February 15, 2012

Gov. Scott's biz tax-cut plan clears House

Gov. Rick Scott’s $120 million business tax cut plan passed the House by a wide margin Wednesday, a day after partisan bickering dominated debate on the issue.

The tax plan, a priority of Scott (Download ScottTaxPriorities), would double the corporate income tax exemption, from $25,000 to $50,000, meaning 3,770 companies would be exempt from paying any income taxes.

Scott has said he would like to completely phase out the state’s corporate income tax, in order to make Florida more business-friendly. Companies paid nearly $2 billion in state income tax last year, about 8 percent of all revenue collected by Florida.

Several other parts of the tax package would cut costs for thousands of businesses and reduce revenue in the state. The measures would slash taxes on oil drilled in Florida (by $3.3 million), manufacturing equipment ($56.4 million), private plane repair ($12.3 million) and electricity at produce packing houses ($1.1 million).

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February 12, 2012

State legislators opt for tax cuts the easy way; Locals left with the bill

The Florida Legislature is eyeing even more tax cuts this year, celebrating its free-market ethos by slashing business taxes and allowing consumers to “keep more of their own money.”

But as lawmakers take credit for handing out tax cuts to businesses and homeowners, most are not coupling the revenue reductions with equal-sized cuts in spending, leaving local governments to sort out how to balance their budgets.

“We’re trying to take credit for cutting taxes when we’re, in essence, really just telling somebody else ‘You need to cut,’” Rep. Fred Costello, R-Ormond Beach, warned fellow lawmakers during a committee meeting where lawmakers approved more than $600 million in cuts to local governments.

In total, the Legislature has advanced proposals for several billion dollars in new unfunded tax cuts that, if passed, will come out of the coffers of cities and counties across the state. Local governments, which have hired lobbyists to fight back against some of the cuts, say state lawmakers are leaving them with a bleak choice: Either cut already-pared-back services and salaries to offset billions of dollars in reduced revenue, or raise property tax rates to cover some of the shortfall.

Read the rest of the story here.


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