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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).

Taken together, the cuts mean about $108 million in less revenue annually for the state, and about $13.2 million less for local governments.

An amendment to the tax cut package, added by Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera on Wednesday, would disqualify companies that hire unionized workers from receiving the exemption. Constitutionally weak, that amendment is not expected to make it to the governor's desk. 

Some Democrats protested the tax cuts, casting them as corporate welfare for big business.

“This benefits large corporations or the subsidiaries of large corporations,” said Rep. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, adding that he talked to hundreds of small business owners in his district and only one said they benefitted from last year’s corporate income tax cut.

Despite opposition from some Democrats, and Wednesday’s partisan bickering and procedural drama, the vote passed on a bi-partisan basis, 92-22.

The bill also shifts more money from the state’s cigarette tax to the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa and the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in Orlando. Those shifts are worth more than $6 million for the two facilities and the Department of Health.

The tax plan passed 92-22 in the House, and several separated parts of it are moving in the Senate.

The House also approved a back-to-school sales tax holiday, which will run from Aug. 3 to Aug. 5, this year, and a property tax exemption for the spouses of veterans and first responders killed in the line of duty.