Sansom breaks his silence to talk taxes
House Speaker Ray Sansom, who has refused interviews at the Capitol since coming under fire for his relationship with Northwest Florida State College and Destin developer Jay Odom, broke his silence Friday for an interview with the Times/Herald to spell out his view of taxes. The tax debate is likely to dominate much of the regular session in March, when lawmakers must decide how to balance the budget amid another $3.5-billion shortfall. The question will be how far conservative Republicans in the House are willing to go to raise new money to offset more painful budget cuts.
Here's a summary of what Sansom said: Sales taxes -- Sansom believes that some tax exemptions will get a review and be evaluated in the House based on whether removing them will increase or decrease the cost of doing business in Florida.
“We have to look at them,’’ Sansom told the Times/Herald. “We haven’t made any commitments about any additional revenue, but we also know these are uncharted times.’’
Sansom said that while it is likely some tax exemptions will be eliminated, he doesn't expect them "to add up to a lot of revenue." The larger revenue producing exemptions are usually in place for two reasons, he said: to keep taxes low on business and to avoid double taxation on items they already pay federal taxes on.
Property taxes: Sansom said his priority will be to first find ways to "reduce the cost of doing business in Florida."
The House will ask: "Is there a way to deal with the state portion of property taxes and how we fund education?" Sansom emphasized that the House will focus on the state's share of property taxes and not the share levied by local governments -- which are already struggling to balance their budgets because of the tax rollbacks enacted last year.
The property tax debate will likely revive the proposal, which died last year, to swap a sales tax increase for a property tax cut, he said.
"Is the sales tax alternative better for the economy or not?,'' he said. "If it doesn't help, why do it. If it does, we need to consider it. I don't know if we'll ever do it, but I hear in so many places that property taxes hurt small businesses that we need to let the Finance and Tax Council have another swing at the bat."
Business costs: The House will focus on how to reduce the cost of energy and the cost of permitting on business.
Cigarette taxes: Sansom said there are many members of the House who are open to a discussion about raising the cigarette tax as much as $1 in Florida. For him, he said, "it's a reluctant conversation."
Internet sales: This appears to be the one area where Sansom seems most ready to move. "We have to be reasonable about the fact that the Legislature needs to come to the realization that more and more people are buying things on the Internet and that trend is not going to stop." He acknowledged it will take an act of Congress before Florida levies the tax, but he is ready to address it when they do, he said.
"There is no doubt we have reduced our budget over $8-billion since 2007,'' Sansom said. "The Florida Legislature and the governor are doing what people are doing. It’s heart wrenching to see what’s happening in the economy."
He added that the Legislature "should be very slow to talk about new revenue.''
"You can't tax people who are already struggling,'' he said. "But the Florida House will be reasonable, fair and approach this in a balanced mindset, because these are uncharted times that we're in."