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House Democrats try, fail to halt $108 million business tax-cut package

TALLAHASSEE — After a partisan spectacle of procedural gamesmanship, House lawmakers moved closer to passing a package of business tax cuts Tuesday.

The two-hour debate over the tax cuts was bitter at times, bouncing around to many of the hot-button political issues of the day — organized labor, contraception, Cuba, domestic partnerships, immigration and inequality. During the lengthy bout of political posturing, both Republicans and Democrats used procedural maneuvers to steer the debate toward politically divisive issues.

The tax plan, a priority of Gov. Rick Scott, would double the corporate income tax exemption, from $25,000 to $50,000, meaning 3,770 companies would be exempt from paying any income taxes.

Scott has said he would like to completely phase out the state's corporate income tax to make Florida more business-friendly.

Companies paid nearly $2 billion in state income tax last year, about 8 percent of all revenue collected by Florida. Several other parts of the tax package would cut costs for thousands of businesses and reduce revenue in the state. The measures would slash taxes on oil drilled in Florida (by $3.3 million), manufacturing equipment ($56.4 million), private plane repair ($12.3 million) and electricity at produce packing houses ($1.1 million).

Taken together, the cuts mean about $108 million less revenue annually for the state, and about $13.2 million less for local governments.

The debate — which degenerated into a parliamentary scene of procedural maneuvers, highlighted the tension between Democrats and Republicans, who hold a significant majority.

Democrats in the House used the opportunity to pepper high-ranking Republicans with a flurry of questions on a range of issues.

Democrats offered 15 amendments to the corporate tax cut bill that would have denied tax benefits to any company that ships jobs offshore, denies health insurance for domestic partners, denies coverage for contraceptives, works with countries that sponsor terrorism or discriminates against veterans.

In an attempt to call the Republicans' bluff on immigration, Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando, offered an amendment that would provide the corporate tax cut only to companies that used an E-Verify system to prevent the hiring of undocumented immigrants. Several Republicans, including Scott, campaigned on the issue but have generally avoided the politically dangerous topic this year.

Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami, countered each of the amendments with an amendment of his own, stating that companies that hire unionized labor would not be eligible for a tax cut.

Each time, state representatives voted to change the Democratic-led amendments into the anti-union amendment, effectively blocking a vote on the Democrat's issues.

"There's nothing in the rules that says that I can't do this," Lopez-Cantera told protesting Democrats. "I'm just doing what the rules afford me the right to do in this chamber."

The tax package faces a full vote in the House on Wednesday. The House also moved forward on other tax measures, including this year's back-to-school sales tax holiday and a property tax exemption for surviving spouses of veterans and first responders killed in the line of duty.

House Democrats try, fail to halt $108 million business tax-cut package 02/14/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 14, 2012 11:20pm]
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