Florida lawmakers convened in Tallahassee in early March to begin the state’s annual legislative session, which will run through May 6th. Republicans have veto-proof majorities in both the House and the Senate. This session marks the first for Governor Rick Scott who ran on a platform to reduce government, cut taxes and create jobs. Close to 1,800 bills have already been filed but perhaps the biggest challenge lawmakers will face will be balancing the state budget. In follow up to my first post, the following article highlights some of the other big issues facing the legislature this session:
- Business Development: Over the past several weeks House and Senate members have been crafting legislation designed to make Florida’s Unemployment Compensation system more business friendly. Due to Florida’s record unemployment numbers, the burden on businesses to pay unemployment has steadily increased. The aim of the plans introduced by the House and Senate is to encourage benefit recipients to look for jobs and reduce fraud by individuals who should not receive benefits. Lawmakers are also considering a plan to phase out the Corporate Income Tax.
- Pension Reform: Governor Scott has rolled out a controversial proposal to overhaul the state’s pension system which some analysts say could result in a savings of $1 billion in the first year alone. The proposal would require public employees to contribute five percent to their pensions and all new hires to enroll in investment plans. Governor Scott’s plan would also close the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) to new participants effective in July. The plan also included a proposal to end the annual three percent cost of living adjustment on retirement benefits after July 1st, and, in a move that would greatly impact police and firefighters, the Governor has proposed cutting the accrual rate for special risk class members from three percent to two percent.
- Transportation: Last month Governor Scott decided to turn down $2.4 billion in federal funds which were to be directed to the creation of high speed rail between Tampa and Orlando. His rationale in rejecting the funds was concern that the state might end up footing too much of the bill. His decision was controversial as supporters of the rail argued it would lead to the creation of thousands of jobs and ease traffic congestion for travelers on I-4. The federal funds will now be distributed elsewhere. In another move, Governor Scott announced that the state will fully fund a dredging project at the Port of Miami to allow larger ships passing through the Panama Canal to enter the Port. Current estimates predict the project will lead to the creation of 33,000 jobs in South Florida. The project is estimated to cost $77 million.
- Local Government Matters: Governor Scott has recommended abolishing the Department of Community Affairs and moving growth and planning responsibilities to the Department of Environmental Protection. Lawmakers are also considering several bills to implement provisions of 2009’s growth management bill known as the “Community Renewal Act.” The legislation faced legal challenges and its provisions have not taken effect in Florida yet.