House panel moves tax cuts but without Gov. Scott's No. 1 goal
The Florida House Finance & Tax Committee on Wednesday passed a package of tax cuts that's just short of $1 billion over two years. It's a lot less than Gov. Rick Scott wants from the Legislature and it leaves out the centerpiece of Scott's tax cut plan: the repeal of corporate income taxes on retailers and manufacturers.
As presented by the panel's chairman, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, the biggest piece of the tax-cut pie is a priority of Florida businesses: a reduction of the sales tax on commercial leases from 6 percent to 4 percent over two years with a net savings to businesses of $269.5 million. The permanent elimination of the sales tax on manufacturing equipment would save businesses another $73 million, a House analysis shows.
Noticeably absent from the House package is the first tax cut priority listed on Scott's website: the permanent elimination of the corporate income tax on manufacturing and retail businesses, which he estimated would save about $770 million a year.
Scott's goal of $1 billion in tax cuts has been long dead in the Senate. In the House, the tax cut package has several dozen provisions, including extending for one more year a sales tax exemption on college textbooks; a 10-day back-to-school sales tax holiday in August; a one-day sales tax holiday for computer purchases in April; and a permanent repeal of sales taxes on food and drinks sold by veterans' groups like the American Legion and VFW. Gaetz said that when he found out that the state Department of Revenue was auditing vets' groups over their sales tax collections, "I couldn't believe it."
Associated Industries of Florida, Anheuser Busch, the Florida Association of Realtors, Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida Retail Federation and the Manufacturers Association of Florida were among supporters of the package.
Rich Templin of the Florida AFL-CIO testified in opposition to the bill and said union members oppose such a big tax cut package when Florida has so many unmet needs. He and another critic, lobbyist Karen Woodall, cited news accounts of repeated failures in state-run prisons and mental health institutions. A spokesman for the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association spoke in opposition to a provision that would expand the use of tourist bed taxes for police and paramedics.
All five Democrats on the committee abruptly walked out of the hearing in protest, minutes before the vote. Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, said he and his colleagues were protesting what he called "logrolling" by the Republicans, who linked dozens of tax policy changes together in one bill and offered it as an alll-or-nothing proposition.