February 09, 2012

Negron gets support for bill to repeal ballot access of budget and tax commissions

Although the Florida Legislature's latest popularity polls are in the dump, Sen. Joe Negron is pretty convinced that the public wants lawmakers, and not citizen commissions, to fix what's wrong with the state Constitution.

Negron's bill to ask voters to repeal the Constitutional Revision Commission and the Tax and Budget Reform Comission passed the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday. Only Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, voted against it.

Florida's Constitution uniquely allows the two bi-partisan commissions to put changes to the constitution directly onto the election ballot, bypassing the other two entities with access to the ballot, the citizen initiative process and the Florida Legislature. The Constitutional Revision

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July 05, 2011

May 18, 2010

Rentboy scandal: Florida Democrats demand McCollum return $120,000 paid to George Rekers

Just received from the Florida Democratic Party:

In light of Attorney General Bill McCollum's role in spending over $120,000 in taxpayer money on hiring discredited witness George Rekers, today Florida Democratic Party Chair Karen Thurman demanded McCollum pay back the State of Florida for the full cost of the funds he steered towards the so-called 'expert' embroiled in the "Rentboy scandal."

Click here to read Thurman's letter to McCollum

April 28, 2010

House adds more jobs to 'jobs bill'

The so-called "jobs bill" got more jobs laden before it passed out of the House 117-0 a few moments ago. The $218 million bill contains tax incentives for film productions, manufacturers and the space industry.

House members today added a sales tax break for future NFL Pro Bowls and all-star games for the NBA and NHL. Supporters argue that similar tax breaks are nearly a requirement to land such a game. Lawmakers also added a "Florida first" provision requiring construction contractors to hire Florida residents if their qualifications are the same as other candidates.

Early in the session, the Senate passed similar legislation and will likely look kindly on this new package. Sponsoring Sen. Don Gaetz said the only provision senators are looking closely at is one that guarantees the private investment -- starting in 2023 -- of infrastructure projects. He said he is still talking with House members about that section.

April 14, 2010

Swimming pool, leaky fuel tank extension added to eco devo bill

A couple of potential red flags were added to a major economic development bill moving through the House. One authorizes -- but doesn't fund -- a new swimming pool in Cape Coral. Democrats said the provision smelled a lot like local pork funding and said it should go through the normal budget process. But Republicans added the amendment, arguing the swim center would attract national competitions. They also said the provision only adds policy -- funding will be decided by lawmakers in 2012.

"This just looks like a member project," said Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek. "Why are we funding member projects?"

A second amendment gives some gas stations a two-year extension to replace leaky underground fuel tanks. Finance and Tax chairwoman Ellyn Bogdanoff argued that stations bought between 2008 and 2010 should be exempt because the new owners could not easily find funding to replace them. Waldman, who owns a gas station said the new owners -- mostly large companies who bought out mom-and-pop stations -- were "knew at the time they needed to upgrade these tanks."

April 09, 2010

Groups push to add sales tax to online purchases

A group of business and social service organizations argued Friday that Florida is missing out on at least $35 million in a tight budget year because it doesn’t collect sales taxes on Internet purchases.

Business groups such as AIF and the Chamber of Commerce say their brick and mortar stores are at a “clear, competitive disadvantage,” said Florida TaxWatch President Dominic Calabro.

“This is absolutely important to our state,” said Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach. “We are hurting for revenue.”

The legislation would have Florida join 22 other states who have changed their sales tax laws to voluntarily collect sales taxes on remote purchases. If Congress requires states to collect taxes on Internet sales, Florida could be in line for up to $1 billion, Calabro said.

The legislation has not been heard in a committee in either chamber, making its passage increasingly unlikely with only three weeks left in the session.

January 21, 2010

House Democrats push for budget transparency

UPDATED 4:35 p.m.: House Republican budget Chairman David Rivera responded to the Democratic letter late Thursday afternoon. An excerpt: "Your refusal to participate in setting priorities for the state budget can only be taken as evidence of one of two facts: either you are unable to set meaningful priorities for our state or simply unwilling to do so. Either way, Floridians can be assured that your abdication of responsibility is a declaration that you and the members of the Democratic Caucus are unable and unwilling to lead this state to economic recovery."

Calling the House budget process "fundamentally flawed," House Democratic leaders asked Speaker Larry Cretul to end the futile budget exercises and secret meetings and embrace a more transparent approach.

In a letter signed by Minority Leader Franklin Sands and incoming leader Ron Saunders, the Democrats want to see a joint meeting to look at revenues and expenditures at the same time. The House appropriations committees currently are discussing budget priorities and will next will look for areas to cut. But the real decisions are often made by top House Republicans without input from the Democrats, the minority asserts. (Read the whole letter here.)

January 11, 2010

Crist, lawmakers want to revive August tax break

Gov. Charlie Crist and leading legislators on Monday called for a revival of the sales tax break on back-to school items such as backpacks and pencils. The August tax break has been eliminated for the past two years because of the state's perilous revenue picture, but headed into an election year, Crist and  lawmakers are embracing the tax, which has been popular with Florida consumers since its inception in 1998.

"I can't think of a better way to try to stimulate the economy than by reducing taxes," Crist said. "It's time to get back to basics and do the right thing."

Approval of the tax break would mean an estimated $44-million less money for lawmakers to build next year's budget. But a study commissioned by retailers contends that a back to school sales tax holiday would have boosted sales of school items, resulting in a $118-million net increase in state and local tax revenues. The study was done by Tony Villamil's Washington Economics Group in Coral Gables.

Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, and Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, joined Crist at a news conference along with Rick McAllister of the Florida Retail Federation.

-- Steve Bousquet

March 16, 2009

Tax wars begin: Bogdanoff blasts Dems for no ideas while Rs offer none of their own

House Finance and Tax Committee chairman Ellyn Bogdanoff blasted Democrats Monday on her committee for failing to bring forth bills that will raise taxes even though she admitted no Repubican had offered a single idea either. Meanwhile, Bogdanoff said her committee will create its own committee bill that will include both elimination of some sales tax exemptions as well as the additional exemptions so that it is "revenue neutral.'

"They have abdicated their responsibility to participate in this process,'' she said of the Democrats, whom she noted had long called for elimination of the sales tax exemptions as a way to raise new revenues.

"Basically at this point, I'm not really sure where the minority party is going,'' Bogdanoff said. Seconds  after Bogdanoff adjourned the meeting, the House Majority office released a press release blasting the Democrats.

After the meeting, Rep. Jim Waldman tried to talk to Bogdanoff about why she didn't hear his bill to raise the cigarette tax $1 to help deal with the state's $3 billion budget hole. Bogdanoff said she wasn't likely to take up Waldman's bill and that she opposed any bill to raise taxes.


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March 12, 2009

TaxWatch weighs in with its list of potential tax break repeals

The audience of special interest lobbyists rushed forward to get a copy of the single-page sheet of paper  Florida TaxWatch President Dominic Calabro wanted to show the Senate Finance and Tax Committee. It was the list of sales tax exemptions and excluded services that the business-backed tax research organization thought might be ripe for a discussion on removing the sales tax exemption.

On the list, $224.8 million in annual exemptions for: charter fishing boats, bottled water, veterinary medicines, sales of religious items, movie theate concession rent, subsidies for the Professional Golf Hall of Fame and the International Game Fish Association, skyboxes rented by high school and college  sports teams, and sales of  U.S. and state flags.

TaxWatch also suggests it might be time to debate imposing a tax on these services:  barber shops and beauty salons, dry cleaning and laundry, valet parking, photo finishing, pet care, fitiness facilities, pest control and lawn services and sightseeing bus trasnporation. Their annual potential revenue: $335.8 million.

TaxWatch culled the list of $560,6 million in exemptions based on "generally accepted standards of tax fairness,'' Calabro said."We're not saying go forth and tax these things. These items did not meet the criteria that were reviewed.'' But of the more than $12 billion in sales tax exemptions, $10 billion of which include food, medicine, housing and necessities, these "are more likely'' to be eligible for repeal, he said.

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