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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January 29, 2009

Time to talk taxes -- income & services -- Wetherell says

The only solution to Florida’s budget problems lies in raising more revenue, says Florida State University President T.K. Wetherell.

If that means a personal income tax, a tax on services, it’s worth considering, Wetherell said Thursday at Capital Tiger Bay in Tallahassee.

“We need to have a tax discussion that transcends the bureaucracy,’’ Wetherell said. “I had hoped the Constitutional Revision Commission could do it but they got more balled up in politics than the

FSU is facing $60-million in budget cuts this year and the probable loss of 200 staffers as they struggle to meet revenue shortfalls during an economic downturn.

Florida cannot continue to run quality programs at its colleges and universities and other state agencies without revenue it can count on, he added. Millions of dollars from a federal stimulus plan is not the
answer because it is not recurring money and merely postpones the problem for two years.

If Florida doesn’t find the courage to pay for higher education, Florida State and Tallahassee “will wither on the vine.’’

Florida’s historically low tuition is part of the problem, he noted. Students at FSU pay $3800 a semester for tuition. Wetherell noted that tuition for his grandson in kindergarten at a private school in
Tallahassee is $8,000 a semester.

Wetherell, a former house speaker, said the situation today is the worst he’s seen in 35 years as a Florida educator.

-- Lucy Morgan

September 03, 2008

Bense 'very disappointed' in ruling; others thrilled

Taxation and Budget Commission Chairman Allan Bense said he was "very disappointed'' in the Wednesday decision by the Florida Supreme Court to throw out three of the most hard-fought amendments the panel had placed on the ballot.

"We gave it our best shot," Bense told the Miami Herald. "I'm very disappointed but particularly about Amendment 5. I thought that was Florida's best chance ever for real tax reform."

Bense said that because the rules of the commission require a super-majority vote to place any amendment on the ballot, proponents were forced to compromise and revise their proposals to get 17 votes from the 25-member commission.

In the end, that may have doomed the proposals, he said. The tax reform amendment was tied to eliminating property taxes to win votes, and that led to reducing taxes that pay for schools which left schools worried about seeing their funding cut, he said.

The chief architect of the property tax amendment, John McKay, was equally unhappy. "I’m disappointed in the Supreme Court's denying Florida the opportunity to decide how they are taxed to pay for the education system and the services they reasonably want and deserve.''

He said he hopes the Legislature takes up the tax reform challenge because "the tax system we have today  will not serve our needs into the 21st Century.''

What others are saying:

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Court throws off property tax and voucher amendments

In a swift ruling, with opinions to follow, the Florida Supreme Court today just threw out three controversial amendments relating to property taxes and school vouchers on the grounds that they were improperly placed on the November ballot and are misleading to voters.

The ruling comes just four hours after the court finished hearing oral arguments on challenges to Amendments 5, 7 and 9 in a fast-tracked hearing Wednesday, intended to produce a ruling in time for the Friday deadline for the Secretary of State to certify the official ballot.

In an animated one-hour session, the justices left no doubt that they had numerous questions about whether the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, which meets every 20 years, exceeded its authority when it voted to place the voucher amendments, Amendments 7 and 9, before voters.

The court also pummeled the attorneys with questions about whether Amendment 5, which would reduce property taxes by an average of 25 percent and force lawmakers to replace the money with sales and other taxes, is misleading.

Opponents to Amendment 5, including a large coalition of business, health care, education and other interest groups, argue that the ballot language misleads voters into thinking that if they eliminate property taxes that pay for schools, schools will be protected from budget cuts. In fact, the amendment specifies that the legislature must protect school spending only the year the amendment takes effect -- in 2010-11.

Proponents say the first year is the most important year since that is when lawmakers would have to come up with replacement money. They say the guarantee is not implied beyond that single year.

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Justice Lewis criticizes "game-playing'' of amendment process

During the animated debate over whether Amendments 5, 7 and 9 should be stripped from the November ballot, Justice R. Fred Lewis decried what he said was the "game-playing'' that has
increasingly enveloped the amendment process -- in which proponents try to snag voters
with misleading or incomplete ballot titles and summaries. Read full story here.

"It's starting to become a game and these things ought to fly on their own merit," Lewis said as the court heard arguments this morning. "We're talking about organize law of the great State of Florida and if we get into this game-playing, as it appears all the time, and it's getting more and more and more.

"Why not require, if anyone wants to change the constitution, that it not be misleading, that it not engage in all these catchy phrases and political arguing that's popular today?"

After the hearing, attorney Mark Herron, who has successfully challenged and defended several constitutional amendment proposals, said he agreed with Lewis that the process of ballot wording has become too politicized and needs reform.

"There is politicization of titles in some of these things,'' he said. "Maybe not these amendments but I tend to agree. I've had to draft them from time to time and rejected suggested titles because there have been cases where there are words in there of political import that shouldn't be in there.''

Herron said it didn't apply to the amendment he was defending, Amendment 5. Drafter wanted the title and summary to be an index of what the amendment did not expose some flashpoint.

As to the prospect of restoring Amendment 5 to the ballot, Herron was more circumspect: "I've gotten beat up a lot of times," he said. "Sometimes you win.
Sometimes you lose.'

Court leaves three amendments in doubt

The Florida Supreme Court left no doubt today that Amendments 5, 7 and 9 could be in trouble because they were improperly placed on the ballot. The court heard arguments Wednesday morning on the controversial amendments relating to property taxes and vouchers. It is expected to rule by Friday, in time for the Secretary of State to certify the official November ballot by its Sept. 5 deadline.

The Taxation and Budget Commission placed the amendments on the November ballot. Read full story here.

June 23, 2008

Haridopolos to McKay: Let's get ready to rumble

Sen. Mike Haridopolos, who has put together a coalition to battle the tax swap proposal going before voters this fall, issued a challenge on Monday to former Senate President John McKay. The Brevard County Republican wants to go mano a mano against McKay to debate Amendment 5, which Haridopolos contends will be a train wreck for the state's economy.

Haridopolos says that he wants members of the public to understand the impacts of the amendment - which calls for eliminating property taxes and then replacing some, but not all, of the money with a one-cent hike in the sales tax. He would like to hold debates in all the major media markets of the state. Haridopolos, who has not issued his challenge personally to McKay, said if the senator declines his invitation then his group, Protect Florida's Future, will go ahead and hold town hall meetings to talk to people about Amendment 5.