March 04, 2012

State budget talks move forward, but biggest sticking points remain

State lawmakers made significant headway on the budget Saturday, reaching consensus on economic incentives and spending on transportation, prisons and law enforcement.

But they had yet to find a compromise in the two most controversial parts of the spending plan: education and health and human services.

“We just opted not to go through that first,” House Budget Chairwoman Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, said. “We’ll get to it, hopefully, tomorrow.”

The chambers must align their budgets by Tuesday to bring the Legislative session to a timely close. The Senate had proposed a $71 billion budget. The House version was $69 billion.

On Saturday, lawmakers agreed on an $86 million package of economic incentives aimed at bringing companies to Florida.

After initially disagreeing on how much power Gov. Rick Scott should have over the pot of incentive money, the Senate and House came together on an agreement to give the governor $61 million to use as he sees fit. An additional $25 million in incentives — grants, tax cuts and the like — would have to be approved by legislators.

Story here



February 22, 2012

Tax cut for Marlins stadium passes, despite constitutional problems

Ignoring warning signs by their own staff that a tax cut for the Miami Marlins stadium parking garage is probably unconstitutional, the House Committee on Economic Affairs passed the proposal, unanimously and without debate.

staff analysis landed yesterday that cast serious doubt on the constitutionality of the plan –- which would cover up for a poorly inked deal with the Marlins that left the city of Miami on the hook for $1.2 million in property taxes.

Rather than changing the language to address the constitutional problems, the bill sponsor, Rep. Matthew Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres, filed an amendment making the proposal retroactive to the 2012 tax bill, in effect doubling down on the constitutionally-questionable measure.

The Marlins parking garage section of the bill, filed by Rep. Jose Diaz, R-Miami on behalf of Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami, would exempt the city of Miami from paying property taxes.

It’s the Legislature’s latest move that critics say bucks the state’s Constitution.

Continue reading "Tax cut for Marlins stadium passes, despite constitutional problems" »

February 16, 2012

"Robbing Peter to pay Paul?": Money from online taxes could go to new biz tax cuts

Florida lawmakers voted to move forward a proposal that would force online-only companies—and people who buy goods on the Internet—to pay the state’s 6-percent sales tax. 

Once shunned by conservative legislators averse to new taxes, the proposal has been packaged in a new “revenue neutral” form, meaning whatever money brought in by new taxes would be offset by tax cuts. Until now, it was widely believed that the money would go back to consumers in a new tax holiday.

However, a new amendment to the bill’s language allows for Tallahassee lawmakers to decide who gets the break. In the business-friendly climate of the Legislature, the money could go to reducing taxes on businesses, not directly to consumers. On Wednesday, the House passed a $120 million package of tax cuts on businesses, ranging from reductions to the corporate income tax to reducing taxes on private plane repair.

According to Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, the bill's sponsor, the online tax revenue should go to cutting business taxes.

Continue reading ""Robbing Peter to pay Paul?": Money from online taxes could go to new biz tax cuts" »

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

Continue reading "Negron gets support for bill to repeal ballot access of budget and tax commissions" »

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."