Florida Gov. Rick Scott Vows to Close $3.6B Deficit, Make State 'Most Fiscally Conservative'

Florida Gov. Rick Scott vowed Tuesday to make his state the "most fiscally conservative" in the country, as he previewed a budget proposal that he says will close Florida's $3.6 billion deficit while making the climate more attractive to businesses.

The newly elected Republican governor is trying to balance his pledge to cut the deficit with a campaign promise to slash property and businesses taxes. Scott, in an interview with Fox News, expressed confidence in his ability to perform a colossal nip-tuck on the state's finances.

"I'm going to wipe that out," Scott said of his state's budget deficit. "It's accountability budgeting. We're going through every agency and saying, 'How do we spend money? Should state government be doing that any longer?'"

Scott offered few specifics and isn't expected to release his proposal until Feb. 7. But he said one way the state will find savings is by requiring government workers, as in the private sector, to contribute to their pension plans. Scott's campaign platform projected pension reforms could save Florida $1.4 billion. "It's only fair," Scott said.

His campaign plan also called for tightening standards for welfare benefits, extracting $1.8 billion in savings out of Medicaid, and making up to $500 million worth of "operational efficiency" improvements to the government.

However, some of those savings will be offset by Scott's pledge to cut taxes. Scott wants to reduce state property taxes by $1.4 billion from the start and by about that much again over the next seven years. Plus he wants to eventually phase out the business income tax. The tax code changes are part of a campaign plan to spur the creation of 700,000 jobs over seven years.
Scott said Tuesday he wants to make Florida more business-friendly.

But at a time when the state is dealing with a widening shortfall, he could run into trouble in the legislature. Senate President Mike Haridopolos, a Republican, last month said, "tax cuts are not part of our equation at this point."

According to the St. Petersburg Times, Haridopolos said that while he's a tax-cut proponent, "this is not a year I can push them through."