Sun Sentinel: Lawmakers pass $429 million tax-cut package June 16, 2015

Editor’s note: MIASF has advocated for a sales tax cap on the repair of boats, which will generate business for Florida’s boatyards. “This is a benefit for the state that will allow Florida’s nation-leading marine industry to attract and retain vessels for repair and refit revenue. South Florida is the global marine hub to the world, contributing $11.5 billion in economic impact and employing 136,000 people in the marine industry,” said Phil Purcell, executive director of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida. “The industry’s skilled craftsmen and its proximity to the Caribbean, Latin America and Europe have resulted in increased demand for repairs to vessels of all sizes. We will now be able to compete with states along the eastern seaboard and international yards. The repair and refit tax cap will enable us to leverage this opportunity for additional jobs and economic growth.”

TALLAHASSEE — Florida is shipping more than $400 million back to its citizens.

The House and Senate passed a $428.9-million tax-cut bill Monday morning that would lower the cost of cell phone and cable bills and offer a 10-day tax holiday on school supplies, beginning Aug. 7. During that time, purchases of clothes under $100, school supplies under $15 and the first $750 of the price of a computer will be tax free.

Other breaks include a yearlong sales tax holiday on college textbooks, the removal of sales taxes on gun club membership fees, and a $60,000 cap on taxes for boat repairs. Colleges will receive an exemption for the purchase of aviation fuel, and businesses will see cuts in the form of extended enterprise zones and tax credits for pollution cleanup and research and development.

Florida House scales back proposed tax cuts
The tax cut for cell phone and cable service would save Floridians about $20 a year on a $100 monthly cell phone bill but it alone would cost the state more than $200 million a year.

While Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, called it the “crown jewel” of the tax-cut package, Democrats said the savings were relatively insignificant.

“There’s so much else that we could do with that money in this state,” said Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura. “It’s just not worth it.”

Citing pressing needs in education and health care, House Minority Leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, said he couldn’t support the tax cuts.

“It’s $400 million worth of money that the state is going to voluntarily give back. Part of that is tied up in rhetoric on smaller government and lower taxes,” Pafford said. “There’s a time and a place for that, but right now the need in Florida is critical.”

The House’s original version of the tax cut package called for just a three-day back-to-school tax holiday, along with a tax holiday for small businesses. But the Senate removed the small business tax holiday in favor of the 10-day back-to-school idea, the longest the Legislature has passed. It will cost the state $55.4 million.

The Senate also put a $60,000 cap on taxes for boat repairs, so any job that cost over $1 million would not be further taxed.

“I think it is something for the wealthy and the very wealthy and does nothing for the little guy,” said Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando. She and Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, were the only two senators to vote against the cuts.

Florida House approves $300 million worth of tax cuts
In supporting the cut, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, cited the depressed economic conditions of Riviera Beach and the boat repair industry there. “One of their biggest industries is a company that does yacht repairs,” Latvala said. “It’s about building up an industry … it’s about jobs.”

The cuts are far less than the nearly $700 million called for during the regular legislative session. But the need for additional health care funding has cut into the Legislature’s ability to cut taxes. The federal government may not give Florida as much money as it has in the past for a program called the Low-Income Pool, or LIP. That program pays hospitals that treat people who cannot afford medical care.

The budget process is now nearly complete. The House and Senate still have to iron out a few differences, especially in education.

Lawmakers are expected to produce a budget Tuesday.

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