2018 Florida Legislative Session
Interim Week - December 4-8
The Florida Legislature wrapped up its last interim committee week before heading home for the holidays. They will return when the 2018 Session begins on January 9.
All the appropriations committees and subcommittees met this week and Florida TaxWatch continues to attend them all. These committees all heard presentations on Governor Scott’s 2018-19 budget recommendations. For more information on the Governor’s proposed $87.4 billion budget and his recommended $180 million in tax cuts, see Florida TaxWatch’s latest Budget Watch.
House Appropriations Chair Trujillo said this week that we should expect the House to release a “more simplified” budget than the Governor. He said the House would focus on the state’s basic functions. He also said not to expect many member projects this year, calling them “a luxury we can afford to do without.” Florida TaxWatch could not agree more.
This prediction of few member projects did not stop the House appropriations subcommittee from approving 70 appropriations project bills this week, bringing the total so far to 94. Approval in subcommittee qualifies projects for, but does not ensure, inclusion in the House budget. To date, there have been 1104 appropriations projects bills worth $1.8 billion filed by House members.
The House budget should be rolled out during week 5 or 6 of the session.
Senate appropriations subcommittees did not hear local funding requests this week. The Senate does not require an appropriation project bill, but does require a short presentation of the request (and a request form). Senators have requested over 300 projects worth $585 million.
Governor’s Budget Advances TaxWatch Recommendation on Member Projects
The Governor is recommending that a competitive grant process be established for funding “mentoring and student assistance initiatives” and "school and instructional enhancements." These two recurring line-items in the budget, while funding some very good programs, have become places where many member projects end up, often without sufficient review, debate or accountability. The Governor’s proposal includes accountability for performance and a limit on administrative costs. This has been long-standing FTW recommendation. We have recommended that competitive selection processes be established for these two line-items, and several others, in our annual Budget Turkey Watch Report. We congratulate the Governor for this proposal and hope the Legislature will implement the idea and consider expanding it to other areas of the budget, as enumerated in out report.
This Week’s Legislation
Here are some highlights of bills that Florida TaxWatch will be monitoring this session that advanced this week:
Back to School Sales Tax Holiday – The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee approved SB 686 that would exempt certain purchases from the sales tax during a 10-day period from July 27-August 5, 2018. The exempt items would be clothing costing $100 or less, school supplies costing $15 or less, and personal computers and accessories costing $1,000 or less. The bill has not been scored by state revenue estimators yet, but a similar proposal by the Governor has an estimate of $73.4 million in tax savings. Read Florida TaxWatch’s report on value of sales tax holidays.
Judicial Safety Valve – The Senate Criminal Justice Committee passed SB 694 to authorize courts to depart from mandatory minimum sentences in certain controlled substance trafficking convictions. The departure is authorized if the court finds that the person did not engage in a continuing criminal enterprise; use or threaten violence or use a weapon; and cause a death or serious bodily injury. Florida TaxWatch research has found that mandatory minimums have led Florida prisons to incarcerate low-level offenders for unnecessarily lengthy sentences when many could be better served through alternative treatments and sanctions. This approach to sentencing results in the waste of valuable resources, at great expense to Florida taxpayers. Florida TaxWatch Executive Vice President Robert Weissert appeared at the meeting in support of the bill.
Financial Literacy – Florida TaxWatch Vice President Bob Nave was at the Senate Appropriations meeting in support of SB 88, which would revise the required credits for a standard high school diploma to include one-half credit of instruction in personal financial literacy and money management. The bill passed unanimously. This was its last committee stop, it is now on the Calendar.
Florida Excellence in Higher Education Act – Senate Appropriations also passed SB 4, a priority of the Senate President. The bill modifies university performance metrics to promote graduation in four years. The bill also establishes the World Class Faculty and Scholar Program and the State University Professional and Graduate Degree Excellence Program and requires state universities to identify internship opportunities in high-demand fields. The bill would also spend $99 million to expand Bright Futures and Benacquisto scholarships. The bill is now ready for the floor.
Procurement – The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government passed SB 368 to create a Statewide Procurement Efficiency Task Force to evaluate state and local procurement laws and submit recommendations to the Legislature that promote procurement efficiency, streamline procurement policies, establish best management practices, and encourage increased use of state term contracts. Florida TaxWatch has written extensively on the need for procurement reform. A 2014 report by TaxWatch’s Center for Government Efficiency recommended such a task force. Most recently, the 2016 final report of the Government Efficiency Task Force recommended that the State reduce the number of bid protests and simplify the bid process; increase its commitment to having well-qualified and well-trained procurement personnel; and complete a business case study of the State’s procurement function, focusing on the enterprise-wide organizational structure, governance, and operating model.
Local Tax Referenda – The House Ways & Means Committee approved HB 317 to require local option sales tax referenda to be held during general or primary elections only. If held during a primary, a 60 percent majority would be required for passage. The sponsor, Rep. Ingoglia, citing low turnout in special elections, said 50% of 23% of the voters should not be able to put a tax on 100% of the people.