Rick Scott challenges Legislature to help him keep his promises
Gov. Rick Scott won a second term with a slew of promises to constituents about cutting taxes, spending more on education and improving the environment. In recent weeks, Scott has taken action to make good on his promises by putting forward those ideas for the upcoming legislative session, which opens Tuesday.
PolitiFact Florida is tracking those promises on our Scott-O-Meter. Most of the ideas are part of Scott’s 2015-16 budget proposal, a blueprint released Jan. 28 that tells lawmakers how Scott would like to see the state handle its finances and spending priorities.
Because none of these promises have been enacted yet, they are all rated In The Works, but that will change as they are tackled or rejected by lawmakers. But the proposals all reflect ideas that Scott campaigned on last year when he defeated Democratic nominee and former Gov. Charlie Crist.
Scott has put forth two tax cuts, one that benefits consumers and one that benefits manufacturers.
For consumers, Scott wants to reduce the state's communications services sales tax, a tax on cell phone and cable service. Scott has recommended cutting the complex tax by 3.6 percent overall. According to his office, that will save a family spending $100 a month on cable and cell phone services about $43 a year, or $3.58 a month.
For business, Scott pledged to finally eliminate the state's manufacturing tax. Last year, lawmakers put a three-year moratorium on the state sales tax for manufacturing machinery and equipment. Scott has said that making the suspension permanent will grow the state’s economy.
One campaign promise Scott didn’t put in his budget is phasing out the state sales tax on commercial leases, but state lawmakers could end up doing it anyway. Florida charges a 6 percent sales tax on rents for retail, office and warehouse space, the only state in the nation to do so. State Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, has filed a bill to bring the rate down to 5 percent.
During the campaign, Scott repeatedly pledged to raise per-pupil education spending to an all-time high after cutting it during his first year in office by $1.3 billion. His latest budget proposes raising K-12 spending to $7,176 per pupil, about a $261 increase compared with the current year. That would be the highest per-pupil spending only if you don’t account for inflation. If you count inflation, school spending still won’t rebound to pre-recession levels.
Scott also pledged to investigate every standardized test, and he’s taken action on this even before the session.Scott asked the Department of Education to prepare a report about every district’s testing data. After the report was released on Feb. 18, Scott issued an executive order suspending an 11th-grade language arts test. His agency is also asking the Legislature to consider several other recommendations about end-of-course exams and progress monitoring. Meanwhile, a Department-led focus group will discuss issues about implementing the controversial new Florida Standards, which are similar to the Common Core.
Two other promises Scott made for K-12 education are to increase school security spending and double investment in digital learning initiatives. Scott is recommending increasing the Safe Schools Allocation, a fund that school districts use to pay for after-school programs, school resource officers and detection dogs, as well as programs aimed at preventing suicide or bullying. Scott is recommending a $14.25 million increase to bring the total up to $78.7 million. On digital learning, more money will go toward improving school district information technology infrastructure and providing computers for students. Scott is proposing doubling that money, from $40 million to $80 million.
For higher education, Scott said he would create a program for $10,000 STEM degrees. Scott got more specific on this by asking the Legislature for $5 million in new funds for schools to develop or expand STEM bachelor’s degrees that cost students $10,000 or less in tuition and fees. That would be a one-year appropriation to begin in the 2015-16 year.
On the environment, Scott said he would secure more funding for springs restoration and alternative water supply programs. Scott wants to clean up the state’s freshwater springs by increasing funding to $50 million, up from last year’s $30 million. Scott’s plan is to draw on some of the dedicated funds voters approved through November’s Amendment 1 ballot initiative. Scott is also recommending $50 million for programs to develop alternative water supplies through sources besides pumping from Florida’s aquifers.