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whiskey Wheaties

Amendment would slow down effect of ‘whiskey and Wheaties’ bill

State Sen. Bill Galvano Wednesday filed an amendment to this year’s “whiskey and Wheaties” legislation to “slow its implementation so it doesn’t come into the marketplace all at once.”

The bill (SB 106), filed for four years running, would repeal the Prohibition-era state law requiring businesses, such as grocery chains and big-box retailers, to have separate stores to sell liquor.

Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles in Florida.

Galvano, a Bradenton Republican expected to be Senate President in 2018-20, first filed a version of the bill in 2014. His amendment would phase in the integration of booze into general retail space over a couple of years after the bill’s passage.

“It also puts smaller spirits bottles (i.e., ‘miniatures’) behind a counter, and addresses the size of the store,” he said in an interview, so it would not apply to “7-Elevens and things of that nature.”

Critics raised concerns that the bill as filed would allow hard liquor sales at gas station convenience stores, for example.

Pure-play liquor retailers, such as ABC Fine Wines & Spirits and independent operators, have said the bill is being pushed by big retailers looking to expand their market reach.

Wal-mart, Target and others say tearing down the wall of separation between liquor and other goods is simply a “pro-consumer” move toward added convenience.

The measure, carried this year by Senate President Pro Tempore Anitere Flores, cleared its first committee and is next set to be heard by the Rules Committee this Thursday.

If it clears there, it will be ready to be debated on the floor after the Legislature convenes March 7. A House companion has not yet had a hearing.

If passed, Florida would be the 30th state to allows the sale of hard liquor in general retail space, advocates say.

8:30 p.m. update: Two more amendments were filed later Wednesday by state Sens. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, and Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican.

The Latvala strike-all chiefly would grant local control over tearing down the liquor wall of separation, allowing retailers to sell spirits in the same space as other items if the area in which they’re located OKs it “by a municipal or county ordinance.”

The Simpson proposal, also a strike-all, also has a local control provision and adds that a “vendor licensed pursuant to 27 CFR 478.41(b) may not sell liquor on its premises.” That’s the federal rule governing firearms dealers.

Jack Latvala, Jason Brodeur aim to protect franchisees

Legislation that would protect small business owners who enter into franchise agreements was filed Tuesday in the Florida Legislature.

State Sen. Jack Latvala and Rep. Jason Brodeur announced their support of the “Protect Florida Small Business Act” (SB 750).

The bill’s intent “is to promote fair business relations between franchisees and franchisors and to protect franchisees against unfair treatment by franchisors,” it says.

“Therefore, it is necessary to regulate the conduct of franchisors and their representatives in order to prevent fraud, unfair business practices, unfair methods of competition … and other abuses upon franchisees in this state.”

A summary provided three highlights. The legislation would:

“Create more financial certainty by protecting small business franchise owners from unjust terminations. Currently, national corporate brands can terminate franchises without cause or warning.”

“Add protections for local franchise owners from unfair restrictions on sales and transfers, therefore giving these small business owners the opportunity to seek a fair return for their business success.”

“Provide needed safeguards for unsubstantiated non-renewal of franchise agreements. Local business owners often invest their savings and years of hard work building up their franchise business, yet the corporations can decide not to renew an agreement even if the business owner has fully complied with its terms.”

“As a chamber of commerce president, I’m particularly sensitive to the threats against small business owners from out-of-state companies,” said Brodeur, a Sanford Republican and chair of the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee.

“I want to be sure that there is a level playing field for all business owners in Florida, whether they are a small independent shop or a franchisee,” he added.

Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who chairs the Senate’s Appropriations Committee and owns his own printing business, said franchise-based businesses employ more than 400,000 Floridians.

But he was surprised to learn that only car dealers and farm equipment sales franchisees are currently protected under Florida law. Latvala also told of his experience looking into buying a Dairy Queen franchise.

“One of the impediments of entering into the contract … was that I would have had very little control over my future,” he said. “There wouldn’t be any big impediment (for them) to pull my franchise” even after investing significant sums of money.

The International Franchise Association, which represents franchisors and franchisees, issued a statement calling the bill “unnecessary government overreach and intrusion into private contract negotiations.”

If it becomes law, the proposal would not be retroactive; that is, it would affect only future franchise agreements.

“Typically, these bills are promoted by a single franchise owner or a handful of franchise owners seeking to generate leverage or extract concessions from a brand company in ongoing contract negotiations,” said IFE President & CEO Robert Cresanti.

Two 7-Eleven convenience store franchisees appeared with Latvala and Brodeur at the press conference but did not speak.

“Like similar bills rejected in numerous states, this bill appears to be a solution in search of a problem that does not exist,” Cresanti added.

Dana Young files bill allowing craft breweries to distribute limited amounts of their own product

Dana Young is introducing new legislation to give small craft breweries the ability to move product through other craft breweries.

But the “Big Beer” industry in Tallahassee is already expressing concerns about SB 554, the Senate proposal filed Thursday by the Republican from Tampa.

The bill allows craft breweries producing under 7,000 kegs a year, and does not currently have agreements with distributors, to move its product to other Florida craft breweries.

“I am proud to sponsor SB 554 and continue to be an advocate for our state’s craft brewers,” Young said. “We want to see the craft beer industry continue their trend of record growth and this bill will help new brewers get their beer to market faster. I look forward to working with the bill’s co-sponsor, Sen. Jack Latvala, my colleagues in the Senate, and members of the Florida House to provide a regulatory structure that encourages craft brewers to grow.”

In the summer of 2015, Gov. Rick Scott signed a law allowing craft breweries to finally sell beer in 64-ounce containers known as “growlers.” Until then, Florida (bizarrely) was one of the few states in the nation that didn’t legally sanction such growlers.

But a key part of that legislation allowed craft breweries to ship its product to affiliated locations, up to eight in the state.

That represented a small chip in the “three-tier” alcohol beverage regulation system, which has historically given distributors exclusive power to move beer from manufacturers to the retailer. Passage of the 2015 bill lifted a requirement that those breweries operate as tourist attractions — otherwise known as the “Busch Gardens” exception, named after the Tampa amusement park (then owned by Anheuser-Busch). It allowed them to serve beer at its theme park’s hospitality centers.

That bill maintained that all other alcoholic beverage products (beer, wine and cider) had to go through a distributor.

Young’s new legislation would permit craft breweries (currently without distribution agreements) to send its product to unaffiliated brewers, as well as restaurants and other retail outlets, another potential crack in the three-tier system.

While most craft breweries in Florida generally have distribution agreements, Young’s bill would allow new breweries to have an ability to move product without having to go through a distributor.

“It’s troubling,” says Florida Beer Wholesaler Association executive director Mitch Rubin, “because it upset the balance of the 2015 law.”

Tampa Bay Legislative Delegation attempts to find answers for regional transportation fix

Tampa Bay’s Legislative Delegation, with state lawmakers representing the area’s eight counties, spent two hours Wednesday in Clearwater discussing how to begin addressing the region’s myriad transportation issues.

According to a new white paper prepared by the D.C.-based Enos Center for Transportation for the Tampa Bay Partnership, a regional structure for transportation planning, operations and decision-making is paramount to the development of a regional transport network.

That conclusion might make an interested observer ask — isn’t that what TBARTA was supposed to be?

A decade ago, the Florida Legislature created the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority to develop and implement a regional transportation master plan of the seven-county West Central Florida region. As Manatee County GOP Senator Bill Galvano recounted Wednesday, it was produced without a funding mechanism, after then-Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed the $8 million in appropriations set for its conception.

“That was  a shock to all of us,” Galvano said, adding: “I don’t think he (Crist) realized the connection and it fell through the cracks.”

Whether TBARTA can ultimately become that vehicle as intended was only mentioned toward the end of the meeting held at Ruth Eckerd Hall.

Lawmakers also heard from Tampa Bay Lightning owner and Channelside developer Jeff Vinik and Barry Shevlin, co-chairs from the transportation group working with the Tampa Bay Partnership. The group also worked with the Enos Center to produce the white paper.

Vinik’s comments were more general. Waiting for another five to ten years to develop a master plan, he said, will constrain the growth of the Tampa Bay area. Vinik said all options for transportation improvements — roadway expansion, BRT lines, light rail, commuter rail, etc. — all were on the table.

“I know it’s critical that we reach consensus in a direction that we want to head,” he said.

Shevlin delved more into specifics.

“We’re a top twenty metro area, but we’re acting like a collection of municipalities and counties and not a region,” he stated, adding that there was obviously no regional structure for transportation planning or decision-making in general happening in the area.

And twice during his public comments, Shevlin lamented the fact that as of last Saturday, there were 14 different buses moving from Dover in Eastern Hillsborough County to downtown Tampa, yet there wasn’t a single vehicle going from Tampa to Clearwater or St. Petersburg.

Shevlin outlined four priorities the Partnership believes need to happen.

One is to create a multicounty Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). The second plan is to support a regional center for transit operations. Shevlin said HART and PSTA, the two biggest transit agencies in the Bay area, should have a “closer relationship,” but left it open as to how that happens.

Clearwater Republican Senator Jack Latvala called for a consolidation of the two agencies more than four years ago. After conducting two different studies, that merger never happened, though the agencies are poised to sign an interlocal agreement which will necessitate more joint efforts.

Shevlin also called for a uniform regulatory law in the state regarding ride share, which Tampa Republican Representative Jamie Grant later assured would happen in this year’s session. And the fourth priority is the regional transit study being conducted right now by the Florida Dept. of Transportation which involves the very controversial Tampa Bay Express project.

TBX was almost an afterthought in the discussions, even though the multibillion-dollar plan was hailed as a much-needed congestion relief package. Democrats Sean Shaw and Darryl Rouson, who represented the neighborhoods slated to be deleteriously affected by the TBX proposal, both counseled FDOT to double down on its efforts to communicate with the local community. “As it relates to TBX, my constituents don’t feel that they’ve been heard,” Shaw said.

Senator Galvano said that there had been too much parochialism in the past when it comes to local governments wanted to help out other governments in the 2.9 million universe that is the Tampa Bay area.

“I don’t know if we can get there,” he admitted. “It’s a real challenge, getting the mindset that you may have to ante up in your community for a regional plan that’s not going to impact your community for maybe one, two, three or maybe four years.”

As to whether TBARTA could ever become that agency?

“They are operating on a shoestring budget, cobbled together on donations from local governments,” said Shawn Harrison, who served on the TBARTA board after its creation.

“If we can take that vision and expand, I really do think we do have at our disposal a vehicle that can plan and put assets on the road,” added Harrison, a Republican who now represents House District 63.

“We do have a shoestring budget,” echoed Ray Chiaramonte, TBARTA’s executive director. He did say that every local government except for Sarasota funded the agency last year.

Galvano appreciated the work of the Tampa Bay Partnership, but said looking at his colleagues from counties as diverse as Sarasota to Polk: “It’s not about the Tampa Bay Partnership, it’s about us, and it’s going to take some effort.”

Richard Corcoran: House won’t OK legal money for DEP

House Speaker Richard Corcoran late Monday said his chamber won’t agree to hand over any more money for the Department of Environmental Protection to pay its legal bills until the agency gives a full accounting of what’s already been spent.

Corcoran was reacting to the DEP’s request to the Joint Legislative Budget Commission for an additional $13 million to pay outside legal counsel in an ongoing court fight between Georgia and Florida over water use. (Earlier story here.)

The commission is scheduled to take up the request Tuesday.

Coincidentally, DEP Secretary Jon Steverson resigned Friday and is going to work for one of the law firms, Foley & Lardner, that’s representing the state in the matter. Steverson is an attorney.

“We won’t approve the money until an audit is done and we will pass legislation barring the revolving door from agency head to lobbyist/lawyer,” Corcoran said in a statement.

The Joint Legislative Budget Commission acts as a joint committee of the Legislature, charged with reviewing and approving the equivalent of mid-course corrections to the current year’s state spending plan.

It’s made up of seven members of the state House and seven of the Senate. Of those House members, five belong to the House’s controlling Republican caucus, including commission co-chair Carlos Trujillo, who also heads the House Appropriations committee.

Earlier Monday, Trujillo told FloridaPolitics.com he would “need additional information before we can even consider approval,” noting the state will have dedicated over $100 million to legal and related fees in the water use case if the latest dollars are OK’d.

The nearly two-decade dispute centers around upstream water use from the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers in Georgia. They meet at the Florida border to form the Apalachicola River, which empties into the Apalachicola Bay.

river

“Water wars” could cost the state another $13M in legal fees

The state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has busted its outside legal expenses budget over the ongoing ‘water war’ between Georgia and Florida, legislative records show.

It’s asking for an additional $13 million from the Joint Legislative Budget Commission, which meets Tuesday — and even that may not be enough.

Gov. Rick Scott‘s office approved the request to the commission, made up of House and Senate members, for “litigation costs.”

“This increase is necessary to meet projected expenditures for outside counsel as it relates to the ongoing litigation in the Florida v. Georgia Supreme Court case for equitable apportionment of the waters of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin,” the request says.

If the extra money is approved, the state will have dedicated over $100 million to legal and related fees in the water use case, said state Rep. Carlos Trujillo, the Miami-Dade Republican who co-chairs the commission.

“I’m very concerned about the costs of this litigation and we need additional information before we can even consider approval,” added Trujillo, the House Appropriations chair. “It’s been somewhat of a surprise.”

Commission co-chair Jack Latvala, the Senate Appropriations chair, was not immediately available.

The request was submitted before DEP Secretary Jon Steverson suddenly resigned his post on Friday, giving no reason in his resignation letter to Scott, to whom he reported. His official departure date is Feb. 3.

A spokeswoman for Scott Monday evening said there was “no connection” between the escalating legal costs and Steverson’s resignation.

His leaving “will be discussed at tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting, but since it was not properly noticed, no action is scheduled to be taken,” Scott spokeswoman Taryn Fenske said in an email.

Scott spokesman McKinley Lewis told the Tampa Bay Times that Steverson was going to work for the lobbying team at the Foley & Lardner law firm, one of four firms representing the state in the water use case. The law firm did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The legal dispute focuses on water use from a watershed in western Georgia, eastern Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.

The Chattahoochee and Flint rivers flow through Georgia and meet at the Florida border to form the Apalachicola River, which flows into the Apalachicola Bay.

Florida blames rapid growth in metropolitan Atlanta and agriculture in south Georgia for causing low river flows that have imperiled fisheries dependent on fresh water entering the area. Georgia has argued that Florida didn’t prove its water use is to blame for the low flows and says a cap will damage the state’s economy.

Alabama isn’t directly involved in this case but has sided with Florida, encouraging a cap on Georgia’s use.

A federal court official recently ordered attorneys for Florida and Georgia to try again to settle the yearslong disagreement.

According to budget documents, the DEP was given $18.6 million in the 2016-17 budget year to pay for legal expenses.

“The department utilized $2.4 million in base funding and processed a budget amendment to increase base funding by $3.0 million for litigation expenses, for a total of $23.9 million in available funding,” its request explains.

“The DEP carried over $11.7 million in expenditures from Fiscal Year 2015-16, has $7.1 million in actual billings for July and August of 2016, and the projected expenses from September 2016 through June 2017 are $22.2 million, for a total of $41.1 million in projected costs,” it says. “The estimated additional need in excess of current appropriations is $17.1 million.”

The added $13 million would be made of $9 million from the state’s Internal Improvement Trust Fund and another $4 million from the Permit Fee Trust Fund, according to the request.

“The remaining projected deficit is $4.1 million,” it says.

Background from The Associated Press, reprinted with permission.

Jack Latvala says he’ll support legislation banning fracking again in 2017 Session

State Sen. Jack Latvala opposed a bill to regulate the use of fracking in the 2016 Session, and in the upcoming Session, he’ll support legislation that would do so again.

“I’m where I was last year,” he said when asked about the controversial practice to extract natural gas and oil out of the ground.

“I helped beat it last year, so … I’m in the same place, and I’ll support a bill to ban it,” the Clearwater Republican said while exiting Sunlake High School in Land O’Lakes after a long afternoon hearing from the public at the Pasco County Legislative Delegation meeting.

Last year, Naples Republican Garett Richter‘s bill died in the Senate Appropriations Committee. It would have directed the Department of Environmental Protection to set up a regulatory scheme for onshore oil and gas drilling, provide $1 million to study the impact of fracking on Florida’s aquifer and unique limestone bedrock, as well as pre-empt local government ordinances seeking to ban the practice.

“We saw the issue of banning fracking come up in many races in the past election,” said Michelle Allen, the Florida organizer with Food and Water Watch. “And we believe it’s going to continue to come up until we pass a statewide ban on it.”

Allen addressed the issue Wednesday before the six-person body.

The issue was certainly hot last fall in the three-way Senate District 18 race in Hillsborough County between Republican Dana Young, Democrat Bob Buesing and independent Joe Redner.

Young was dogged by environmental groups (as well as her two opponents) of being pro-fracking by supporting the Richter bill; she insisted it was, in fact, a vote to ban the practice.

Immediately after winning the race, Young announced she would be proposing a bill in the 2017 Session to ban fracking.

The number of local governments in Florida that passed resolutions or ordinances denouncing fracking in Florida is now up to 89, Allen said.

“Floridians do not want fracking,” said Jennifer Rubiello, state director with Environment Florida. “Over 75 percent of Floridians live in a city or county that has passed a resolution or an ordinance opposing fracking. That includes Dade City and Zephyrhills here in Pasco County, and Tampa, St. Pete and Pinellas County as a whole.”

Rubiello added that the Legislature shouldn’t vote for more studies. They were “a waste of time, money and energy, even when they’re attached to a true ban,” she said.

In a report released last month, the federal Environmental Protection Agency concluded that, in some circumstances, hydraulic fracturing has contaminated drinking water.

The report came just as President-elect Donald Trump vowed to expand fracking and roll back existing regulations on the process.

(An earlier version of this report incorrectly stated that Latvala was chair of the Appropriations Committee last year. He did not take over those duties until this fall.)

 

Tom Lee wants to eliminate program designed to use taxpayers funds on sports facilities

Less than three years after Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation providing for state revenues to go toward constructing or improving professional sports franchise facilities, state Sen. Tom Lee wants to eliminate the program created to distribute those funds.

“The Sports Development Program was ill-conceived and based on the false premise that these capital improvements are a boon for economic development,” the Brandon Republican said Tuesday. “Professional teams are vying for taxpayer funds to pay for largely superficial facility upgrades, many of which are already in progress or completed. History has shown that team owners will make these investments without hardworking families having to foot the bill.”

Under the Sports Development Program created by the Legislature in 2014, sporting projects and complexes seeking Florida tax revenue must submit proposals to be evaluated by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. Then the disbursement of funds must pass approval by the Florida Legislative Budget Commission. The state can award up to $13 million annually for all certified applicants. The maximum annual distribution for a single sports franchise facility is for only $3 million, and distributions can be made for up to 30 years.

In spending $100 million to upgrade Raymond James Stadium over the past year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had hoped to procure $3 million in Sports Development Program funds to help pay for that upgrade. However, their application was rejected because it wasn’t completed on time. The NFL franchise reapplied to the program last month, requesting $1 million a year for at least 10 years.

Scott hailed the legislation when he signed it into law in June of 2014, saying that the program would add more jobs to the state, as well as increase tourism.

“I am proud to support this legislation, and this Sports Development Program will allow franchises to expand in Florida, and create more jobs and opportunities for Florida families,” Scott said at the time.

The legislation was also supported by Clearwater Sen. Jack Latvala, now serving as Senate Appropriations Chairman. But it will undoubtedly be backed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has historically opposed giving sales-tax dollars to professional sports facilities.

The anti “corporate welfare” attitude espoused by Corcoran prevailed last year in Session, when three different sports facilities — EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Sun Life Stadium in Miami-Dade County and Daytona International Speedway — received no funding from the Legislature, despite the Department of Economic Opportunity finding they qualified for the state sales-tax money.

Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Stuebe has filed legislation (SB 122) that would prohibit a sports franchise from constructing, reconstructing, renovating, or improving a facility on leased public land. Hialeah Republican Rep. Bryan Avila has filed a companion bill in the House.

auger boggio

We told you so: Audit blasts Florida Housing Finance Corp.

Tip o’ the hat to the Times’ Susan Taylor Martin for covering a blistering audit of the Florida Housing Finance Corp. (FHFC), which is supposed to be the steward of both state and federal affordable housing money.

But let’s also give some credit where it’s due: In a series of three articles called “Who watches the low-income housing watchmen?” over September and October – which are here, here and here – I kind of saw this train wreck coming.

In glorious detail, Martin reviews the 80’s-style “Masters of The Universe” excesses that Steve Auger, the agency’s executive director, lavished on lenders and board members.

How about “a $52,000 dinner (for lenders) that featured filet mignon, broiled lobster tails and a bar stocked with deluxe brand liquors”?

Or, at a board reception, shelling out “$300 for a bartender, $425 for a pork carving station and $420 for a Spanish charcuterie station”?

The mouth waters—and the fists should clench over the waste of taxpayers’ dollars.

But wait, there’s more.

At a time “when thousands of Floridians were waiting for help in saving their homes,” Martin writes, “the agency (also) awarded a total of nearly $443,000 in bonuses to its employees.” Nice work if you can get it.

And that’s just in the first three paragraphs. Auger, to no surprise, offered a meek defense to the costs, calling them “ordinary and necessary expense(s).”

But readers should recall I was ringing the bell about this fiasco in the making.

Let’s not forget, as a federal criminal plea deal put an end to a $36 million housing fraud, I asked, “What will legislators do now to make sure it doesn’t happen again?”

Federal prosecutors had alleged 70-year-old developer Lloyd Boggio of Carlisle Development Group and others defrauded the government out of millions. They did so by padding South Florida affordable-housing projects to get federal tax credits and grants, then keeping the excess.

What happened? Yep, Auger and his FHFC watchdogs fell down on the job, or as I said back then: “A heist on Uncle Sam and the poorest among us.”

“How does something like this happen without (Auger & Co.) knowing — or at least having a suspicion? Were these transactions not being audited? How did they not know this was going on for five years? If they didn’t know, should they have known?” I said in that first post.

“Let’s put it even more pointedly: Did Auger or others at FHFC know about it and whiff — or were they all asleep at the wheel? Now that the criminal side of this fiasco is coming to a close, the legislative side needs to ramp up by asking: Who is responsible?”

The audit, among other things, notes the agency “did not require sufficient documentation from underwriting agencies to support their denial of mortgage assistance to some applicants” and “did not take adequate steps to ensure that electronic fund transfers were going to authorized recipients,” according to Martin.

So, with the 2017 Legislative Session a couple months away, let me repeat some more questions to Jack Latvala, the Senate Appropriations chair, whose feud with Auger a few years ago nearly cost him his job, and to other lawmakers.

They referred to the fraud at the time, but with a little rewording could just as well apply to the recent extravagances.

“What (is) it about the culture at FHFC?” I asked in October. ” … Has Auger taken any steps to assume responsibility for this? What safeguards could be put in place at FHFC?”

Because with the state’s budget looking iffy at best, and many thousands of Floridians deserving an honest broker when it comes to their homes, we can’t afford any more Spanish charcuterie stations.

Rick Scott wants it both ways: cut taxes, fund services. Can it be done?

Last April, in a news release by his office after signing HB-7099, Gov. Rick Scott bragged, “Over the past two years, Florida has cut more than $1 billion in taxes.”

What a happy day that must have been for the governor.

He has never met a tax he wouldn’t cut or gut, and that bill was a continuation of the theme. It included the permanent elimination of the sales tax on manufacturing machinery and a three-day sales tax holiday for back-to-school stuff.

Scott wants to keep cutting taxes, too.

It stands to reason, though, when there is less money coming in something has to lose. We got a hint of that right here in a story last week on FloridaPolitics.com. It included a quote from state budget chair Jack Latvala about what could be a hotly contested fight for dollars when the Legislature gets together next year.

“To do any increases, we’re going to have to find areas to cut. That’s a certainty,” Latvala said. “Just my luck to be chairman in a year like that.”

But where can the hunt to “find areas to cut” lead when the governor and House Speaker Richard Corcoran want to keep chopping taxes, while Senate President Joe Negron wants to increase funding for higher education?

The Florida Policy Institute reported that more about 70 percent of Florida’s $82.2 billion budget for 2016-17 was allocated to education (29 percent) and “human services” (41 percent). Nearly 18 percent went to natural resources, growth management and transportation.

FPI also noted that despite spending increases in that budget for service areas, “they fail to fund state services at a level that keeps pace with population growth and inflation, and do not improve Florida’s national standing in the provision of these services.”

More ominously, projections are for the state to face a $1.3 billion deficit a year from now, ballooning to $1.9 billion the year after that. Since Republicans control the governor’s mansion and both chambers of the Legislature, they can’t blame Democrats for fiscal irresponsibility. That leaves them with two choices: spend less, or bring in more.

It’s the acid test of the Republican (and Libertarian) ideal that growth comes through lower taxes. It’s the mantra they’ve preached for decades. We see it playing out now in Washington with the corporate tax cuts president-elect Donald Trump has planned.

Lower corporate taxes, they argue, will lead to job creation and expansion. Workers with a healthy regular paycheck will buy more things and that will sustain the government.

Well, that might be sort of true – provided government goes on a diet. That sounds fine in theory. In application, though, it gets trickier.

You also have to look at the complete picture. To coax businesses from other states to move here, Scott has touted Florida’s reputation as a low-tax state. Florida is one of just seven states without a state income tax, for instance.

Wallethub.com also sized up the bevy of state and local taxes and concluded Florida’s bite on median-income residents this year will be $4,868 – 10th lowest in the nation. That’s nearly 16 percent under the national average.

Scott probably wouldn’t be satisfied until Florida is No. 1. He seems driven to prove this state really can have it both ways – cutting taxes, cutting spending while keeping services and education adequately funded for a rapidly growing state.

Logic says that can’t be done. Latvala’s challenge is to prove it can be.

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