With 1 Week Left, Fate Of Scott’s Agenda Uncertain
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — With a week left in the legislative session and the outlook still uncertain for Gov. Rick Scott’s top priorities, it was time for the governor to apply some pressure.
While lawmakers did agree late Sunday to grant pay raises to teachers in 2014, he still hasn’t made progress on two other key requests: Expanding Medicaid to insure some of the state’s poorest residents and passing a tax cut for manufacturers.
In a bit of political arm-twisting, Scott suggested last week that he might start vetoing projects dear to key legislators. That would expose an intraparty feud between the Republican governor and the GOP-dominated Legislature.
“We’re starting to see what’s coming out in the budget: A lot of special member projects,” Scott said in an interview taped Thursday for Tallahassee.com. “I’ll be looking at each of those … and waiting to hear about return on investment.
“I ran on a campaign of holding state government accountable,” he said. “My job is to watch how your money is spent.”
Other big items left undecided — again, so far — include bills to help the Miami Dolphins renovate the team’s stadium and a revamp of property insurance.
Lawmakers have until 11:59 p.m. Friday to pass a proposed $74 billion budget.
But leaders of both chambers remain optimistic. They stress there’s plenty of time to forge compromises and get things done.
“I would just say this: Getting legislation passed is not about getting your way, it’s about getting a way forward,” Senate President Don Gaetz said.
“Speaker Weatherford has helped me understand that the Senate can’t always get the Senate’s way,” he said. “Getting things done requires bringing people of good faith together.”
Added Weatherford: “When we have differences between our chambers, we work through them.
“There are a lot of issues where there’s a little bit of yardage between us, but we have faith that we don’t allow those differences to bleed into other issues,” Weatherford said. “We find ways to find a place in the middle.”
Finding the middle, however, is proving vexsome. Here’s a look at some of the unresolved issues:
— Health insurance for the state’s needy.
House Republicans are rejecting an expansion of Medicaid that would use federal money under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul plan. Instead, they back a plan that would provide health coverage to about 115,000 residents. It would use $237 million in state funds to give recipients $2,000 a year to choose their own private insurance plans.
The main Senate proposal, led by Sen. Joe Negron, uses federal dollars and would give vouchers to more than a million residents to purchase their own private insurance.
Scott supports Negron’s plan, saying that rejecting federal funds and ponying up state dollars for health coverage puts a double burden on Florida taxpayers.
A compromise plan pushed by Republican Rep. Mike Fasano, would have used a mix of federal and state dollars to provide health coverage to about 1.1 million. That plan died in the House earlier this month.
With the House majority seemingly entrenched about not taking any federal money, it’s uncertain where a deal lies.
— Manufacturing tax break.
Scott last week made personal pitches to legislators to exempt manufacturers from paying sales taxes on equipment purchases. That initiative is stalled in both chambers.
By giving manufacturers a break from paying 6 percent sales tax on equipment purchases, the governor says, they’ll spend more on research and development, boost production and increase hiring.
The hitch for many in the Legislature: The exemption is estimated to cost the state about $115 million in lost tax revenue in the first year.
“We are working hard to move it along,” said Sen. Dorothy Hukill, a Port Orange Republican. “It’s not politics … it’s money.”
— Pension overhaul.
The House passed a bill that shuts new state and county employees and teachers out of Florida’s traditional pension plan.
It does away with guaranteed pensions for workers hired starting next year and replaces them with individual investment accounts similar to 401(k) plans. It grandfathers current employees in the existing pension plan, though.
But the Senate’s competing plan keeps traditional pensions. It would make investment accounts the default option for new hires, but they could still choose an old-fashioned “defined benefit” pension.
— Stadium renovations.
The Dolphins are seeking $3 million a year for 30 years to help pay for $400 million of renovations to Sun Life Stadium. They also want legislation passed to let Miami-Dade County raise local taxes to pay for the project.
Proponents say refurbishing the stadium will increase the chance that the National Football League will pick the area for another Super Bowl, which pumps millions into a local economy.
Seven of the last 20 Super Bowls have been played in Florida, and the last one played in then-Dolphin Stadium was in 2007.
Bills have stalled in both House and Senate.
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