TAMPA — In an event that seemed aimed at re-election, Gov. Rick Scott talked about the achievements of his administration and his plans for $500 million in tax reductions during a Tampa stop Thursday on his statewide Tax Cut Tour.
A group of about 50 — most of them businesspeople invited by the Tampa Bay Partnership, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and a real estate industry trade group — showed up to praise Scott for cutting business taxes and regulations and to ask him for more.
But a handful of Democrats and public education advocates also showed up, telling Scott he should use a projected state surplus to reinstate funding cut from public schools, instead.
Scott hasn’t said what taxes and fees he wants to cut; the stated purpose of the tour is to get opinions from the public on that.
But his comments and the posters his staff displayed suggested cuts for both businesses and consumers They included:
More cuts to the state’s corporate income tax; most Florida corporations already pay none because of past increases in the amount of exempt income.
A cut in taxes on corporate power bills
A cut in the 6 percent state sales tax on leases of commercial property
A cut in auto registration fees, sharply raised four years ago to balance a strained state budget
More sales tax holidays
A cut in the tax on communications services — a 9.17-percent tax on telephone, cable television, internet and other telecommunications services.
Scott contends his policies have driven an economic recovery in Florida and that he’s increased education and transportation funding, which means the state can now afford to cut some taxes.
“We’ve had a significant economic turnaround in our state,” he said. “We ought to continue to invest in our state, but also we ought to give money back to the taxpayers.”
State budget officials are forecasting a surplus of $846 million heading for the fiscal year that begins next summer, which could provide for Scott’s desired tax cut.
But that may not be clear-cut, state Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said in a memo to senators last week.
“There is no windfall of loose money,” Gaetz said, citing the need to increase spending just to maintain the current level of per-student and per-inmate education and corrections spending, and to replenish reserve funds drained during the Great Recession.
The Tampa Bay Partnership and Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce helped pay for Scott’s gathering, and they and the Florida Gulf Coast Realtors Association invited their members to attend, said Stuart Rogel, president of the partnership.
Several real estate industry representatives at the gathering urged Scott to cut or eliminate the sales tax on commercial leases, saying it puts them at a disadvantage when they try to lure businesses to move to Florida.
Several Democrats also entered the meeting, however, asking questions intended to embarrass Scott.
In the 1990s, said Susan Smith, a Democratic Party activist, “we had good strong art programs, music in our public schools, and physical education” — all now gone, she said.
She said the money Scott claims he added to public education in the past two years “doesn’t come close to what’s been taken out” early in his tenure as governor, and that over the last several years, the burden of funding schools has been shifted from the state to local property taxes.
Kenny Blankenship, a Pasco County teacher and teacher’s union official, said public schools have received no construction money for two years, some Pasco schools’ air conditioning systems are failing, and many students can’t bring books home because of shortages.
“Many who are not able to be in this room would rather our surplus go to fixing those problems,” Blankenship said.
Staff writer James L. Rosica contributed to this report