Bill would make it harder to raise taxes in Florida

After a brief pep talk from Gov. Rick Scott, House members got moving Tuesday on an election-year proposal that would make it harder for future lawmakers to raise taxes.

The Republican-dominated House Ways & Means Committee, voting along party lines, backed the proposal (PCB WMC 18-01), which would ask voters in November 2018 to pass a constitutional amendment that would require approval from two-thirds “supermajorities” of the House and Senate to raise taxes and fees in the future. Currently, tax and fee hikes can be approved by simple majorities of 50 percent plus one.

Scott, who is widely expected to run for U.S. Senate in November 2018, made a rare appearance before the House committee to lobby for the measure, along with a nearly $180 million package of tax and fee cuts he introduced Monday.

“I think it (the proposed constitutional amendment) will pass, and I think it will make sure our state continues to be the state that all over our kids and grandkids can get a great education and also get great jobs,” Scott told the committee, which didn't ask any questions.

If lawmakers go along with the proposal, it would need support from 60 percent of voters during the November 2018 election to pass.

Scott later told reporters that he appeared before the committee because it's important “we don't raise taxes,” a stance he credits for helping the state's economic and employment growth.

Asked if there was a concern the proposal could tie lawmakers' hands in generating revenue during a future downturn, Scott replied that “you shouldn't raise them anytime, but it's even worse for a family when they're struggling.”

The Ways & Means Committee is typically where the House crafts an annual tax-cut package.

Rep. Tom Leek, an Ormond Beach Republican who is sponsoring the measure, said lawmakers will find a way if they want to raise taxes.

“If the position is that we won't have the political will to do what is necessary in an emergency, I think history proves you wrong,” Leek said.

Kurt Wenner, vice president for research at Florida TaxWatch, preferred a three-fifths threshold.

“It doesn't get to where, basically, a third of the members could defeat something,” he said.

Rich Templin, a lobbyist for the Florida AFL-CIO, argued against the proposal, saying it will limit future lawmakers from enacting “sound fiscal policy” when the economy sours.

“Contrary to what many in this building will say, Florida is not doing well right now, and this locks us into not just mediocrity, but at the bottom,” Templin said. “This is a bumper-sticker issue, easy to oversimplify, easy to pass. But that doesn't make it right.”

Brian Pitts, who is with the group Justice-2-Jesus and is known in the Capitol for providing commentary on a wide range of issues, questioned why the issue is being advanced through the Legislature instead of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission.

“If we've got them installed to do this, and this body, its leadership appointed members to it, let them do it,” Pitts said.

The 37-member commission, whose members were mostly appointed by Scott, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron, is reviewing potential constitutional amendments to put on the ballot in November 2018. The commission meets every 20 years.