Countering GOP, House Democrats unveil New Sunshine Deal

As reported by John Kennedy

TALLAHASSEE — Borrowing themes from congressional Democrats focusing on climate change and income inequality, Florida House Democrats unveiled their own spending priorities Wednesday dubbed the “New Sunshine Deal.”

The proposals focus on helping working families, increasing teacher and state-worker pay and enhancing environmental programs.

While Democrats are far outnumbered by Republicans in both the Florida House and Senate, new GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis was elected by fewer than 33,000 votes out of 8.2 million cast last fall.

House Democrats said it’s important that the goals of many of these voters not supporting Republican candidates aren’t ignored during the two-month legislative session.

Republicans have held both the governor’s office and command of the Legislature since 1998.

“Over the last 20 years, we have seen our state budget double,” said House Democratic Leader Kionne McGhee of Miami. “While … leaving hard-working Floridians in the shadows.”

Just as the federal Green New Deal is ridiculed by opponents for a price tag some critics say approaches $1 trillion a year, the Florida House Democratic proposal is open for attack because of the taxes it raises.

One proposal to help finance the New Sunshine Deal calls for Florida to join some 25 other states adopting a corporate tax reporting measure that could bring more than $1.1 billion into the state treasury.

So-called combined reporting would eliminate a tactic that many nationwide companies use to reduce their current tax obligation in Florida. House Democrats also would enhance spending by almost $650 million through taxing online sales by out-of-state vendors and eliminating some sales tax loopholes.

In their new deal, Democrats would use $524 million of this new money to finance a Working Families Tax Rebate program, similar to the federal earned income tax credit.

Democrats said they plan to keep their proposals alive by attempting to include them in state budget legislation.

Republicans undoubtedly will defeat many, if not all of the ideas. But Democrats see a political advantage even to that heading into the 2020 elections, by forcing Republicans to vote against issues popular with many voters.

“You can see the priorities of a family based off the ledger of their checkbook,” said Rep. Ramon Alexander, D-Tallahassee.

Along with spending the proposed new tax dollars, Democrats also would revamp many spending priorities from DeSantis’ $91.3 billion state budget recommendation.

DeSantis’ $423 million Best and Brightest teacher bonus pay plan would be turned into salary increases for teachers and support staff, while charter school and voucher funding would be turned back into traditional public schools.

Florida would join the 37 other states that have expanded Medicaid to provide health insurance to low-income residents. Environmental land-buying programs would be expanded, state workers would each get a $1,000 pay raise and there would be increased funding for mental health services and opioid treatment.

“The political component, we normally leave that outside of this process,” McGhee said of the effort to have House Republicans vote against such measures. “Right now, it’s about the people and policy.”

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