Back-to-school sales tax holiday may be longer this year

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Florida lawmakers, rushing to reach a final deal on a new budget over the next few days, may wind up passing roughly $400 million of tax cuts that include a 10-day back-to-school sales tax holiday.

Republican leaders who had been at odds for weeks over spending appear ready to compromise over a whole range of remaining items, including a tax-cut package and whether to borrow money for land conservation and to build new college buildings.

Legislators are in the middle of a special session called to pass a state budget. State government could be partially shut down if a new budget isn’t in place by July 1.

The House and Senate did not pass a budget during their regular session due to a divide over health care and whether to expand healthcare coverage.

But things are finally falling into place after GOP leaders agreed to trim back tax cuts and instead steered money to hospitals that are expected to lose federal aid they now receive to treat the poor and uninsured.

“It’s all about finding compromise,” said House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican.

Senate Republicans on Thursday advanced a more than $400 million tax-cut package that includes a reduction in the state’s cellphone and cable television tax. The measure would also extend the state’s annual late-summer sales tax holiday on clothes and school supplies to cover two weekends.

“This is a good tax-cut package,” said state Sen. Dorothy Hukill, a Port Orange Republican in charge of the Senate Finance and Tax Committee. “It is broad-based and it touches nearly every person in the state.”

The Senate tax-cut proposal differs from one the House passed last week. The House bill would cut the cellphone tax an average of $10 a year for most Floridians while the Senate proposal is twice that. The House also offered a three-day back-to-school sales tax holiday. Instead the Senate Appropriations Committee passed a bill that would extend the holiday from Aug. 7 to Aug. 16. During that time consumers wouldn’t have to pay the state’s 6 percent tax on clothes and school supplies. Floridians would also not have to pay sales tax on any computers costing $750 or less.

The Senate also jettisoned other proposed tax cuts, including a slight cut in the sales tax charged on commercial leases.

But Crisafulli and other House Republicans said they were open to the changes made by the Senate.

“There’s so much to smile about in what the Senate has done, I anticipate the passage of the tax package being a real moment of unity for the Legislature,” said state Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican.

Legislators are anticipating that they will wrap up work on a roughly $78 billion budget by next Tuesday.

They have yet to a reach a final deal on spending in key areas such as health care, education and the environment. But Crisafulli said the House is dropping its push to borrow money for environmental projects and school construction. The House backed the idea, saying it makes sense to borrow money in those areas since interest rates are low. Senate leaders opposed the move.

That decision, however, means there will be likely less money to spend in those areas.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.