Gov. Rick Scott picked a good day to be out of town Tuesday, as the Florida House eviscerated his proposed package of tax cuts.
The House Finance & Tax Committee approved tax cuts with a two-year value of $436 million, far short of the nearly $700 million Scott proposed in January and the $690 million the House itself advocated during the regular session. But shifting political winds over health care and hospital reimbursements demanded changes.
"We have revised that number," said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, the panel's chairman. "We had to fish with the lures that we thought would get bites."
The House figure of $436 million involves creative math, as the value of the tax cuts next year is $299 million, with $137 million more counted in cuts set to take effect the following year.
Scott's proposed cell phone tax cut, which he promoted during the regular session with the gimmickry of a "tax cut calculator," took a severe hit. He wanted to cut the tax on cell phones and satellite TV by $43 a month, and the House bill cuts it by $10 a year in the first year and $20 a year the second year.
"We're looking at 83 cents a month," said an unimpressed Rep. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando.
Scott also wanted to repeal the sales tax on college textbooks, but the House bill calls for a three-day textbook holiday on Aug. 21, Jan. 8 and May 13. Scott wanted to permanently repeal the sales tax on manufacturing equipment, but the House does not include that.
The House dropped a one-day sales tax holiday for camping equipment on July 4, saying that in a June special session, the Department of Revenue wouldn't have enough time to implement it and Florida businesses wouldn't have enough time to promote it.
The House bill includes a three-day back to school sales tax holiday (Aug. 7-9), a slight reduction in the sales tax on business rents and a reduction in the tax on pear cider, which had been classified as wine and taxed at a higher rate.
Democrats tried unsuccessfully to create a new revenue source by taxing profits of multinational corporations with operations in Florida. Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, the amendment's sponsor, said closing tax "loopholes" is a matter of tax fairness and would generate $500 million a year in state tax revenue to fund health care expansion, increase reimbursement rates to hospitals and lessen reliance on local property taxes to pay for health care.
Republicans said the tax would be bad for business and would eliminate jobs and they killed the amendment on an 11 to 6 party-line vote. The tax cut bill passed 12-5 as Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, sided with Republicans.
The Senate, which continues to advocate a health care expansion plan funded with federal Medicaid money, has shown less enthusiasm for cutting taxes than the House or Scott. The Senate Finance & Tax Committee is tentatively scheduled to vote on a tax cut bill next week.