Ostensibly just another initiative in his years-long philosophical crusade to reduce taxes in Florida, Gov. Rick Scott's call this week for an anti-tax ballot measure in 2018 could also serve a distinctly more political purpose as a tool to gin up conservative turnout in an election that could pit Scott against three-term Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.
- Gov. Scott pushing measure to require supermajority to raise taxes
- State economists project budget deficits to come
- Scott possibly running for U.S. Senate in 2018
With Republicans in control of the White House and Congress, history suggests next year's midterm elections could broadly favor Democrats, a dynamic not likely to be lost on Scott's band of Republican political strategists. The proposed amendment, which would require a supermajority vote in order for the Florida Legislature to raise taxes, could amount to catnip for fiscal conservatives who might not otherwise be inclined to vote.
The strategy also allows Scott to tout his record of aggressive tax cuts over two terms in the Governor's Mansion.
"While cutting taxes is important, we must prevent against unfair tax increases in the future so our progress is not undone," Scott said in a statement about his proposal. "It is my goal to make it harder for politicians to raise taxes on Florida families and businesses - and that can be achieved with an amendment to our state’s constitution."
Indeed, with state economists projecting looming budget deficits - caused in part, Democrats say, by a failure of the supply-side economic theory underpinning Scott's cuts - targeted tax increases could soon be debated as a way of bringing budgets into balance, threatening the governor's legacy.
But some political strategists argue Scott's proposal isn't nearly so much about protecting his accomplishments as it is securing his political future.
"It is a political stunt," policy consultant Trimmel Gomes said, noting the governor's history of rolling out poll-tested initiatives that have often fallen flat with lawmakers and the public. The proposed amendment, he predicted, could meet the same fate.
"The climate has changed from what we've seen before, where these tried-and-true efforts by politicians to feed their base - 'OK, let's fight against tax increases and hopefully that will bring out the vote' - that might not turn out to be the case this time around," Gomes surmised. "We're in a different climate. People are weary of career politicians."
After six-and-a-half years in Florida's top office, Scott is now a consummate career politician, even more so than most members of the term-limited, part-time and relatively transient legislature. But in politics, perception often trumps reality, as the governor's skilled image-makers have proven time and again, often against high odds.
They're now placing one of their biggest bets to date: that expending what's left of Scott's political capital as governor on championing a ballot measure of dubious popularity in Tallahassee will prove wildly popular with the conservative voters who could decide Scott's fate in 2018.