2017 Florida Legislative Session Wrap-Up
The session is over, even if it took a little longer than planned. A long and contentious budget process did not produce a final General Appropriations Act until the afternoon of Friday, May 5--the last scheduled day of the session. Because of the constitutionally required 72-hour "cooling-off period" between when the budget is printed and can be voted on, the House and Senate voted to ended the extended through Monday. All non-budget related bills died Friday. Lawmakers returned on Monday at 1:00 p.m. and passed the budget, the budget implementing bill, 15 conference reports on conforming bills, and the tax package.
The 2017 Legislature passed only 249 bills, the second lowest number in at least the last 15 years. Several bills thought to be priorities going into the session did not pass. These include implementing the medical marijuana constitutional amendment passed by the voters, a gambling overhaul, workers' compensation reform, and several heath issues, including eliminating the certificate of need program to add new hospitals and revising the criteria for new trauma centers.
Lawmakers' work may not be done. Attention now turns to the Governor, who has voiced his displeasure with several legislative decisions--including the gutting of the state's economic development and tourism marketing programs. A veto of the entire budget is rarely done, but that "nuclear option" is certainly being considered. A veto would require the Legislature to come back in Special Session to pass a budget. The Speaker contends there are enough votes (2/3) to override a veto.
Budget – The budget conference process began with the Senate version being approximately $4 billion larger than the House version. The gulf between several policy issues that drive appropriations may have been even wider. The level of education funding, the amount of school property taxes, environmental issues, economic development and tourism marketing, state employee pay raises and some major education changes pushed by the House were some of the major differences between the two chambers. Negotiations were not easy and an extraordinary number of issues were "bumped" to the Speaker and President, who settled much of the budget behind closed doors. The budget process began earlier in session with the promising adoption of rules governing member projects, making them more transparent and accountable. But it ended with a much longer than usual period of non-transparent negotiations.
The Legislature finally passed a $82.418 billion budget which seemed like a relatively low total until it was realized that nearly $2.4 billion in additional appropriations were contained in budget conforming bills for items including hospital funding (the low income pool), state employee pay raises, Visit Florida, Enterprise Florida and educational programs including Best and Brightest and Schools of Hope.
Tax Cuts – The Legislature decided on a final tax package that includes $134.7 million in recurring tax cuts and $42.4 million in one-time reductions. The bill contains a small reduction in the Business Rent Tax (BRT), creates two sales tax holidays, creates several new, mostly small, sales tax exemptions, increases three tax credits, and provides some limited, targeted property tax relief. The final package was significantly scaled back from the original House version which cut taxes by $275.9 million on a recurring basis and had an additional $158.7 million in one-time cuts. The original House package also had a two-year, 1.5 percent cut in the BRT, which would have provided $640 million in additional nonrecurring cuts over two years. For more information on the new tax plan and what changed from the House version, see this just released Florida TaxWatch Session Spotlight.
TaxWatch Research Priorities - The session saw many bills dealing with issues Florida TaxWatch has researched and for which we offered recommendations. While a bigger reduction in the Business Rent Tax would have been better, a cut from 6.0% to 5.8% is at least a start. Legislation also passed to create a proposed constitutional amendment to extend the 10% non-homestead property tax cap, create sales tax holidays, begin to reform the Florida Retirement Systems, offer state employees more health insurance choices, discourage frivolous public records lawsuits, reduce and improve student testing, form a workgroup to develop criminal justice reform legislation, and help protect the Everglades. And while funding was cut for Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida, legislation to eliminate these critical agencies did not pass. Another bill that Florida TaxWatch research showed would be detrimental to the state--repeal of a tax credit that promotes Florida insurance jobs--did not pass.
Disappointments include failure to reform workers compensation and ratify a Seminole Gaming Compact. Legislation promoting telemedicine, adult civil citations, diverting certain non-violent offenders from prison, and providing schools flexibility in dealing with class size requirements also did not pass.
For more information on these and other bills, please visit the various sections of this Session Wrap-Up (links below).