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Senate okays homeowner rebate, sales tax break

A $50 check for every property owner with a homestead exemption and a short break from the state sales tax for everyone are closer to reality.

After a brief partisan skirmish, the Senate approved the unprecedented tax breaks Wednesday along with a list of others aimed at specific industries. It all adds up to more than $300-million in 20 tax breaks for individuals and businesses.

The Legislature has just two days to agree on the final versions of the tax breaks for owners of property with homestead exemptions and for the sales-tax free days on clothing. The House and Senate versions of the sales-tax break apply to different days and have different limits on the size of the purchases. The House has yet to consider the checks for property owners.

Before a final vote is taken, legislators will have to work out the details of how the tax breaks will be carried out.

For example, who would qualify for the $50 checks earmarked for owners of property with homestead exemptions?

The Senate bill approved Wednesday would send state checks to all who received a homestead exemption as of June 30. But earlier versions of the legislation included an earlier date.

Which purchases will be exempt from sales taxes?

The House version limits the exemption to purchases of up to $50 on clothing and shoes for several days in August and January. The Senate's version applies the exemption to purchases of up to $100 on clothing and shoes from Aug. 15 to 19.

Will the local-option sales taxes, such as those in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, also go uncollected on those days?

The wording of the Senate bill is not clear. Senate tax experts say the intent of the legislation is to make both the 6 percent sales tax and local-option sales taxes disappear.

"The clean thing would be that there would be no sales tax," said Sen. Anna Cowin, R-Leesburg.

The Senate voted 38-2 to send the $50 checks to owners of homes, condos and mobile homes with homestead exemptions. But Democrats first took another shot at offering a similar deal for electric utility customers, arguing that would reach renters and more low-income Floridians. Sen. Tom Rossin, D-West Palm Beach, said sending checks only to property owners "harkens back to those days of landed gentry."

"This is the basic philosophical difference between us," he said of Democrats and Republicans. "Not everyone owns a home, and many of those who do not have a home are the most in need."

But Republicans argued it would be too expensive to send checks to electric customers and contended many are not residents. The proposal was defeated in a 24-13 vote along party lines.

The Senate also voted to raise the threshold of paying the intangibles tax so that only those who owe at least $60 would have to pay, up from the current $5. That is expected to provide relief to 180,000 taxpayers. A number of tax breaks for businesses also were approved, including the phasing out of the intangibles tax on accounts receivable.