Gov. Rick Scott proposes cut in cellphone, TV taxes of $470 million

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is expected to release his entire budget next week.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott is expected to release his entire budget next week.
Published Jan. 21, 2015

TALLAHASSEE — Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced Tuesday that he will propose cutting $470 million in state cellphone and cable television taxes during the 2015 legislative session.

According to Scott's office, the proposed cuts will save an "average family" spending $100 a month on cellphone and cable services about $43 a year, or $3.58 a month.

The tax cut of 3.6 percent in the so-called communications services tax is nearly half of the $1 billion Scott pledged in tax cuts during last year's gubernatorial campaign.

"With our cellphone and TV tax cut, every Florida family is saving real money," Scott said in a statement.

Scott's push for this particular tax cut is reminiscent of last year, when he pushed cutting auto tag fees by about $25 per vehicle registration. Such cuts allow him to strike populist chords without saving typical Floridians much money. Big winners with the auto registration fees weren't typical residents as much as car rental companies or businesses with large fleets. Big winners in a cut in the communications services tax are bound to be big businesses as well.

Scott found enthusiastic support from business groups like Associated Industries of Florida.

"AIF applauds Gov. Rick Scott for proposing a tax cut plan that continues to put Florida business and families first," group president and CEO Tom Feeney said in a statement. "Gov. Scott continues to prioritize fostering a business-friendly environment so that our state's businesses can continue to grow and we continue to attract new and innovative businesses."

Though the tax cut will help middle- and lower-income families save pennies on the dollar, it has a steeper cost, too, said Karen Woodall, executive director of the Florida Center for Fiscal Economic Policy.

"When you take $470 million out of the revenue stream, you're cutting the programs that could help these people even more," Woodall said. "It's like a shell game. You give them back a little bit of money, and then you cut their programs."

A better approach, Woodall said, is to cut the communications services tax by the same rate, but replace the lost revenue by plugging some of the more than 200 exemptions to a tax system that the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy called the second-most regressive in the nation.

So far, such policies are not being discussed by lawmakers, who will propose their own cuts in taxes and fees to take advantage of a $1 billion surplus projected in the state budget.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee, R-Tampa, said he supports a cut in the communications services tax.

"What's positive about it is that it's so broad-based," Lee said. "That's far more salable than these narrow, targeted special-interest tax breaks, like the one we had last year for title companies."

His counterpart in the Florida House, Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, said he also likes the idea.

"You want to reach as many people as you can get on a tax cut," Corcoran said. "Any time you're returning taxpayer money, you're sending the message that their tax dollars are hard-earned and that we value that they have jobs and are paying taxes."

Both Lee and Corcoran said it's too early to predict whether Scott's proposed tax cut would pass, or be edged out by other tax cuts, such as more back-to-school sales tax holidays or a cut in the commercial lease tax.

"There are a lot of other tax-cut priorities," Lee said. "We'll have to see which ones get support."

Scott is expected to release his entire proposed budget next week. The 2015 legislative session opens March 3.

Contact Michael Van Sickler at Follow @mikevansickler.