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Corcoran's Tax Stance Sets Up Election-Year Education Budget Battle

Florida House of Representatives
House Speaker Richard Corcoran, left, speaks with Senate President Joe Negron and Gov. Rick Scott after finishing a special legislative session in June. Corcoran and Scott are headed into another session in disagreement over how to fund public schools.

The legislative session has just started and House Speaker Richard Corcoran has already declared he won’t compromise on what’s likely to be one of the biggest budget fights of the year.

“The Florida House will never support raising taxes on any individual or any business ever,” Corcoran said during his opening remarks at the Capitol on Tuesday.

He’s talking about a specific tax: local property taxes that support public education.

In what has become an annual battle in recent years, the governor and the state Senate have proposed funding an increase to K-12 schools by collecting more money in local property taxes, and the House has refused to do it.

Under plans from Republican Gov. Rick Scott and the Senate, the property tax rate would stay the same. But homeowners’ and business owners’ tax bills would go up anyway because property values are increasing.

They contend it’s not a tax increase. Corcoran, a Pasco County Republican who is expected to run for governor, doesn’t see it that way.

“Ask any single individual, any community, any city, any county, and they will tell you: It is a tax increase,” Corcoran said. “It’s a tax increase any time government takes more money from you this year than they took last year, and it was of no account of your own.”

Corcoran prevailed last year, persuading his colleagues to lower the tax rate slightly so collections would be flat from the year before. That left public schools with hardly any increase — until Scott vetoed the education portion of the budget and forced lawmakers to spend more on schools in a special session.

Legislators complied, boosting their initial allocations for K-12. But they did it using one-time money that was freed up from Scott’s other vetoes — not recurring revenue.

Expecting the same fight again, Corcoran said: Bring it on.

“It is a debate that the Senate seems to want to have. And if they want to have it, we’ll have it,” he said.

Apparently the Senate does want to to have it. Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, stood firmly behind his position during a news conference with reporters later Tuesday.

"I feel strongly that utilizing revenue that comes from property values increasing — that that's not a tax increase," Negron said. "So that's how the Senate feels. And I would expect that the Senate will pursue that direction."

Scott, who is expected to run for U.S. Senate, has also repeatedly maintained that collecting more money in property taxes is not the same as raising taxes. Scott wants to spend $21.4 billion on K-12 public schools in 2018-19, which would constitute a $770 million increase. Most of the bump would be shouldered by local property taxpayers.

Recently the governor said he doesn't care how schools get the money as long as they do.

“Wherever the money comes from, we need to spend the money. We need to put it into education," he said while touting his budget proposal during an event at Coconut Grove Elementary School in late-November. “However the money is coming through the state budget, we ought to do the increase."

Jessica Bakeman is Director of Enterprise Journalism at WLRN News, and she is the former senior news editor and education reporter. Her 2021 project "Class of COVID-19" won a national Edward R. Murrow Award.
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