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Tug of war over tax package kills bills

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

A squabble over tourist taxes, a last-minute amendment to the Senate’s tax cut package, sucked up about half of the 2016 Legislative Session’s last Senate Appropriations meeting, killing bills left hanging on the agenda.

The panel OK’d the House plan (HB 7099), amended with the Senate’s own tax package. The legislation promises about $400 million in tax relief, though Gov. Rick Scott wanted $1 billion.

For instance, it scales back Florida’s back to school sales-tax holiday from 10 days to three days in August. Legislative budget writers disagree with Scott about the amount of projected revenue the state has to spend next fiscal year.

The amendment in question was eventually approved 11-8, and the tax relief package itself later cleared the committee, though not before budget chief Tom Lee let off a little steam.

Because of the tourist tax fight, the Brandon Republican warned the panel “legislation is already dead on this agenda.”

The infighting highlighted the breakdowns that start piling up in the waning days of a legislative session.

State Sen. Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican, had introduced the change for Bay, Okaloosa and Walton counties, allowing the possibility of redirecting local tourist development taxes to subsidize items such as emergency services at beaches.

But Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, objected to the amendment being filed nine minutes before the 8 a.m. start of the appropriations meeting, which ended promptly at 10 a.m. Still others questioned whether the move should have come up through the local bill process.

Sen. Dorothy Hukill, the Port Orange Republican who shepherded tax cuts through her chamber this year, also objected.

“This is a local issue … they know what’s important to them,” she said. “We know where this is going: This is ‘creeping’ and I’m not in favor of it.”

Senate President Andy Gardiner later released a statement, explaining that lawmakers were “reducing local (property tax) rates and using only state tax dollars to pay for a $478 million increase in education funding.”

“This is a win-win scenario for our state,” he said. “K-12 per student funding is at an all-time high, but state taxes dollars, rather than the property taxes of local homeowners and businesses, will cover the cost of that increase.”

Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) also commented on the plan, lauding a provision that permanently gets rid of the sales tax on manufacturing machinery and equipment.

“As the tax package heads to the Senate floor, AIF encourages the full Senate to advance this pro-business tax cut that will reinvigorate manufacturing and accelerate job growth in the Sunshine State,” it said.

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Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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