Florida Senate approves $400 million tax cut package

TALLAHASSEE -- Back to school shopping will be cheaper, cell phone bills would drop and college textbooks would be a little less expensive under a wide-ranging tax cut package that emerged in the Florida Legislature on Thursday.

In all, the Florida Senate proposed a $400 million tax cut package that falls short of Gov. Rick Scott’s push for $700 million in cuts, but aligns close enough to the Florida House’s proposal that lawmakers are increasingly confident they will have agreement on taxes by the time the Legislature special session ends on June 20.

At the core of the Senate tax plan is a 10-day sales tax cut on back to school shopping that would start Aug. 7 and a communications tax cut that would save Floridians about $20 a year on a $100 cell phone bill.

Those plans are different than the House version of the tax cut bill, which would only set aside three days for back-to-school shopping sales tax breaks and include a communications tax cut that would be about $20 less than what the House originally sought in the spring.

Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, said extending the sales tax holiday on school clothing and backpacks under $100 is important because it assures more people will have a chance to take advantage of it.

“It is very popular with the public,” Hukill said.

The Senate plan is very encouraging, said State Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, chairman of the House Finance and Tax Committee.

“I view this as a very meaningful and productive offer,” Gaetz said.

With no major dealbreakers in the Senate offer, Gaetz said it feels like the House and Senate are coming together on approving a tax cut plan to send to Gov. Rick Scott.

The Senate tax cut plan also includes a sales tax exemption for school support organizations that sell food and drinks at concession stands, makes textbooks for college sales tax free, exempts pre-paid college meals from taxes. Jet fuel for flight training schools and gun club memberships will also be cut under the tax plan that unanimously passed the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday morning.

Contact Jeremy Wallace at jwallace@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263. Follow @jeremyswallace.