Gov. Scott: Florida budget could be chopped by $5 billion

November 8, 2011  |  No Comments  |  by Barney Bishop  |  News – February 7, 2011

EUSTIS — New Republican Gov. Rick Scott received wild applause from about 1,000 tea party activists when he said the $65.9 billion budget proposal he rolled out Monday would cut government waste and lower taxes.

Scott is proposing $5 billion in spending cuts, about half of that in education, in the next budget year beginning July 1 and another $2.6 billion more the following year.

At the tea party rally in a Baptist church, the new Republican governor compared his look at the current $70.4 billion budget to going up in an attic of an old home.

“Over the last three months I spent a lot of time in that attic and I’m cleaning it out,” said Scott. “There’s things that we need to dust off and repair and protect, and there’s things we need to completely throw away.”

Scott also has proposed cutting pension benefits for state workers, teachers and some local government employees while making them contribute 5 percent of their salaries to their retirement plan. He also wants to cut the state’s work force by 8,645 positions, or nearly 7 percent, next year while reducing pay for prison employees.

Scott also wants to spend more on economic development and cut $4.1 billion in fees and taxes as part of a two-year spending plan. His proposal includes a $1.4 billion cut in the state’s corporate income tax that he eventually wants to phase out.

Businesses also would get a $630.8 million reduction in taxes they pay into the state’s unemployment compensation program. Scott also wants to roll back motor vehicle fees that lawmakers increase a couple years ago by $360 million.

He told the crowd he’s going through every line of the budget and removing any item that isn’t essential government spending.

“Government has to get back to its core functions, but only its core functions,” he said.

In an unusual move, Scott broke with tradition by making his budget announcement outside of Tallahassee. Tea party activists from around the state came to the church and rallied ahead of Scott’s speech. Outside there were “Don’t Tread On Me” flags and inside the crowd sang patriotic songs and listened to speakers criticize President Barack Obama and government spending.

Scott used Twitter to explain his decision to come to this small central Florida town to roll out his budget.

“I do things different. The world does not revolve around Tallahassee…that’s why I’m announcing my budget in the real world,” he tweeted.

GOP-leaning tea party activists gave a more favorable response to his proposals than Scott expects to get in Tallahassee.

Leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislative earlier said they don’t see how the cash-strapped state can afford tax cuts. They issued statements Monday that praised Scott for proposing spending cuts and not seeking tax increases without commenting on specifics.

“It’s impressive that after one month on the job Gov. Scott has prepared a comprehensive budget so quickly,” said Senate President Mike Haridopolos of Merritt Island. “The Senate is dedicated to working with the governor to provide a balanced budget with no new taxes.”

“Over the next few weeks, we look forward to thoroughly reviewing these recommendations,” said House Speaker Dean Cannon of Winter Park.

No matter what the Legislature thinks of the proposal that calls for $65.9 billion the first year and $63.3 billion the second, Scott was wildly received in Eustis.

“We are so thankful that we have a governor that stands on his promises. He did not forget us,” Billie Tucker of the First Coast Tea Party told the crowd. “He’s one of us.”

Afterward, Velma Dawson, 66, a hairstylist from Tavares wearing an American flag scarf and sweater, beamed as she spoke about Scott.

“He’s given us a new hope and a new direction that this state has long needed,” she said. “We have hope.”

Scott’s proposals also drew strong support from business interests.

“Cuts to education and health care will inevitably raise concerns among some, but in the midst of a recession, government must cut expenses because raising taxes is a death knell for job creation,” said Barney Bishop, president and CEO of Associated Industries of Florida.

Scott has made job creation his mantra. He campaigned on a promise of making Florida friendlier to business cutting taxes, regulations and state spending in a drive to create 700,000 new jobs over seven years.

From this morning’s edition of The News-Press

TALLAHASSEE — Today is the day Gov. Rick Scott details how he plans to cut $5 billion from the state budget and cut corporate and property taxes.

Scott will release his budget at a tea party event in Central Florida.

He won his first public office last year by promising to make Florida the nation’s top job producer — by cutting taxes, reducing government employment 5 percent, axing government regulations and squeezing maximum efficiency out of minimum revenue.

Scott says he’ll keep funding for schools the same with cuts elsewhere. He’s said he’ll achieve savings by eliminating some programs while consolidating functions.

This year’s version of the state spending plan is at $70.4 billion.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, and House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, support Scott’s promise to meet a $4 billion-plus revenue shortage by cutting government — rather than raising taxes — but they are less convinced of Scott’s belief that he can piggyback tax cuts on top of the spending cuts. The Legislature will have to approve a budget by the time the two-month session ends April 30.

“We’re going to be very deliberative in looking through his budget recommendations,” Haridopolos said. “We’re going to make the cuts first, then we’ll take a look at his tax cuts.”

Throughout last week, Scott rolled out parts of his plan.

• $1 billion in savings from reorganization and consolidation of state agencies

• $2.8 billion in savings over two years by requiring public workers to pay 5 percent of salaries into pensions

• $810 million cut from the corporate income tax from 5.5 percent to 3 percent

• $1 billion cut in property taxes.

Scott is doing the same thing with the state as he did when he took over a company during his corporate career.

Scott likes to say the first thing he did was “take control of the checkbook.”

Scott calls it accountability budgeting — going through each agency budget line-by-line, with a skeptic’s eye toward eliminating, merging or streamlining functions. That’s what he did in building the nation’s largest hospital chain, Scott says, and he has recruited several corporate executives as department heads, dislodging government careerists.

Scott’s major themes seem tailored for his tea party audience.

“I hope to hear a budget that supports limited government, individual responsibility and free markets,” said Patricia Sullivan, a founder of the North Lake Tea Party, who organized the budget rollout. “He has tea party principles that have stirred the majority to be silent no more.”

Tea party support was vital to Scott at the polls last year.

“The real key is, we’re going to get our state back to work,” Scott said. “That’s what we’re looking at every day. I’m very comfortable that … on Monday, we’ll put out a plan and everyone will understand how we’re going to reduce the deficit and how we’re going to justify these tax reductions.”

He added that, “I’m very comfortable that the Legislature will support me in this.”

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