The Senate Appropriations Committee endorsed the smallest package of tax cuts in years Thursday, setting the stage for a final Senate vote and Gov. Rick Scott's signature.
The bill (HB 7099), which chairman Tom Lee modestly generously described as "pared back," guts the House's blueprint for nearly $1 billion in tax cuts over two years and replaces it with $129 million next year, about half of it from the permanent elimination of the sales tax on equipment bought by manufacturers. The rest of the tax breaks are targeted to specific groups or products, such as aviation fuel, pear cider and veterans' organizations.
The remainder of the Senate's $400 million in tax relief will be pumped into the school funding formula to reduce reliance on local property taxes to pay for a 1 percent increase in per-pupil spending. By overhauling the school funding formula, the Legislature is forcing Scott to accept a sweeping change that he opposes. Otherwise he must veto the entire school budget and force lawmakers back to Tallahassee in a special session.
Gone are Scott's proposals to reduce the sales tax on business rentcommercial leases, to eliminate the corporate income tax on retailers and manufacturers and to extend for one more year the sales tax exemption for college textbooks. Also gone is a sales tax holiday for hurricane-related purchases such as flashlights and portable radios, and the tradition of a 10-day back-to-school sales tax holiday has been replaced by a three-day tax holiday from Aug. 5 to 7, for items costing $60 or less, and exempting computers.
The bill has already passed the House.
Tempers flared among stressed-out senators over an amendment by Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, to allow three Panhandle counties (Bay, Okaloosa and Walton) to spend up to 10 percent of their tourist bed tax money to pay for police, fire and rescue operations for visitors, subject to county approval. Hotel and restaurant groups across the state have mobilized in opposition to the idea, claiming it would set a bad precedent. The amendment passed, 11 to 8.
Gaetz's revised proposal, filed shortly before the start of the 8 a.m. meeting, revived a long-simmering feud with Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who accused Gaetz of a lack of transparency. "I just doubt seriously that you in good conscience can say this is a transparent way of doing business," Latvala told Gaetz.