With shelves of chain saws and power generators behind him, Gov. Rick Scott stopped Tuesday in Jacksonville to unveil his proposed $87.4-billion budget that would cut taxes by $180 million while bumping up spending in a range of areas, including continued funding for deepening Jacksonville’s ship channel.

 

The backdrop at the Northern Tool and Equipment store evoked the storms of hurricane season.

The 2017 legislative session also was tempestuous, requiring a special session to settle differences between Scott and and the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Scott said he anticipates a smoother ride in the 2018 session, which will be the last session of his eight-year term as governor.

“If you look at this budget, it’s about families,” Scott said. “It’s about putting money back into your pocket. It’s your money. It’s about making sure your kids get a good education. We have a lot of people moving into our state so we’ve got to invest in transportation. We’re doing that. I think the Legislature is going to be very supportive of this budget.”

House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz called it an election-year budget, referring to expectations that Scott will run for the U.S. Senate next year.

“When he first got elected, we got Tea Party-inspired budgets that he followed through on implementing that slashed billions from public education, gutted our environmental protections and decimated our state workforce,” Cruz said. “Now that he’s apparently a candidate again, but in a different political climate, we get a proposal that seeks to hide all the harm he has already caused.”

Talking to reporters at his Jacksonville stop, Scott said he has not fully achieved all the goals he had when he took office in 2011.

“We’ve cut taxes 75 times,” he said. “I would have liked to cut even more. I think we’ve got to figure out how we reduce the cost of government. We’ve made some progress, but there’s always more to do.”

Scott, who has focused on expanding trade through Florida’s ports, would continue that strategy in his final budget. The proposed transportation department budget contains $23.5 million in state funding for deepening the St. Johns River for huge cargo-container ships calling on Jacksonville.

The biggest transportation project for Northeast Florida would be $289 million for the construction of the First Coast Expressway into Clay and St. Johns counties.

Among the highlights Scott ticked off during his Jacksonville stop are proposals to help the state’s storm-battered citrus industry, hire 100 new workers for the state Department of Children and Families, give pay raises for state law enforcement officers and firefighters, provide security for Jewish centers in the wake of bomb threats, and increase the funding for teachers to buy classroom supplies at $100 per teacher.

In wake of Hurricane Irma, the budget contains $1.4 billion for the Florida Division of Emergency Management to respond to disasters, dramatically up from this year’s funding amount of $390.6 million.

In response to the opioid epidemic, the budget would put up $53 million for that fight.

Overall, Scott said, he’s worked to foster job growth by cutting taxes and “unnecessary regulations.” He said that resulted in a years-long streak of economic growth that is pumping more money into state coffers.

“We’ll have historic investments in education, historic investments in transportation, historic investments in the environment and historic investments in helping those with disabilities,” Scott said.

His proposal for a $180 million cut in taxes and fees doesn’t include further tax cuts for corporations. Scott proposes a 10-day back-to-school sales tax holiday for shoppers and three one-week sales tax holidays for purchase of hurricane preparedness supplies. He also would reduce the fee for obtaining and renewing drivers licenses, and reduce traffic-citation fines for motorists who attend driving school. Those measures would reverse increases put in place before he became governor.

He would seek $85 million for the Florida Growth Grant Fund — used to attract business expansion — and $100 million for Visit Florida, which promotes the tourism industry. The proposal for Visit Florida would be up from $76 million this year.

In the 2017 session, the House sought to shut down the state’s use of taxpayer dollars to recruit businesses. Scott also sought $100 million for Visit Florida in his proposed 2017-18 budget, but it ended up at $76 million, the same as it was the year before.

So far, the run-up toward the 2018 session hasn’t featured any sharp divisions between Scott and Republican legislative leaders.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran said in response to Scott’s budget proposal, “We are confident that together with the governor and the Senate, we can produce a budget that cuts taxes, imposes accountability and transparency, and ensures the future fiscal health of the state.”