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Politics

Weekly Roundup: All's Well That Ends ...

June 19, 2015 - 9:00pm
Richard Corcoran
Richard Corcoran

Finally, some might say mercifully, the special legislative session is done.

An outside chance remains that lawmakers might have to return to Tallahassee to address redistricting --- a challenge to congressional districts is pending in the Florida Supreme Court --- and there is a more-remote possibility that health care could bring people back to the Capitol.

But for now, lawmakers have completed their constitutional duty of passing an annual spending plan.

Don't mistake that for everybody being happy, though.

The Senate didn't get its desired health-care expansion during the special session.

Also, environmentalists and some lawmakers from both sides of the aisle aren't satisfied with the amounts being spent for land acquisition, Everglades restoration and natural-springs protections, after voters approved an initiative in November to increase spending on land and water.

Legislative leaders also caught some heat for the way they finished negotiating the $78.7 billion budget, which the House and Senate ultimately approved Friday.

The leaders, who were unable to come together on a budget during this spring's regular session, started the final week of the special session by cramming pet projects into the budget. Those projects helped get the deal done, but they also drew an outcry about a lack of transparency.

You could sense Florida TaxWatch quickly firing up its annual budget "turkey" list.

HERE'S A CRISP JACKSON FOR YOU

Gov. Rick Scott still needs to approve the spending plan, but he is already planning a victory tour for a tax-cut package that emerged from the budget talks.

Scott's office announced plans for the governor to visit seven parts of Florida on Monday to play up the tax-cut bill (HB 33A), which he has already signed.

The wide-ranging package, which will total $372.4 million in tax cuts during the upcoming year, will give Floridians 10 tax-free days to buy back-to-school clothes, supplies and computers. It also will cut or eliminate taxes on gun-club memberships, college textbooks and luxury boat repairs.

For many Floridians, the biggest checkbook item may be a reduction in the communications-services tax on cellphone and cable-TV bills. The savings are projected at $20 a year for people paying $100 a month for the services.

"This is good for our constituents," said Senate Finance and Tax Chairwoman Dorothy Hukill, a Port Orange Republican who authored the final package. "It's not perfect, but it's a real good bill."

House Finance and Tax Chairman Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, said several ideas pushed by the House that failed to make the final package --- a post-Thanksgiving sales-tax holiday for small businesses, an increase in the homestead exemption for widows and people with disabilities and a reduction in a tax on commercial rents --- will be addressed next year.

"I think we've built a lot of momentum for tax cuts," Gaetz said after the House approved the final version of the bill. "I think for the most part, the Senate looked very favorably on the taxes that the House wanted to cut. And I think that as we go into next year we can do even more."

HEALTH CARE UNPLUGGED

Much of the tension between the House and Senate during the regular and special sessions focused on health-care issues.

But when lawmakers finished the special session Friday evening, neither chamber got the health-care changes it wanted.

On Monday, the Senate decided to simply dispense with measures proposed by the House, such as revamping health coverage for state employees and eliminating key regulations in the hospital industry.

Senate Health Policy Chairman Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, announced his panel wouldn't take up the House proposals.

Instead, Bean called for lawmakers to establish a Joint House and Senate Task Force on Health Care Policy Innovation, which possibly could take up the Senate's health care plan.

The House went through the motions last week to debate, before voting down, the Senate's plan to use Medicaid expansion funding to help low-income Floridians purchase private health insurance.

MEANWHILE, IN THE OUTSIDE WORLD …

"Jeb!" is back.

While lawmakers slogged toward agreeing on a budget, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush formally announced Monday that he was joining the crowded field of Republicans seeking to be the next president.

Taking the stage at Miami-Dade College's Kendall campus, Bush announced what had long been apparent. While Bush in recent months tried to play coy about his intentions, he also was amassing a sizable campaign war chest.

The trimmed-down Bush, reviving the red "Jeb!" logo from his gubernatorial campaign days, declared during the Monday event that " … Not a one of us deserves the job by right of resume, party, seniority, family or family narrative. It's nobody's turn. It's everybody's test, and it's wide open --- exactly as a contest for president should be."

Bush has assembled a campaign machine headed by long-time adviser, Sally Bradshaw. Mike Murphy, another long-time member of Bush's inner-circle, will direct the Bush-backing "Right to Rise" political committee.

Signaling his establishment cred, Bush during the Monday event was able to showcase a stable of support that included the three Republican Florida Cabinet members and state Sen. Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican and former Senate president. Gaetz delivered jabs, including at President Barack Obama and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican also in the crowded GOP presidential field.

"After eight years, we've learned this much: The presidency of the United States does not come with training wheels," Gaetz said. "The presidency of the United States should not be the first management job you apply for."

COME FLY WITH ME

While lawmakers huddled in the Capitol and Bush backers headed to the big announcement, Scott caught a quick weekend in Paris.

Scott, ever the state's salesman, held a number of economic-development meetings, attended an aerospace reception and took in the opening day of the International Paris-Le Bourget Air Show, his second time there as the head of a delegation from Enterprise Florida.

The trip was Scott's first this term after pursuing business opportunities in 10 nations --- Panama, Canada, Brazil, Israel, Spain, the United Kingdom, Colombia, Chile, France and Japan --- during his first term.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "This is the way government should work." House Appropriations Chairman Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, after legislative leaders Monday night agreed in 30 minutes to 194 projects worth just over $300 million.

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