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Politics

State GOP Takes Wary Approach to TaxWatch Agenda

September 14, 2011 - 6:00pm

Who doesn't want to save $4 billion from the state budget?

Depends on who you're asking.

That was the general response from state Republican leaders after the watchdog group Florida TaxWatch released a series of recommendations aimed at "surgically" trimming state spending. State leaders said they looked forward to reviewing the recommendations, but no one openly embraced the suggestions as a personal blueprint.

In other words: Maybe, maybe not.

The governor makes his own decisions, said Lane Wright, spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott. Hell take suggestions from anyone. If you have an idea for a way to reduce waste hell listen, but ultimately hell make the decision.

Katherine Betta, the spokeswoman for House Speaker Dean Cannon, stated in a release that the speaker supports the goals of government efficiency and a sustainable economy, and looks forward to reviewing the recommendations.

The TaxWatch recommendations cover areas such as criminal justice, health care, Medicaid and education.

They include proposals to sell ads on Department of Transportation message signs, estimated to generate $75 million, and increasing the eligibility requirement for Bright Future recipients, a $112.3 million savings.

TaxWatch Task Force Chairman John Alexander said the key is to surgically cut state expenses rather than simply conductacross-the-board cuts.

Instead of throwing more money at the problem, lets look at how to increase efficiency and improve outcome, Alexander said.

Furthermore, instead of increasing taxes, lets just collect the taxes that we are owed and do it more efficiently.For example, we can create $50 million this year alone if we begin to collect ... (Internet sales) taxes.

Implementing a tax on Internet sales that occur in Florida hasnt gained much traction in past sessions.

Dominic Calabro, president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, said collecting sales tax on Internet sales shouldnt be considered a new fee, or tax, as detractors are expected to argue.

As a conservative, we think most Floridians want to keep a sales-tax system, and to keep that you have to make that work, Calabro said. "In a changing economy, and increasingly since firms can now do business right inside our markets, its more important now than ever to modernize to make surepeople are honorably complying with the law. Weve seen other states raise tens of millions of dollars. Iowa, little Iowa, raised some $12-to-$15 million a year on a voluntary basis that would be more, proportionally, than the $50 million we think Florida would earn.

Among the recommendations:

  • Decriminalizing possession of small quantities of marijuana and cocaine possession laws: $21.2 million savings.
  • Expanding electronic monitoring as an alternative to state prison sentences: $43.8 million savings.
  • Implementing a defined contribution health-care model: $440 million savings.
  • Coordinating with the federal government in deporting illegal aliens in mental health facilities: $9 million savings.
  • Requiring those on state health-care programs to purchase generic drugs when applicable: $305 million savings.
  • Consolidating management of state-owned vehicles: $2.27 million.
  • Increasing state use of rental vehicles instead of purchasing vehicles: $10.7 million.
  • Selling ads on Florida Department of Transportation Dynamic Messaging Highway signs: $75 million.
  • Reducing Medicaid fraud and abuse: $223.8 million.
  • Eliminating select Medicaid optional services: $23.9 million.
  • Consolidating employee retirement classes into two classes: $107.7 million.
  • Requiring in-state post-secondary students to pay out-of-state tuition rates for excess credit hours earned: $140.77 million.
  • Increasing eligibility requirement for Bright Future recipients: $112.3 million.

To read the entire TaxWatch recommendation list go here: http://www.floridataxwatch.org/resources/pdf/Report%20GCSTF%20for%20FY2012-13.pdf

Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

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