February 14, 2018

Under Florida House proposal, going to the store could mean funding school vouchers

Gabriella Angotti-Jones | Times

Most people don't consider walking into a corner store and buying a gallon of milk to be a controversial action. But under a new proposal in the Florida House, part of that sales tax could pay for school vouchers that have been a flash point between lawmakers and activists.

The proposal, only a small piece of a larger tax package passed through the Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday, would open up sales tax revenue to finance two of the state's major voucher programs that allow low-income students and those with disabilities to attend private schools on the state's dime.

If it succeeds, this would be a big first for a specific education program to draw money from consumer-directed sales tax — which has previously been off-limits for earmarks. The sales tax is largely directed to the state's general fund, which pays for everything from roads to public schools. the sales tax is the state's largest funding source. It produced $24.6 billion in 2016.

"These are mostly poor minority students who are struggling academically and ... they're looking for a lifeboat for a better education," said Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, the chair of Ways and Means.  "There is a demand that far exceeds what the SFOs (scholarship-funding organizations) have been able to access."

He added that he didn't think using sales tax for school vouchers would open the floodgates for different causes.

"Are people going to come out of the woodwork? They'll have to make their case," Renner said. "This is a compelling case to help those that have educational needs."

Currently, the state has a few programs allow businesses to get tax credits on their sales tax for creating jobs or contributing to the state's agricultural sector. However, this would be the first time businesses could essentially earmark their sales tax for a specific purpose rather than going to the state's general bank account.

The House's proposal would allow businesses to opt-in to this program and cap scholarship funding at $154 million, allowing the wait-lists of the existing Gardiner and Florida Tax Credit Scholarships to substantially shrink. Those dollars would go straight to the organizations administering the scholarships, rather than to state's general revenue.

Democrats condemned the measure as a "giveaway" and a way for the state to inch its way into taking away a piece of the state's most important funding source from traditional public schools.

Rep. Joseph Abruzzo of Boynton Beach, the ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, asked repeatedly to have this piece separated from the rest of the tax package, which both parties had cooperated to draft. Those amendments failed.

"The truth of the matter is ... this is not just for the poorest of the poorest of the poor anymore," he said. "It started out just a corporate tax scholarship, we're moving into fees and now in this bill we have gone into the unbelievable realm of sales tax. That is just wrong."

Even Rep. Margaret Good — who was elected just Tuesday night to represent Sarasota in a victory for Democrats in a typical Republican stronghold — spoke at a press conference opposing this bill shortly before she was sworn in.

"Over the last five months I have knocked on a lot of doors and talked to a lot of voters in Sarasota who are really concerned about our public education system," she said.

Funding for school vouchers has exploded in the years since they were created. The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program began as a $50 million project in 2001, and will give out close to $700 million in the 2017-2018 school year, according to the Department of Education.

December 28, 2017

How the GOP tax overhaul could impact your kid’s education


via @kyragurney

The sweeping $1.5 trillion tax overhaul President Donald Trump signed into law last week will likely impact many areas of American life, including education.

Experts are still analyzing what the GOP tax plan means for each state, but it could affect everything from how parents pay for private schools to the amount of money available for public education. Here’s a look at how the tax overhaul might impact Florida schools — and some of the proposed changes that didn’t make it into the final bill.

1. A new way to pay private school tuition

For some families, the GOP tax plan will make it easier to pay private school tuition.

The tax-advantaged 529 accounts many families use to save for college — because earnings aren’t subject to federal income tax — can now be used to save for K-12 private school tuition as well.

Supporters are cheering the provision as a victory for the school choice movement, which supports non-traditional education options such as charter schools and private school vouchers.

“It expands choice, it encourages families to save for education and it dramatically increases the flexibility on how families use 529 accounts,” said Thomas Carroll, the executive director of the #EdTaxCredit50 Coalition, a group pushing for the expansion of 529 accounts. “I just think it’s a tremendous opportunity for families to look at as an easier way to save money for the school of their choice.”

Ralph Arza, a former Florida legislator and the director of government relations for the Florida Charter School Alliance, said the tax legislation empowers parents to pick the best education option for their child.

“Children are expensive,” he said. “Any time you can help a family out by putting a few more dollars into the family account, I think that’s a very positive thing for our country.”

But critics argue that the provision will primarily aid wealthy families because low- and middle-income parents — who might already struggle to save for college — likely don’t have extra money to set aside for private school tuition.

Read more here.

December 15, 2017

Rubio a 'yes' on GOP tax bill

Marco Rubio 3

via AP 

The 24-hour saga of Sen. Marco Rubio's tax vote is over.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio will vote for his party's $1.5 trillion tax bill. That gives a major boost to the prospects that GOP leaders will be able to push their prized measure through Congress next week.

The Florida lawmaker had said he'd oppose the legislation unless his colleagues made the per child tax credit more generous for low-income families.

On Friday, Republicans said the final legislation would do just that. Lawmakers said the bill would now let low-earners using the credit get up to $1,400 in IRS refunds if they owe little or no taxes. That's up from $1,100 in the earlier version.

Rubio tweeted that the change is "a solid step toward broader reforms which are both Pro-Growth and Pro-Worker."

Rubio spokeswoman Olivia Perez-Cubas said that meant he'd vote yes.


Rubio gets concessions on child tax credit


via @learyreports

Washington tax writers say they have adjusted the sweeping legislation to improve the child tax credit, a demand of Sen. Marco Rubio.

Details have yet to emerge and Rubio's office says he will review the details.

The tax package would double the per-child tax credit from $1,000 to $2,000. The bill originally made a portion of the credit — $1,100 — available to families even if they owe no income tax. Noem says that amount has been increased to $1,400. Rubio said he wanted the $1,100 figure increased, but he did not say by how much.

Low-income taxpayers would receive the money in the form of a tax refund, which is why it's called a "refundable" tax credit.

Background here.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Democratic Senator calls out Republicans, including Carlos Curbelo, for supporting tax bill with Arctic drilling

Carlos Curbelo 3 (1)


Last week, a group of 12 House Republicans, including Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, signed a letter encouraging Republican leadership to pass a tax overhaul without a provision that would allow oil drilling in parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. 

But the provision was included in the Senate's tax bill, and is likely to stay when House and Senate negotiators finalize the bill on Friday. 

On Thursday, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Energy Committee called out the 12 Republicans for engaging in "pure posturing." 

"It is now clear that the letter from twelve House Republicans opposing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was pure posturing," Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell said. "If these Republicans want to stop their party from turning the refuge into an oilfield, they should vote no. Lip service won't protect the Arctic." 

Six of the 12 Republicans who signed the letter, including Curbelo, voted in favor of the initial tax bill before Thanksgiving.

Curbelo hasn't indicated that he will vote against the tax bill even though he opposes expanding oil drilling in Alaska's North Slope. He is also the co-founder of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, a group of Democratic and Republican lawmakers who are concerned about the impacts of climate change. 

"I don’t think there’s any one provision that would motivate me to deny tax relief for all of my constituents," Curbelo said this week.

Curbelo has been a vocal advocate for the tax overhaul, frequently appearing with Speaker Paul Ryan and touting the bill in Spanish. 

December 14, 2017

Rubio to vote against GOP tax bill if child credit isn't expanded for low-income families

Marco Rubio 3



Florida Sen. Marco Rubio told Senate Republican Leadership on Thursday that he intends to vote against the massive tax bill barreling through Congress if the child tax credit isn’t expanded, a potential major blow in President Donald Trump’s desire to pass a tax overhaul by Christmas.

If the bill isn’t changed and Rubio votes against the plan, there would be no room for additional Republican dissension as the GOP only holds 52 of 100 Senate seats. Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker already announced that he would vote against the plan due to concerns on the federal deficit, leaving Republicans with only 51 votes.

Vice President Mike Pence would break a tie if the GOP has 50 votes.

Rubio and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, proposed a change to make the child tax credit fully refundable as a way to help low-income families, but that plan was opposed by Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and GOP leadership and the measure failed.

Despite the failure of their proposed changed, Rubio and Lee voted for the initial tax bill that passed the Senate two weeks ago with 51 votes.

Rubio has made it clear he wants an expanded child tax credit for months, and President Donald Trump hinted at an expansion on Wednesday saying, “You'll hear the numbers very soon but they're even larger than anticipated.”

The child tax credit reduces some families' tax bill for every child they have under the age of 17.

Rubio has repeatedly said he would vote against a tax plan that does not sufficiently benefit the middle class, though he has previously stopped short of threatening to vote against the final plan due to the child tax credit until now.

Read more here.

December 13, 2017

Trump hints at an expanded child tax credit, an idea championed by Marco Rubio



President Donald Trump may have just handed Sen. Marco Rubio a long-awaited gift: an expanded child tax credit. 

During a White House speech on Wednesday, Trump referenced the child tax credit and said, "You'll hear the numbers very soon but they're even larger than anticipated." 

Trump's remarks came a day after GOP leaders proposed a higher corporate tax rate to pay for lower taxes on couples that make $1 million or more less than two weeks after they rebuffed Rubio's idea to raise corporate taxes to pay for an expanded child tax credit.

Rubio wasn't happy.

Rubio has been pushing for an expanded child tax credit for months, and the Florida Republican wanted to pay for it by imposing a small increase in corporate taxes. He said in in October that expanding the child tax credit to $2,000 from the current cap of $1,000 was a major priority and that he would vote against a tax bill that didn't help middle class families. 

“I’m not going to vote for an increase on the middle class,” Rubio said. “But we’re not going to get to that point. We’re not that crazy around here.”

But Rubio and Utah Sen. Mike Lee haven't publicly threatened to vote against the tax overhaul bill to create leverage for their demands. The Senate voted down their expanded child tax credit proposal two weeks ago, but Rubio and Lee voted for the bill.

The child tax credit reduces some families' tax bill for every child they have under the age of 17. 


Republicans are barreling towards a final vote on a tax overhaul that slashes personal and corporate taxes. They aim to vote on the final package before Christmas and they have added urgency to act fast after Democrat Doug Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore in an Alabama special election on Tuesday. Once Jones is seated, Republicans will only control 51 of 100 seats in the upper chamber. Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker said he won't vote for the plan, leaving Senate Republicans with almost no room for dissent within the ranks. 

"We want to give you, the American people, a giant tax cut for Christmas," Trump said on Tuesday.  

December 12, 2017

Puerto Rican officials lobby Congress against ‘devastating’ GOP tax measure

005 Maria Unemployment DS


Puerto Rico is still drowning from Hurricane Maria but it’s already facing its next crisis — a U.S. tax reform bill that island officials fear will devastate the economy.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and Lt. Gov. Luis Rivera Marín will make a final plea on Wednesday to Republican officials, asking them to exempt the U.S. territory from a 20 percent excise tax on goods that American companies import from their overseas subsidiaries.

The measure in the GOP tax bill is designed to stop American companies from avoiding taxes by shifting profits overseas. But it would also apply to Puerto Rico because the island is treated as both a foreign and domestic entity under the U.S. tax code.

It’s a hit that Puerto Rico’s elected officials say the island’s economy cannot take.

“If the U.S. Congress ignores our situation and gives us this mortal blow to our economy, the immediate and direct effect will be Puerto Ricans boarding airplanes,” Rivera Marín told the Miami Herald.

Puerto Rico already was struggling through a deep recession before hurricanes Irma and Maria hit in September. The island’s unemployment rate hovered around 10 percent and the country was $72 billion in debt. Since the storms, thousands of Puerto Ricans have lost their jobs as businesses remain without power and unable to reopen.

Rivera Marín warned that the tax could wipe out the island’s manufacturing sector and a third of the government’s tax revenue, sending thousands more families fleeing to Florida and New York.

Read more here. Photo by @dsantiagophoto

December 06, 2017

Liberal research institute urges GOP leadership to include Rubio amendment in tax bill



Sen. Marco Rubio's effort to include an expanded and fully refundable child tax credit appeared to die when the Senate voted down the proposal on Friday night, but a liberal Washington-based research institute is urging the Florida Republican to revive his effort as the House and Senate hash out their differences on a final tax bill this week. 

Rubio's proposal with Utah Sen. Mike Lee would raise a proposed cut to the corporate tax rate from 20 percent to 20.9 percent to pay for a child tax credit that reduces some families’ tax bill for every child they have under the age of 17.

"During the Senate debate, the Senate rejected the Rubio-Lee amendment, but now that the bill is in a conference committee with the House, the only route for Senators Rubio and Lee is to use the leverage of their votes to secure this change — as Senator (Ron) Johnson did to secure a larger tax cut for wealthy investors," wrote Chuck Marr, the director of federal tax policy for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "Otherwise, Republicans will cement their choice to pass a $1.5 trillion tax bill without providing virtually any meaningful relief to the lowest-income working families."

Rubio and Lee have not given any indication that they will vote against a tax bill that doesn't include their amendment. Both Republicans voted for the Senate bill which passed with a 51-49 majority.

"Adopting the Rubio-Lee amendment wouldn’t fix either the Republican tax bill’s extreme tilt to the top or its fiscal profligacy, nor would it change the fact that key congressional Republicans are already saying they will seek to pay for their tax cuts next year by cutting programs that support low-income working families. But this modest change would allow millions of low- and moderate-income working families to fare somewhat better." 

Hours after the Senate pass their version of a tax overhaul, President Donald Trump said he'd potentially be open to raising the corporate tax rate cut to 22 percent instead of 20 percent after multiple Republicans said a 20 percent corporate rate was the highest they could support. The current corporate tax rate is 35 percent. 

"It could be 22 when it all comes out, but it could also be 20," Trump said. "We’ll see what ultimately comes out." 

Rubio and Lee's amendment failed by a vote of 29 to 71, and the 29 votes included some Democrats like Florida Sen. Bill Nelson

Read the entire post by Marr here.

December 04, 2017

Progressive group targets Carlos Curbelo over tax bill

IMG_Economic_Impact_of_I_2_1_8BAO5GJG_L296697696 (4)


Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo is a champion of the tax overhaul plan that passed the Senate over the weekend, frequently appearing with House Speaker Paul Ryan and touting the bill in Spanish. 

But as the House and Senate confer on a compromise tax bill to send to President Donald Trump's desk, Curbelo is being targeted by a progressive group that's hitting vulnerable GOP incumbents who supported the tax plan. 

Not One Penny is blasting the tax bill and pressuring Curbelo as part of a seven-figure nationwide ad buy, the first time that the progressive group has launched a widespread campaign against incumbent Republicans. Curbelo represents the most Democratic-leaning congressional district in the country currently held by a Republican who is up for reelection in 2018.

The 30-second spot claims that the Curbelo-supported tax bill will raise taxes on 36 million middle class families. 

"Representative Curbelo continues to blindly support tax legislation that is nothing more than a giveaway to millionaires, billionaires, and wealthy corporations," said Not One Penny spokesman Tim Hogan. "Republicans are looting the middle class in order to line the pocket of the wealthy and well-connected. As the focus once again turns to the House, Representative Curbelo should stand up for his constituents instead of his wealthy donors and vote against this harmful legislation."