The Florida House’s 47-member Democratic caucus, which includes 22 newcomers elected in November, has outlined its own proposed spending plan as a counter-weight to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ $91.3 fiscal year budget request.
Initiatives in the 17-page “New Sunshine Deal” include $500 annual tax rebate programs for low/moderate-income households, a 13-percent salary increase for school teachers, a $1,000 raise for state workers, expanding Medicaid coverage to an additional 700,000 residents, and boosting Florida Forever funding to $300 million.
And it would do so, House Democrats say, while spending $700,000 less than DeSantis is proposing to do.
Now all the 47 House Democrats have to do is get the House’s 73 Republicans to agree to even consider their "New Sunshine Deal" proposals, some of which would require about 25 GOP votes to meet supermajority thresholds for adoption.
The "New Sunshine Deal," presented by House Minority Leader Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Cutler Bay, and other House Democrats, is the first formal budget proposal submitted by Democrats in more than 20 years.
McGhee said Democrats will introduce components of the plan as amendments to proposed bills throughout the 60-day legislative session, which began Tuesday.
“I heard yesterday a governor who is open to solutions, and I also believe there are members of this legislative body who are willing to push Florida forward,” he said. “What I believe is that we have 58 days” to get "New Sunshine Deal" initiatives introduced and discussed.
The Democrats’ budget plan includes $1.8 billion more in tax revenues than DeSantis’ spending request calls for.
DeSantis’s budget request offers $335 million in tax cuts for families. The Democrats’ plan would provide up to $525 million in tax savings under a Working Families Tax Rebate Program spearheaded by Rep. Amy Mercado, D-Orlando.
“The funding will serve as a rebate against taxes paid by working families struggling to make ends meet," Mercado said. "It will also serve to expand our economy and create jobs.”
McGhee’s House Bill 1411 seeks to implement the program by allowing families that qualify for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit to be eligible for a state rebate of about $500 a year.
“Over the last 20 years, we have seen our state’s budget double, while at the same time leaving hard-working Floridians in the shadows,” McGhee said.
The plan’s biggest revenue boost – $1.156 billion – would not come from raising the state’s corporate income tax rate but by using “innovation in the tax code.”
The plan cites an Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) analysis that estimates $1.156 billion in additional revenue could be generated in Florida by adopting a “combined” corporate tax reporting metric that won’t allow multinational corporations “to game the system.”
“Every year, corporations use complicated schemes to shift U.S. earnings to subsidiaries in offshore tax havens – countries with minimal or no taxes – in order to reduce their state and federal income tax liability by billions of dollars,” the plan states.
“Meanwhile,” it continues, “smaller, wholly-domestic U.S. businesses cannot game the system in the same way. The result is that large multinational businesses compete on an uneven playing field, avoiding taxes that their small competitors must pay.”
The plan calls for closing 18 sales tax “loopholes” to collect $200 million in additional revenues and to boost the state’s coffers by another $426 million by collecting taxes on internet sales under the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court South Dakota v Wayfair ruling.
DeSantis’ $423 million plan to offer annual bonuses of more than $9,000 to about 45,000 teachers is not the way to go, House Democrats say.
Their plan would include $747.5 million for a 13-percent raise for all state public-school teachers. They would also eliminate the $140 million Hope Scholarship for bullied students and any of the proposed expansions of the school choice programs.
The "New Sunshine Deal" would expand Medicaid despite adamant past, present and, likely, future Republican opposition to doing so.
“The bottom line is Medicaid expansion is a fiscally responsible way to help 700,000 Floridians in need of healthcare while making state funds available for other needs,” Rep. Nick Duran, D-Miami.
DeSantis’ budget earmarks $85 million to tackle Florida’s opioid crisis and allocates $25.7 million for mental health providers. Democrats would allocate $100 million to the opioid epidemic and double mental health spending.
The Democratic plan allots $20 million to the Office of Resilient Coastline Program, $14 million more than DeSantis called for but, otherwise, does not quibble with the governor’s $625 million plan for Everglades restoration and clean water programs.
The "New Sunshine Deal" would trim the state’s business rental sales tax by .2 to 5.6 percent, create a $27.5 million Florida Mass Shooting Trust Fund, boost Florida Funding to its full $300 million annual allocation and prevent affordable-housing funding from being used for other purposes.