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Capitol Chatter: June 8

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  • | 6:06 a.m. June 8, 2012
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Jeb Bush testifies, becomes lightning rod
The “news” that came out of former Gov. Jeb Bush's testimony before the Congressional Budget Committee was that he would be in favor of a plan that included $1 of tax increases for every $10 in tax cuts.

“If you could bring to me a majority of people to say that we're going to have $10 in spending cuts for $1 of revenue enhancement — put me in, coach,” Bush said Friday. “This will prove I'm not running for anything,” he added, which got a round of laughter in the chambers. All of the Republican presidential candidates, including Gov. Mitt Romney, have rejected such a plan on the grounds that the problem is on the spending side.

Bush is considered on the short list of vice presidential candidates for Romney, along with Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the chairman of the committee who invited Bush to speak. But the testimony was perhaps most revealing of the hyper-partisan atmosphere in Washington.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the ranking minority member, went way over his opening remarks time to attack Republican policies in general, plus several Republicans and Bush, although Bush was there to testify about financial accountability in Florida during his term as governor.

Bush responded in his usual deadpan way: “I'm not used to the food fight that starts at 9 a.m. in Washington . . . We don't do it that way in Florida,” he said. “I'm not here to criticize anyone.”

Well they were there to criticize him.

Old nemesis Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, D-Florida, a member of the Florida House when Bush was governor and now chairman of the Democrat National Committee, attacked Bush for his support of a $600 million tax package to land the private, unaccountable Scripps research institute. She said the Scripps money should have been spent on education and affordable childcare and used up so much time she left Bush nine seconds to respond.

The look on Bush's face probably represented a lot of people's reaction: What the...?

But his response was immediate: “The Scripps Research Institute is not a corporation. It's not a for-profit company. It is a premier not-for-profit research institute that does world-class research. The accountability that you voted for — I'm glad that you voted for it. You weren't against it before you were for it, you were for it before you were against it. Now I'm happy that we had your vote.”

“Welcome to the budget committee,” Ryan said sarcastically.

Bush smiled slightly and said pokerfaced, “It's a joy to be here.”

Businesses brace for unemployment tax hike
Florida borrowed a lot of money from the federal government to pay for jobless benefits during the low points of the recession.

The bill is coming due to businesses.

The rate companies must pay was scheduled to rise from $72 per employee this year to $171 next year to pay down the debts incurred when Gov. Charlie Crist took out $2.4 billion in loans from the federal government during the recession. The Legislature cut that increase to $121 per employee to save companies about $276 million this year.

The debt to the federal government had peaked at $2.4 billion but a few months after Gov. Rick Scott took office the state began paying it back. Florida made a large, $915 million payment in May, leaving a balance of $588 million.

That increase kicks in June 30. All companies must pay unemployment taxes for each employee. The money goes into a fund from which it is distributed when workers lose their jobs.

With the recovery struggling along, the rate hike won't help. Retail companies such as Publix, Bealls and others with higher turnover will tend to be hit the hardest. But the alternative was to take money from the state's general fund. Considering the constant shortfalls in that fund, lawmakers were unwilling to raid it.

Scott could greet Tampa travelers
Tampa International Airport wants Gov. Rick Scott to greet travelers on the airport's shuttle buses by way of recorded electronic greetings to be played on the system's speakers.

But Scott's general counsel asked the Florida Commission on Ethics for an advisory opinion on whether that would violate state laws banning gifts from lobbyists. The airport has a registered lobbyist in Tallahassee.

Arriving passengers would hear, “This is Florida Gov. Rick Scott, and I'd like to welcome you to Tampa Bay, a great place to live, work and play. Thank you for choosing Tampa International Airport. Enjoy your stay.” Departing passengers would hear an encouragement to return.

Scott's office does not think it violates the ban in a common-sense way, but wants the opinion on specific legalities before going forward with it.


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