From tax cuts and health care to gambling and guns, here are six key issues and themes to watch for as the 2016 Florida legislative session gets underway today.
From tax cuts and health care to gambling and guns, here are six key issues and themes to watch for as the 2016 Florida legislative session gets underway today.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is building support for a plan that would cut some sales taxes paid by businesses and pump money into public school construction.
He outlined his proposal in a press conference Wednesday.
Putnam wants to cut the 7 percent sales tax on energy paid by businesses by half, saving Florida businesses more than $225 million, he said. The remaining revenue would be funnelled into school maintenance and construction.
In addition, consumers wishing to purchase energy-efficient appliances would be able to take advantage of a weekend-long sales tax holiday in September.
"There is an opportunity here to support Florida's businesses, Florida’s families and consumers, and Florida’s public education system," Putnam said.
Public school systems and state universities used to receive maintenance and construction money through the Public Education Capital Outlay fund. But the money has been dwindling, since PECO dollars are generated from a state tax on cable TV, electricity and land-line telephone bills.
"It’s a tax on technologies that are not being used as much," said Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, who will sponsor the bill in the Senate.
Putnam said $225 million in new construction funding would let school systems "catch up" on deferred maintenance.
Added Flores: "Our public education institutions won't have to be coming up to Tallahassee and fighting among themselves for construction funding."
Putnam's office later released statements from education and business leaders supporting the move.
"I commend Commissioner Putnam for his willingness to respond to one of education's most critical needs..." Florida International University President Mark Rosenberg said. "We cannot allow a lack of facilities funding to limit the access and service we provide to Florida's students."
Said Florida Charter School Alliance Chairman Jim Horne: “We stand in support of this great proposal that will dramatically increase funding for education facilities. Every student deserves a learning environment that is both safe and secure but also equipped with best technology that gives Florida students real opportunity to compete in an increasingly global marketplace."
As debt ceiling and government shutdown talks continue to lumber slowly forward in Washington, the bi-partisan organization aimed at calling attention to the nation's debt crisis has launched a national ad campaign and is targeting Florida.
"For crying out loud, who isn't fed up with what's going on in Washington,'' says former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson, a Wyoming Republican in the ad, to former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, a Democrat.
"These politicians are playing games, jerking our country around from crisis to crisis,'' Bowles replies.
The pair are authors of the Simpson-Bowles plan, also known as the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, and co-chairs of President Obama’s Deficit Commission. The wide-ranging plan offered Washington a blueprint for reducing the federal deficit by cutting more than $2.5 trillion over 10 years by cutting spending, imposing user fees, raising the retirement age and reforming taxes.
The commission was conceived as a way to force a bi-partisan compromise even before Washington imploded into bipartisan dysfunction. It was also was roundly ignored -- by Obama, and by Republicans.
A Panhandle Republican has an outsized role to play in deciding whether the Miami Dolphins’ quest for a taxpayer-supported stadium renovation is successful—and he’s getting an earful from both sides of the debate.
Rep. Jimmy Patronis, a Panama City Republican who chairs the Economic Affairs Committee, said the team’s bill was more likely to get a hearing after the Dolphins have agreed to “concessions,” but acknowledged that opponents of the bill have his ear as well.
“I don’t know yet,” he said about whether he’d bring the Dolphins bill up for a vote soon. “I have had [many] meetings about the Dolphins bill with the stakeholders—both opponents and the proponents—and it seems like the negotiations on behalf of putting forward a package that there’s a consensus on everyday gets better and better.”
The Dolphins are backing HB 165, hoping get as much as $200 million in taxpayer aid for the renovation of Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens. The team said a stadium upgrade would help lure a Super Bowl to South Florida—and recently agreed to make some of the taxpayer support contingent on doing just that.
“I am enthusiastically a big fan of Super Bowls being in the state of Florida and understanding if this is what it takes to get one, then great,” said Patronis. “But can the state afford it?”
Two days ago, Gov. Rick Scott wrote President Obama attacking the Democrat for the federal-spending cuts known as the sequestration:
"If your administration fails to do its job to responsibly manage the budget, thousands of Floridians will lose their jobs under sequestration. There is no doubt that budget cuts must be made at the national level, just as we do here at the state level. But, it is the responsibility of the administration to administer spending reductions responsibly. Instead of cutting with a scalpel, your sequestration process is a meat cleaver..."
Now, the administration is responding with a series of blame-Congress letters. Under the 2011 debt deal hammered out between Obama and Congress, the sequestration cuts kicked in because Congress couldn't come up with a deficit-reduction agreement.
Scott's administration was today sent multiple letters concerning cuts to Health and Human Services, the Department of Defense and Housing and Urban Development. A sample from the HHS letter:
"As you are likely aware, due to the failure of Congress to reach a deal on balanced deficit reduction to avoid sequestration, a series of spending cuts called sequestration will cancel approximately $85 billion in budgetary resources across the federal government for the remainder of the federal fiscal year….
"In the context of sequestration, an estimated 2,700 children in your state are expected to lose access to head Start and Early Head Start services as a result of a reduction of $15.8 million in funding. The funding reduction could disrupt services for children and families, as some Head Start centers would need to close their classrooms early this school year or reopen their programs late in the fall. Programs may have to cut services, staff, and classrooms of the current school year in order to operate under the reduced funding level. This impact would be felt by community and faith-based organizations, small businesses, local governments, and school systems forced to lay off teachers, teacher assistants, and other staff."
Earlier, Scott in Orlando said the first cuts should be experienced by Obama and Congress:
“You know right now, this is the first day of sequestration. I don’t believe Congress or the President should continue to get paid while they haven’t solved this problem. We’ve had to balance our budget in our state. We’ve had to watch how we spend money. We’ve had to live within our means. And we didn’t do it with a meat cleaver; we did it with a scalpel. We watched what we could do agency by agency. The federal government needs to do the same thing. They should not be paid while they don’t solve this problem.”
And on it goes.
H. Steven Hammond, who has been the executive director of the TaxWatch Center for Smart Justice since May, has resigned, effective immediately.
“I feel it is time for me to move on to pursue other interests and opportunities, not the least of which is further commitment to prison ministry,” the management executive and consultant stated in a press release.
Florida TaxWatch, a private, nonprofit, non-partisan research institute, will be conducting an “extensive search,” according to the release, for a new executive director over the next four months. In the meantime, Robert Weissert, vice president for research and general counsel, will be in charge.
A work group has officially recommended that Florida do away with its “Communication Services Tax” and replace the $1.5 billion in revenue by raising the state’s sales tax from 6-percent to 6.34 percent.
The communication services tax, which is levied on things like home phone service and cable television, comes in at an average of about 14.21 percent, according to the Department of Revenue, which led the working group.
In a Jan. 31 letter to Gov. Rick Scott and Legislative leaders, members of the work group recommended increasing the state’s sales tax and repealing the CST in order to level the playing field in the marketplace.
According to estimates from the working group—which consisted of four members from the communications industry and four representatives of local government—the proposal could save money for some consumers.
Those estimates, however, come from a government affairs firm that represents several major telecommunications companies. Telecoms have long pushed for changes to state taxes on their products and services, and could stand to save millions of dollars under the change.
According to the numbers presented to the work group, a “typical” household might save $190 per year by eliminating the CST and paying higher sales taxes. Small businesses could also save money. The Department of Revenue said that it did not have appropriate data to conduct an independent study and that further research needed to be done to figure out the full pocketbook-impact of the recommendation.
Gov. Rick Scott is planning to cut taxes further for manufacturers in the coming year as a mechanism for creating more jobs and boosting the state’s manufacturing industry.
Scott announced Wednesday that he will seek a new sales tax exemption for manufacturers that purchase industrial equipment and machinery.
“We have 17,500 manufacturing companies in Florida today that employ more than 300,000 Florida families,” Scott said in a statement. “In the upcoming legislative session, we are committed to building up Florida manufacturing jobs by eliminating the tax barriers on companies who purchase equipment.”
Currently manufacturers already enjoy a tax exemption on machinery they purchase, but only if the machinery helps improve productive output by 5 percent annually. In 2012, Scott and the Legislature cut the requirement for productive output from 10-percent to 5-percent, saving manufacturers an estimated $46 million per year.
Scott is looking to eliminate the increase-in-production requirement altogether, allowing all manufacturers to purchase new equipment tax-free. Scott said the provision will make Florida more competitive with other states that don’t tax manufacturing equipment, and will boost exports.
“Eliminating the barriers on investment for our manufacturing industry will also benefit our ports and the many small businesses that support manufacturers,” Scott said in a statement.
It’s not yet clear how much money businesses will save from this tax break, although a similar proposal last year by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, was estimated to cost the state $153.4 million per year in lost revenue. That proposal did not pass, although a smaller tax break for manufacturers did, perhaps reducing the fiscal impact of this year's proposal.
The proposal to eliminate taxes on manufacturing equipment is part of a general trend—backed by Scott and the Republican-led Legislature—to chip away at the taxes paid by businesses.
In the last year alone, Scott has pushed for hundreds of millions of dollars in tax relief for businesses—ranging from corporate income tax cuts, targeted tax breaks for specific industries and tax exemptions for businesses that move to the state.
In November, voters rejected a constitutional admendment that would have cut property taxes for businesses that own equipment.
Last year, Scott announced plans to raise the exemption for corporate-income taxes further, from $50,000 to $75,000.
Democrats--who generally have voted for Scott's tax breaks--have become more vocal in lashing out at Scott's more recent tax-cutting proposals, arguing that Florida should be spending more on education and less on corporate tax breaks.
"On election night, the people of Florida sent a clear message that they have rejected Gov. Rick Scott's failed priorities and policies which have slashed funding for our public schools while giving hand outs to the corporate special interests who epitomize the broken politics of Tallahassee," said Florida Democratic Party Executive Director Scott Arcenaux in November. "But Governor Rick Scott apparently didn't get the message."@ToluseO
Gov. Rick Scott is planning to cut business taxes further next year, announcing a new proposal Thursday to raise the exemption on corporate income taxes from $50,000 to $75,000.
Scott spoke to the Florida Association of Realtors, and said his plan would help cut taxes on about 2,000 businesses. The total tax cut would amount to about $8 million, a fraction of the roughly $2 billion that the state collects in businesses taxes each year.
In his first year in office, Scott and the Legislature raised the exemption from $5,000 to $25,000, then followed up in 2012 by doubling the exemption to $50,000.
One of Scott’s campaign pledges was to eliminate the corporate income tax, which provides about 8 percent of the state’s annual general revenue.
“Today, I am proud to announce that in the upcoming legislative session, we will work to further eliminate the business tax for another 2,000 small businesses,” said Scott. “Everything we do must be tied to helping families get jobs, and eliminating this tax will ensure more small businesses can hire people.”
After Scott’s business tax cuts, more than half of Florida businesses pay no corporate income tax. His proposal this year is a minor step toward eliminating the entire $2 billion in corporate income taxes, a move that, if enacted too swiftly, could severely strain Florida’s budget as the state tries to emerge from the recession.
The modest proposal for 2013 represents a stark contrast from Scott's first proposed budget in 2011, when he asked lawmakers to approve more than $400 million in business tax cuts. Lawmakers ultimately passed a drastically scaled back tax cut.
Democrats, coming off Election Day victories, immediately bashed Scott for the new proposal.
"On election night, the people of Florida sent a clear message that they have rejected Gov. Rick Scott's failed priorities and policies which have slashed funding for our public schools while giving hand outs to the corporate special interests who epitomize the broken politics of Tallahassee," said Scott Arceneaux, executive director of the Florida Democratic Party.
See part of Scott’s lengthy press release below:
Tucked near the end of a lengthy ballot that features contentious issues like abortion and the Supreme Court is a little-discussed business tax cut amendment hoping to make it into the state Constitution.
Amendment 10 would provide an additional $25,000 tax exemption for small businesses that have less than $50,000 worth of furniture, computers and other so-called “tangible property.”
The amendment has received little attention in recent months because there is little organized opposition and business groups have focused their attention elsewhere. It would primarily affect smaller businesses and provide about $20 million in savings on a tax that generates $1.7 billion annually.
“I think it’s a really positive tax policy for our small businesses in Florida,” said David Hart, vice president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, which advocated this year for the constitutional change.
The amendment, one of 11 that lawmakers have placed on Florida’s lengthy 2012 ballot, could impact up to 40,000 small businesses next year if it gains the necessary 60 percent of the vote. A clause in the language would allow local governments to expand the savings to some larger businesses, or eliminate the tangible property tax altogether.