estimated $88 million in sales tax revenue on back-to-school and disaster preparedness purchases. Another $87 million cut in recurring state revenues would come from reducing driver’s license fees, while an additional $4 million would come from an 18% reduction in traffic citation fines.

The reduction in state revenue would hit the budget amid warnings from state economists that the cost of responding to Hurricane Irma will probably eat up most, if not all, of the fund balance expected at the end of the current year.

As of Oct. 23, state agencies estimate spending $649 million in response to Irma, according to a report on the Florida Division of Bond Finance’s website. Irma made landfall Sept. 10, cutting a south-to-north path of damage across the peninsula.

The state anticipates receiving between 75% and 100% of its costs reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The bond finance report did not mention costs for the state’s response to help victims after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, and after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. Florida has seen an influx of Puerto Ricans since Maria, many with children enrolled in public schools.

“The costs of Hurricane Irma are not expected to have a material effect on the state’s budget or financial position,” the bond finance report said.

Scott, a Republican who is term-limited out of office next year, has released general information about portions of his budget in the weeks before the annual legislative session begins.

“More details on the governor’s proposed budget will be made available in the coming weeks,” said Scott spokeswoman Lauren Schenone.

The 60-day legislative session starts Jan. 9. Committee meetings have been under way for several weeks, with some examining hurricane-related costs as well as what the state can do to prepare for future storms, such as better stockpiling of fuel.

Fuel ran short in some areas during Irma, which prompted the largest evacuation in state history.

While touring the state this week, Scott touted cutting taxes more than 75 times during his tenure in office, saving more than $7.5 billion for “families and job creators.”

“I am also fighting to make it harder for politicians to raise taxes in the future and I look forward to working with the Legislature during the upcoming session on these proposals,” Scott said.

Currently, a simple majority vote is required for lawmakers to raise taxes or fees, the main sources of revenue for the state budget since Florida does not have a personal income tax.

Scott has not defined what he means by a supermajority vote, which could mean two-thirds or three-quarters of lawmakers must vote to approve a tax increase if passed.

Similar restrictions have been viewed negatively by some rating analysts, who believe they reduce flexibility to respond to emergencies or economic downturns.

If the Legislature agrees with Scott’s proposal to amend the constitution, it would be considered by Florida voters on the 2018 ballot.

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Budgets Tax cuts Tax holidays Rick Scott State of Florida Florida