Top 5 Issues to Watch this Session

With the 2014 Florida legislative session less than a month away, lawmakers have already started defining what is sure to be an exciting 60 days. The midterm elections in November will define many of the issues as the Governor, three state cabinet members, and the majority of state legislators face reelection. As the weekly committee meetings continue and session officially begins, here are the top 5 things to watch.

Gambling
With the pressure of reelection around the corner, many state lawmakers will be hesitant to institute sweeping gambling reforms; however, Tallahassee will be home this session for many well-funded gambling supporters determined to bring Las Vegas style gambling to Florida. With the Seminole gambling agreement set to expire in 2015, there is a sense of urgency to get something passed this year.

The Budget
The state of Florida will face an $850 million surplus for the 2014-2015 fiscal year. With money like this on the table, the Governor and lawmakers all have a preference as to how to spend it. Education will be among the top priorities for increased funding with the surplus. While Governor Scott was responsible for a slash in funding his first year in office, he has supported large increases over the last two years. It is expected that Medicaid will also require additional funding with more Floridians needing service (even without the state expanding Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act).

Medicaid Expansion
Formerly opposed to the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, Governor Scott changed his tune last session by endorsing the expansion with one caveat – the federal government has to pay for it. The federal government is offering to foot 100 percent of the bill for Medicaid expansion for the next two years and then will slowly decrease funding to 90 percent by 2020. The expansion would bring nearly $51 billion into the state and cover an additional 1 million uninsured Floridians. In 2013, the Senate passed an expansion plan that ultimately died in the House. This year, with more pressure from the health care industry and business leaders, Medicaid expansion will likely return as a hot issue.

Tax Cuts
Governor Scott has urged lawmakers to support $500 million in tax cuts this session. In the Governor’s roll out of his recommended budget for the 2014-15 Fiscal year, he proposed ongoing tax cuts of over $560 million annually including:

  • Reducing the motor vehicle renewal registration fees back to their pre-2009 levels;
  • Increasing the level of income exempt from the business tax from $50,000 to $75,000;
  • Decreasing the filing fees required of businesses operating in Florida; and
  • Beginning the phase-out of the sales tax on business rents.

The recommended budget also funds two sales tax holidays on top of recurring cuts which together add an additional $82.5 million in cuts proposed:

  • 10-day holiday covering school supplies, clothing and computers;
  • 15-day holiday covering hurricane supplies.

Pensions
With his last year as the House Leader, Speaker Will Weatherford is expected to push for the end of traditional pension plans for public employees. The current $132 billion state pension fund currently ranks high for major government pension funds and is projected to meet 86 percent of future obligations. Speaker Weatherford would rather see new public employees entered into a 401(k) style pension plan. Those currently enrolled in the traditional pension plan would not be affected. While the House backs Weatherford’s proposed change, he currently falls short of support in the Senate.