TALLAHASSEE — With Florida’s unemployment fund dried up from paying out claims during the pandemic, state lawmakers want to replenish it by imposing additional online sales taxes on Floridians — and giving companies several years of tax cuts.
The Florida Senate on Thursday approved a bill that would require out-of-state online companies to collect sales tax from Floridians.
The estimated $1 billion raised each year would then go to replenish the unemployment trust fund and spare businesses from paying more into that fund.
It was the first legislation touching on the unemployment system to move out of Senate chambers.
Under the proposal, companies would keep paying the minimum $7 unemployment insurance rate per employee per year, among the lowest in the nation, until 2025. They would avoid an increase to a minimum of $87 per employee next year under an automatic schedule that changes with the unemployment rate.
“This is a win-win-win for Florida,” said Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota. “It should make everybody happy.”
Not everybody is happy. Although senators didn’t oppose requiring the collection of online sales taxes, Democrats opposed using the money for what they said was a “bailout” for the state’s largest corporations, which stand to benefit the most from the plan since they have the most employees.
“We’re not really helping small businesses with this,” said Senate Minority Leader Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point. “We’re helping the monoliths, the giant businesses.”
Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-North Miami Beach, said he had no opposition to the idea, and he voted for it. But he noted that the Senate was moving forward with it before taking any meaningful action on improving the unemployment system that failed millions of Floridians last year.
“I just think that we suck at paying out unemployment claims, and nothing else has passed,” Pizzo said.
Although the Legislature is halfway through its legislative session, neither chamber has heard bills that would raise the minimum benefit amounts from a maximum of $275 per week, among the lowest in the nation. They have not addressed why the system was “designed to fail,” as Gov. Ron DeSantis has said, and they have not heard any bills that would reform the system.
During the pandemic, for example, the state was still enforcing strict fraud measures that included denying benefits to pregnant women, sick people and others who were not “able and available” to work under state law.
Pizzo turned around the room and looked his fellow senators in the eye.
“I’m going to hold everyone to a commitment that we’re going to get something really good done,” he said.
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