Tuesday marked the opening of Florida’s 2018 legislative session, which will last for 60 days and is expected to include plenty of important issues for both taxpayers and job creators.
One issue taking shape in many state houses is school choice, and Florida’s chambers are no different.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran supports a “Schools of Hope” program, which would attempt to attract privately managed charter schools to compete with struggling public schools in low-economic areas, according to PolitiFact Florida.
Another bill pitched by House leaders would create a “Hope Scholarship,” which allows bullied students to transfer to other public or private schools with free or discounted tuition.
Sal Nuzzo, vice president of policy at the James Madison Institute, said Florida is providing an example for other states in terms of school choice.
“School choice is among the many areas where Florida is leading the way for other states,” Nuzzo said. “The idea that education dollars should follow the student, and not the zip code will propel competition and improve all levels and types of education. The House’s leadership in expanding options available to parents desperately needing it is a positive step.”
Nuzzo said the regulatory climate surrounding the sharing economy – which includes startups such as Uber, Lyft and AirBnB – continues to be a problem in Florida, creating tension in the short-term rental market.
“Regulation and innovation continue to be an issue for job creators in Florida,” Nuzzo said. “There’s a growing tension, for example, given the amount of economic activity related to tourism, concerning short-term rental policy. Some business interests have a vested interest in opposing the expansion of short-term rental platforms like AirBnB. This buts up against the innovation evolving in the sharing economy.”
Nuzzo also said that property insurance and workers’ compensation policy reform would continue to be an issue for small businesses throughout the session.
Edie Ousley, vice president of public affairs for the Florida Chamber of Commerce, said creating a strong workforce also is key for businesses.
“There are 221,000 jobs looking for people, and 383,000 people looking for jobs,” Ousley said. “Building a qualified workforce is a top concern for job creators. Employers need talent that is prepared to enter the workforce, and Florida wins when we close the talent gap.”
Ousley outlined several factors that could continue to strengthen Florida if improved.
“By reducing the cost of living and cost of doing business, redoubling efforts on workforce, and investing in infrastructure, Florida’s economy will continue to strengthen, and jobs, wages and opportunities will grow for Floridians,” Ousley said.
Outgoing Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott has proposed an $84.7 billion spending plan for 2018, which the Tampa Bay Times said is the largest ever and more than Florida can afford. Ousley said that the state’s budget will be mixed with the legislature’s priorities and undergo several different versions.
“We are just at the beginning of the 60-day legislative session, and the legislature will now begin to closely review Governor Scott’s recommendations, and blend it with the priorities of the Florida Legislature,” Ousley said. “The budget will likely go through several transformations before a final spending bill is finalized.”
Joseph F. Pennisi, executive director of the Florida Policy Institute, said one major issue taxpayers should be paying attention to in the 2018 legislative session is criminal justice reform.
“Other states have undertaken evidence-based criminal justice reforms and were able to enhance public safety and reduce recidivism rates while freeing up valuable state resources to invest in other areas,” Pennisi said. “Florida should establish a broad-based, criminal justice reform taskforce as a first step; lawmakers should also favorably consider two measures amending sentencing laws, one that would raise the felony property theft threshold from $300 to $1,500 and another to permit judges to depart from mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses.”
Pennisi also highlighted Florida’s “silent spending” as an issue to watch, saying it cost Florida billions in 2017. He said the Florida Policy Institute supports periodic review of tax expenditures to make sure they are serving the public.
Another issue for taxpayers to watch is Florida’s ‘silent spending,’ or spending through the tax code,” Pennisi said. “This is costing Florida more than $18 billion in Fiscal Year 2017-18. Unlike budget appropriations, these expenditures go largely unevaluated. We support a requirement that tax expenditures undergo periodic review to see if they are serving any public purpose. In many cases, these foregone revenues could be used instead to invest in areas like education and infrastructure.
The only bill required to pass in the legislature is the state’s budget.