Gov. Rick Scott

Tallahassee Legislative Update: Education, tax relief and transportation

February’s Tallahassee legislative update covers Gov. Scott’s $74 billion proposed budget, which has dominated political debate in the state capital.

Education, tax relief and transportation clearly dominate the governor’s agenda. Here are some highlights from the budget and a quick look at other issues that could impact the Super Region.

Education Budget. With more than 10,000 new K-12 students slated to join the Florida public schools system, the governor proposed spending a record $18.84 billion on education. Roughly one-third of that increase comes from state revenue, and the governor believes the rest can come from local property taxes without having to increase the property tax rate. The new revenue will come via higher property values as the state’s real estate market continues to rebound. Per-student spending will increase by more than $150, to slightly less than $7,000. That’s within $200 of the all-time record level in 2007-08.

Other key components of the education budget: almost $8.9 million for a summer algebra initiative, $40 million for digital learning, and $13.5 billion for teacher professional development training and technical assistance.

Tax and Fee Cuts. Scott proposes to give more than $500 million back to Floridians via tax and fee cuts. Citing a rebounding economy, Scott says the overall budget is in strong enough shape to accommodate the tax relief. Chief targets include a reduction in motor vehicle registration fees and taxes on business rents. The governor also wants to increase the corporate income tax exemption, lower business filing fees and provide two tax holidays totaling 25 days.

Transportation Spending. The governor proposes a record $8.8 billion for the Department of Transportation Work Program. Major budget items include $3.8 billion to expand transportation capacity, $325 million for aviation improvements and $192 million for bridge repair. Among items specific to the Super Region: $10.4 million for Port Tampa Bay’s Hooker Point development and $9.8 billion for Port Canaveral’s Northside Development Container Yard.

Medical Marijuana.  The Florida Supreme Court in late January cleared the way for Floridians to vote on a constitutional amendment legalizing many forms of medical marijuana, and the issue is evoking a variety of reactions around the state. Among the most interesting perspectives is that of the Gaetz family.

Dan Gaetz, president of the Florida Senate, in a recent Orlando Sentinel article, recounts the poignant tale of his illegally purchasing marijuana in the mid-1980s to help a close friend dying of cancer. His son, State Rep. Matt Gaetz, has authored a bill to legalize a form of the drug that helps epileptics. Representatives of both parties have introduced a variety of other medical marijuana legislation.

But, the elder Gaetz and many other leaders, including Scott and House Speaker Will Weatherford, draw the line at supporting the constitutional amendment, noting that similar medical marijuana amendments in Washington and Colorado were precursors to outright decriminalization of the drug. It’s an issue likely to remain hot through Election Day.