House and Senate not quite in step over budget

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Florida’s popular back-to-school sales-tax holiday should be returning this August.

Not so lucky might be the proposed tax break on gym memberships and state funding for renovations to Daytona International Speedway, which could be on the chopping block when the Legislature returns after the Passover/Easter holiday week.

Leaders in the House may have been surprised raceway funds were included in the tax-cut package, writes Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida, but the Senate clearly considers the Daytona Raceway an economic driver.

So illustrates the different approach of each chamber as they work towards the final $100 million of $500 million in tax cuts called for by Gov. Rick Scott.

The governor already signed a bill (SB 156) that repealed a 2009 increase in vehicle registration fees, expected to save taxpayers $400 million.

The House is looking at a wide range of tax cuts, including a variety of sales tax holidays on school items, hurricane supplies, gym memberships and energy-saving appliances, as well as taxes and eliminating taxes on children’s car seats and bicycle helmets.

Also on the House agenda are loans to Florida television production, as well as reductions in taxes paid by businesses for electricity.

The Senate is considering not only the back-to-school sales-tax holiday, but also reductions in cable and phone service taxes and supporting the $400 million “Daytona Rising” raceway improvement project.

Speedway funding passed the whole Senate as a standalone measure (SB 208), with potential racetrack money tacked on to another proposal (SB 1216) requiring the Department of Economic Opportunity to rank stadium sales-tax-subsidy proposals. Neither advanced through the House.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, who has been steadfastly opposed to using state funds for stadiums, told the News Service on Friday the two chambers will “find a middle ground,” called the Senate’s inclusion of speedway money something his chamber “would not be supportive of.”

“But it’s early,” he added.

Rep. Ritch Workman, who helped craft House plan (HB 5601) that he referred to as a “patchwork of awesomeness,” described the Senate’s budget proposal as “niche stuff.”

“There is no battle royal brewing, but there (are) definitely going to be some strong negotiations,” Workman told reporters the day after the Senate reworked much of the patchwork House bill. “We have to talk about what stays and what goes. We are very far apart, and we need to get together.”

Leaders of both the House and Senate agree they will come to the $500 million tax and fee reduction benchmark, and maybe a little more – but not a lot more, Turner notes.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.