TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Rick Scott, who says he was elected to create more jobs in Florida, plans to spend his second year again pushing an agenda seeking more tax cuts, more money for ports and roads, and trying to get college students to graduate in fields rife with jobs.
Scott, who saw his poll numbers sink this year amid an aggressive budget-cutting agenda, makes no apologies for his continued emphasis on cutting taxes as part of his effort to pump up the state’s stalled economy.
“If we don’t create jobs, there’s no money for safety nets, there’s no money for anything we care about,” Scott told a group of Tallahassee business owners during a luncheon Tuesday.
Scott is expected to lay out key components of his 2012 legislative agenda during a Wednesday visit to a metal and plastics company in Longwood.
But he used the speech to business owners to offer some highlights of what he called his job creation priorities for the coming year. Scott is expected to make further announcements this fall on other parts of his legislative agenda.
Scott wants to make further cuts in the state’s corporate income tax and said he also wants to look at other costly fees for businesses. During his campaign, Scott had said he wants to phase out the corporate income tax entirely.
This past spring legislators agreed to exempt half of the state’s businesses from paying the corporate income tax, but that move only cost roughly $30 million. The remaining businesses pay an estimated $1.9 billion.
One top Republican state senator is skeptical that cutting the corporate income tax rate further will lure additional businesses to come to Florida.
“I’m still waiting to meet the first Fortune 100 or Fortune 500 CEO who says the current corporate income tax structure is what is preventing them from coming to this state,” said State Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.
Gaetz said it’s not that tax rates aren’t important to business owners, but he said more important factors are the skills of Florida’s workers and the regulations that businesses must follow.
Scott isn’t limiting his legislative agenda just to more tax cuts.
The governor also said Tuesday that he wants to crack down on regional workforce boards that receive federal funding in the wake of a questionable spending by a Central Florida board.
Scott also said he wants to make additional changes to the state’s unemployment benefits system, and create incentives to make sure that students are graduating from state universities in science, engineering and math -- fields with a need for skilled workers.
The governor said he cannot support letting universities to just raise tuition in tough times to pay for college programs that may not be needed.
Gaetz, who is scheduled to become Senate President in 2012, said he fully agrees with Scott’s university proposal. He said universities right now are not fully latched on to the “reality” of the economy.
Scott is forging ahead with some of his tax-cutting proposals even though state economists are now predicting that Florida’s tax collections won’t grow as much as initially expected.
Just a few weeks ago, lawmakers were told there was a small chance of a budget surplus for 2012. But that has been wiped away as tax collections have dropped below what economists were predicting just a few months ago.
State economists on Tuesday revised their estimates and predicted the state would take in nearly $1.6 billion less over the next two years.
Florida relies primarily on the state’s 6 percent sales tax to balance its budget.
The new estimates drawn up Tuesday suggest that economists still anticipate a small amount of growth in tax collections this year and next year, but not as much as they predicted in the spring.
Amy Baker, who leads the group that draws up estimates, said the federal clash over the debt ceiling and the turmoil in economic markets had led to a drop in consumer confidence and spending. She said the new forecast shows the state remains in the “throes of an abnormally slow recovery.”
Baker and other economists said Tuesday that they remained “cautiously optimistic” that the United States and Florida were not entering a second recession.
Still, the drop in expected collections means Scott and lawmakers will be confronted with a potential $2 billion budget gap since other costs, including Medicaid, continue to rise in a down economy.
Property values also continue to decline, meaning there are less local property taxes available for schools. Legislators would have to decide whether or not to replace the local money with state dollars.
Scott as well as Republican leaders have insisted they will not raise taxes in order to fill the potential shortfall.