When Gov. Rick Scott sailed through Bradenton on Labor Day during a statewide campaign crusade, he enthralled a crowd of some 100 supporters. The governor's appearance at a plumbing products business, VizCO-US Inc., served as an appropriate backdrop for his "Let's Keep Working" tour.
One of his key tour messages promotes $1 billion in tax and fee cuts, a transparent campaign ploy and one that raises questions about its political viability.
Scott's personable nature -- as evidenced here in Bradenton -- draws people into his political views. But voters should look at his tax and fee cuts with a critical eye.
Some parts of the governor's campaign pledge are attractive, the major slash in the first-time registration charge for vehicles standing out as cash back to the everyday Floridian. The fee would plunge from $225 to $120.
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Scott proposes additional sales tax holidays that would cost the state $200 million in revenue. This is problematic in that economists estimate a surplus of only $336 million in next year's budget, a thin margin and a severe drop from this year's $845.7 million surplus.
The state budget depends on sales tax revenue. How the state can absorb that and several other cuts are pivotal points of debate, and those discussions will be moving forward into the next year's legislative session -- should Scott win re-election in November. Some legislators have already expressed doubts.
The governor also suggests eliminating the manufacturing sales tax and phasing out the 6 percent sales tax on commercial leases and the business income tax. Those will certainly boost corporate bottom lines and hopefully job growth, too, but again the cost to state services could be too high.
Two other proposals would inflict pain on local governments, and the state should not deprive citizens of services.
Tallahassee has a tradition of boasting about tax cuts, but often state revenue is not impacted one iota. Local governments and school districts bear the brunt of legislative largesse.
That's once again the case with Scott's blueprint. The $120 million cut in the telecommunications services tax on cell phone, home satellite, video and other services targets revenue that flows to counties and municipalities, including every one in Manatee.
The county has only supported any tinkering with the communications tax as long as the state makes it revenue neutral, providing an offset. But Scott does not address that.
His proposal to eliminate Florida's "recapture rule" on property taxes presents major problems, not the least of which are the hits to local governments and school boards forced to reduce services to make up for the shortfall. Those potential hits, however, are nowhere in sight since the recapture rule comes into play only when real estate values drop.
Local governments survived on the rule during the recession. Recapture creates a more equitable system in that longtime property owners enjoy larger tax breaks than newer owners with the same property valuation.
The Save Our Homes cap on homesteaded assessments still applies, but when values decline property appraisers must increase those assessments.
Florida's property tax system is already imbalanced, and the recapture rate at least provides some fairness.
Voters would have to approve this aspect of Scott's plan by a 60-percent margin, and a similar constitutional amendment failed in 2012. Since the idea still holds little if any value and too much inequality baggage, we'd expect the same result should this reach the ballot.
With only a surplus of $336 million forecast for next year, the governor's $1 billion revenue cut would force spending reductions. Education, infrastructure and other priorities must be addressed.
Should Scott's proposals advance with his re-election, the debate in Tallahassee should be spirited. In the meantime, this looks more like campaign pandering than passable policy.