1. Opinion

Column: Silly and sensible tax breaks

Published Aug. 22, 2016


Al Sharpton came to Florida this month to complain about corporate welfare, specifically a solar power ballot amendment that would give businesses tax incentives for rooftop solar installations.

"It's like a trickle-down economic dream," Sharpton said.

The Reverend Al needs better material.

It's nothing new that tax laws are frequently used to encourage beneficial behavior. It's why there's a home mortgage deduction, a break for charitable giving and a tax incentive to foster retirement savings.

Sharpton is complaining about the proposed Amendment 4 tax break to encourage more use of solar energy in a state that has been squandering the bounty of its sunshine. More solar means less fossil fuel, which is generally considered a step in the right direction for everybody but coal companies, gas frackers and petroleum drillers.

The Aug. 30 ballot referendum has received widespread support from a bipartisan coalition of disparate interests including the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida Taxwatch, the Sierra Club, the Florida Retail Federation, the AFL-CIO, the Florida Realtors, the Christian Coalition and the League of Women Voters.

Sharpton contends that if Floridians didn't have a tax break for solar, state lawmakers would be using that revenue to help the poor or support public schools. That's giving Florida leaders far more credit than they deserve.

But Sharpton is right about corporate welfare run amok in Florida. He just needs a better issue to flog.

I have a couple of ideas for him.

How about rent-a-cows?

Florida has a greenbelt law that allows developers to rent cows to graze on their yet-to-be-developed land to reclassify their property into what the tax code deems as an agricultural use, thereby resulting in a lower tax rate.

These rental cows are costing Florida millions of dollars in lost revenue.

I would love to see the Reverend Al's next news conference as he stands in a pinstriped suit among a herd in a Florida pasture destined to become another strip shopping center.

The rhyming slogan possibilities are bountiful.

"If the bovine is just rented, your tax base has been vented!" he could shout.

Or if Sharpton is looking for some fresh hell to highlight, he can consider the $1.2 million Florida is paying this year to an English soccer team to have the words "Visit Florida" on the players' jerseys.

The English soccer team selected, Fulham FC, is owned by Shahid Khan, the Pakistani-American billionaire who owns the Jacksonville Jaguars football team and is a prolific campaign contributor to members of both political parties in Florida.

When you give Khan public money, it's basically a recycling project for a future campaign.

And Florida pols are already well versed in helping out the billionaire.

Despite Khan's net worth of $6.5 billion — making him the 360th richest person in the world, according to Forbes — his Florida football team is being subsidized with $2 million a year in tax incentives, while he has been seeking another $30 million in tax money to pay for upgrades to the team's Jacksonville stadium.

Spend your days with Hayes

Spend your days with Hayes

Subscribe to our free Stephinitely newsletter

Columnist Stephanie Hayes will share thoughts, feelings and funny business with you every Monday.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

Sharpton's got a lot of material to work with there.

Or he can just pick on some bizarre tax breaks from one of the other 49 states.

Such as the Nevada provision that gives a free deck of cards to anyone who files a tax return. Or the New Mexico law that exempts you from state taxes once you reach 100 years old. Or that Hawaiians can get a $3,000 tax break for having "exceptional" trees on their properties.

But for Sharpton to sound the alarm over a noncontroversial solar initiative that takes a baby step in bringing Florida closer to its self-proclaimed Sunshine State moniker, it comes off as … well … a little half-baked.

Frank Cerabino writes for the Palm Beach Post. Email: frank_cerabino@pbpost.com.


This site no longer supports your current browser. Please use a modern and up-to-date browser version for the best experience.

Chrome Firefox Safari Edge