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Wednesday, Apr 16, 2014
Politics

Several tax-cut measures await Legislature


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TALLAHASSEE — Bring on the tax breaks.

With projected revenue increases resulting in a $1 billion budget surplus for next fiscal year, state lawmakers have filed dozens of measures to reduce fees and taxes.

Legislators have another reason to jump on the tax-cutting bandwagon: Half the Senate and every state representative seat is up for election this year.

The proposal getting the most attention is from Senate budget chief Joe Negron, R-Stuart, which would roll back some auto fees to save motorists $12 per vehicle.

But talk-radio hosts and others are complaining that the amount of individual relief from that and other measures is minimal at best.

Also, many of the tax bills have been filed before. Some, like one reducing the communications-services tax, have been kicking around for several years.

Floridians already enjoy a lower tax burden than many states. For instance, the Sunshine State is one of nine that don’t have a state income tax, according to the Federation of Tax Administrators.

Among those filed for the 2014 legislative session, which kicks off March 4, various bills aimed at consumers and businesses would:

* Create a property tax exemption for certain mobile home lots.

* Remove the tax on security-system services.

* Suspend sales tax for two weeks in June on certain items, including lanterns and batteries, bought in preparation for the 2014 hurricane season.

* Establish a tax credit for hiring veterans and an additional credit for hiring disabled veterans.

* Create a gradual reduction, down to nothing, on tax on commercial property rentals and licenses.

* Reduce the tax on sales of communications services and direct-to-home satellite service.

* Create a sales tax exemption for some pet medicines and diet pet foods.

The benefits from some of the measures are minuscule, as the pet medicine proposal illustrates.

“Animal owners will be relieved of an unknown, but estimated to be insignificant, amount of sales tax on prescriptions and special diet food items for animals,” the staff analysis for the bill says.

The Senate Agriculture committee still approved it unanimously last week.

A Senate appropriations subcommittee also voted unanimously for the auto fee rollback earlier this month.

Auto fees were increased almost four years ago to help narrow what was then a multibillion dollar budget gap.

Negron told reporters last week he and other lawmakers are committed to reduce individual burdens, particularly after some taxes and fees went up during the recession.

In other words, what goes up should come down.

“When government has to increase a fee or a cost for some particular reason, when times get better, it’s a good pattern for us to look at some of those and undo them,” Negron said.

Some political observers look at it differently.

The lesson, they say, is to make a tax cut look like you’re saving people real money – even when you’re not.

“As lawmakers head into an election year, they want to be on record for being able to say, ‘We cut your taxes,’” said Aubrey Jewett, a University of Central Florida political science professor.

“So they look for areas where they can at least cut to some degree, even if it’s not very much for any individual,” he said.

Kurt Wenner, vice president of tax research for Florida TaxWatch, an independent watchdog group, says he’s not sure the number of tax-related bills is any more than in previous years.

“But there’s certainly a spike in the outlook for them,” he said. “I think you’re going to see things getting done earlier because everybody knows there’s going to be some kind of tax reductions done this year.”

Gov. Rick Scott, also facing re-election in November, has promised $500 million in tax cuts.

He’s called his plan the “It’s Your Money Tax Cut Agenda,” and went on tour around the state to ask residents and business people for ideas on what to cut.

Scott appeared at a Brandon Honda dealership earlier this month to talk about his program to “give you back more of your money,” as he put it.

Now, part of his plan would decrease a typical auto registration to about $47 rather than $72, a move that would account for about $400 million.

When asked where the other $100 million in tax cuts is coming from, Scott said, “I’m working on that. My budget comes out at the end of the month.”

The public keeps elected officials in a tough spot, Jewett said, because they want low taxes but often favor higher spending in areas like teacher pay and environmental safeguards.

“They want services and those services cost money,” he said.

One lawmaker has even filed a bill to raise taxes.

Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, wants to put an extra $1 surcharge on a pack of cigarettes, now at $1.34.

The bill, however, explains that the money raised — an estimated $838 million a year — would be used to offset the money lost by rolling back the auto fees.

Tribune staff writer William March contributed to this report.

jrosica@tampatrib.com

(850) 765-0807

Twitter: @jlrosicaTBO

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