House Pushes for Tax Cuts


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THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, April 26, 2017......... House leaders will be able to boast they moved forward Wednesday with a potential $2.2 billion in tax cuts, but it remains unknown what breaks Floridians will get from the legislative session.

The House unanimously backed a nearly $300 million tax-cut package (HB 7109), while being more divided on a proposal that would ask voters to expand the homestead property-tax exemption.

Senate committees have advanced a number of individual bills that match key items in the House package, including sales-tax "holidays" for back-to-school and hurricane-preparation items, along with eliminating taxes on diapers and feminine hygiene products.

But the final details of tax cuts likely will emerge from budget negotiations between the House and Senate. The annual legislative session is scheduled to end May 5.

The House's property-tax proposal would ask voters in November 2018 to expand by $25,000 the non-school homestead exemption. A similar Senate measure (SJR 1774) has been approved by one committee.

Rep. Mike La Rosa, a St. Cloud Republican who is sponsoring the House version, said it could boost real-estate sales. The proposal passed in an 81-35 vote.

"Home ownership across our state is getting lower and lower and lower," La Rosa said. "This tax cut gives them an option to make that reality a possibility."

House members have estimated the savings for homeowners to be an average of about $170 a year. For local governments, the revenue reduction could collectively top $750 million in its first year and grow to almost $850 million a year within five years.

Rep. Matt Willhite, D-Wellington, said the proposal would take money away from essential services that local communities provide, such as fire protection and law enforcement.

"It sounds great to give our residents a tax break," Willhite said. "But I also understand that myself and constituents want services and those services don't come free."

For Palm Beach County, the impact could be $29 million a year, Willhite said.

The savings for homeowners would cut Seminole County revenue by more than $16.5 million, Orange County would see a revenue reduction of $35.3 million, and Leon County about $9 million, according to local officials.

Rep. Wengay Newton, D-St. Petersburg, said the proposal is effectively an unfunded mandate that would result in the need for local governments to raise tax rates to maintain services.

But Rep. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Boynton Beach, said the proposal should be left for voters to decide.

"How do I go back to the district and tell people I could have given you the chance to have an additional homestead exemption, but I took that away, I voted against it?" Abruzzo said. "That's not going to happen."

Similarly, Rep. Al Jacquet, D-Lantana, said lawmakers should trust their constituents.

"I'm not saying cut the taxes," Jaquet said. "What I'm saying is, I trust the people that sent me up here to make that decision themselves."

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, warned that the proposal could get lost on a ballot in 2018 when there may be a lengthy list of constitutional amendments proposed by the Constitution Revision Commission.

"I do not want to be complicit in making the ballot any longer than it needs to be," Smith said. "Not because of the underlying issue, but because of the reality that it will have the unintended consequence of disenfranchising voters."

While the proposed constitutional amendment was contentious Wednesday, the House's tax-cut package enjoyed unanimous support.

The package is highlighted by a 1.5 percentage-point drop in a 6 percent tax on commercial rent. The rate would increase to 5.5 percent in two years.

The reduction is projected to save business owners $190.7 million next fiscal year.

The Senate has proposed a single percentage point reduction in the commercial-rent tax.

House Ways & Means Chairman Jim Boyd, a Bradenton Republican who is sponsoring the tax-cut package, said after the House session that he expects some progress on tax cuts as House and Senate leaders continue to work on the budget.

"I think some of our issues are certainly consistent, our initiatives and theirs," Boyd said.

The House proposal also would eliminate sales taxes on diapers, feminine hygiene products and college textbooks and offer tax-free holidays for purchasing school and hurricane supplies.


© 2017 The News Service of Florida. All rights reserved. Posting or forwarding this material without permission is prohibited.