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House unveils $690 million tax cut plan, further split with Senate

Florida House leaders unveiled a $690 million package in tax cuts on Tuesday that further highlights a schism with the Senate on Medicaid expansion.

“We’re eager for the Florida senate to join us in our desire to cut taxes,” said the chairman of the House finance and taxation committee, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach.

About $15 million more than what Gov. Rick Scott proposed to cut in taxes in January, the House plan would:

-- Reduce the communications services tax by 3.6 percent: $470.5 million

-- Reduce the sales tax on commercial leases from 6 percent to 5.8 percent: $53.1 million

-- Exempt college textbooks and other instructional material from sales tax: $43.7 million.

-- Raise the property tax exemption for residents who are widowed, blind or totally disabled: $41.3 million.

-- Exempts certain agricultural items from the sales tax: $13.4 million.

-- Creates a new corporate income tax credit for defense contracting companies who hire Florida-based contractors: $5.5 million.

-- Exempts books and other reading materials sold at book fairs: $2.8 million

-- Exempts support organizations from collecting sales tax if tax is paid on school concessions: $1.7 million.

-- Exempts gun club memberships from sales tax: $1.2 million.

-- Create a credit or refund for wholesales selling aviation fuel to a university based in Florida offering a graduate program in aeronautical or aerospace engineering and flight training through a school of aeronautics or college of aviation: $0.9 million.

-- Exempts vehicles bought by service members overseas and brought back to Florida from the sales tax: $800,000..

-- Increases exemptions for service members: $200,000.

-- Back-to-School Sales tax holiday, July 31-Aug. 2: NA

-- Sales tax exemption for items $1,000 or less sold by small businesses: NA

-- Income tax credits for companies that engage in research in Florida: NA

-- One-time increase in tax credits for environmental clean ups: NA

-- Repeals any remaining exceptions to the 2005 elimination of estate tax repeal: NA

The House seemed eager to contrast its package with the Senate, which has yet to unveil its proposed tax cuts.

“The House organized a media event to advance a tax package,” said Senate Appropriations Chair Tom Lee, R-Brandon. “The senate has gone about developing a tax package more quietly.”

Lee said more than $800 million has passed committees but awaits a vote in appropriations. None of the cuts will be voted on until the health care issue has been settled, Lee said.

The Senate released its $80.4 billion budget last week with $2.8 billion in federal money for expanded health care coverage, which the House opposes. It also includes a $2.2 billion program known as the Low Income Pool (or LIP) that helps hospitals treat uninsured, under-insured and Medicaid patients.

Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said he agrees with Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, to cut taxes. But they differ on when.

“It’s something we believe in,”Gardiner said when asked Tuesday about tax cuts. “I don’t think we’re anywhere near talking about what the number is and how much. There’s still a lot of things that have to be resolved before we can get to that point.”

But as the House showed Tuesday, it’s already to start cutting, whether or not LIP gets renewed. Placing their faith in trickle-down economics, Gaetz said, is how the House is hoping to provide for the most needy.

“The average Floridian pays about $1,800 a year in state taxes,” Gaetz said. “That’s the lowest in the country. But we can do even better. And we will. By cutting taxes, growing the economy and then having more resources to care for the vulnerable, we truly do the service that many of us were sent here to do.”