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Amendment 10 would give tax cut to small businesses, draws little attention

TALLAHASSEE — Tucked near the end of a lengthy ballot that features contentious issues like abortion and the Supreme Court is a little-discussed business tax cut amendment hoping to make it into the state Constitution.

Amendment 10 would provide an additional $25,000 tax exemption for small businesses that have less than $50,000 worth of furniture, computers and other so-called "tangible property."

The amendment has received little attention in recent months because there is little organized opposition and business groups have focused their attention elsewhere. It would primarily affect smaller businesses and provide about $20 million in savings on a tax that generates $1.7 billion annually.

"I think it's a really positive tax policy for our small businesses in Florida," said David Hart, vice president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, which advocated this year for the constitutional change.

The amendment, one of 11 that lawmakers have placed on Florida's lengthy 2012 ballot, could impact up to 40,000 small businesses next year if it gains the necessary 60 percent of the vote. A clause in the language would allow local governments to expand the savings to some larger businesses, or eliminate the tangible property tax altogether.

When the bill was first drafted by Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, R-Orlando, the option to eliminate the tax completely was reserved for the Legislature, which has been aggressive about finding new places to cut business taxes.

But counties and cities — which have seen tax revenues plummet under a struggling economy and a tax-averse Legislature — fought back against what could have opened the door to more than $1 billion in new tax cuts.

In the end, the bill was amended to give tax cutting authority to local governments, and it passed the Legislature almost unanimously. The new tax cut would only apply to companies that have less than $50,000 in tangible personal property, saving businesses a few hundred dollars and the trouble of tallying up the value of their equipment each year. All companies would continue to benefit from the current $25,000 exemption.

The Florida League of Cities, a local government advocacy group, has taken a neutral position on the amendment, said communication director John Thomas.

"The only amendment we have a position on is Amendment 4," he said, referring to a major property tax overhaul that could shrink local government revenue by billions of dollars if passed. "The League at its 2011 conference voted to oppose Amendment 4."

Amendment 4 would offer as much as $1.7 billion in property tax cuts to businesses, first-time home buyers and second-homeowners over the next four years.

Business and real estate interest groups have mobilized behind a $4 million campaign to pass Amendment 4, while Amendment 10 has only seen a few thousand dollars in financial support.

Even without the campaign cash, glossy mailers and TV ads, many expect Florida voters to do what they've historically done when presented an opportunity to weigh in on tax cuts: Vote "Yes."

"We have polled it," said Hart. "Our poll showed that it was passing."

Toluse Olorunnipa can be reached at tolorunnipa@MiamiHerald.com and on Twitter at @ToluseO.

Your guide to the amendments

A closer look at the 11 proposed changes to the Florida Constitution is at tampabay.com/amendments.

Amendment 10 would give tax cut to small businesses, draws little attention 10/24/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 24, 2012 11:02pm]

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