Florida senators move forward with plan to limit taxes

A proposal that would make it tougher for future state lawmakers to raise taxes advanced Monday through its first Senate panel, though the proposal would not go as far as a tax limit approved by the House.

The Senate Finance and Tax Appropriations Subcommittee voted 4-2 along party lines in support of the proposed constitutional amendment, which could go on the November ballot. The proposal (SJR 1742), if ultimately approved, would require three-fifths votes of the House and Senate before taxes could be increased in the future.

Currently, a simple majority is needed for most tax hikes.

»RELATED: The latest in Florida political news

“I do believe it needs to be difficult to raise taxes,” said subcommittee Chairwoman Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican who is sponsoring the bill.

Stargel said that in emergencies, lawmakers would “easily” reach the three-fifths mark. She said after the meeting that, while she couldn’t speak for the rest of the members of the Senate, the House version of the proposal appears “a little too restrictive for the Constitution.”

The House proposal (HJR 7001), approved 80-29 on Thursday, would require two-thirds votes by the House and Senate on tax increases and would also apply to raising fees.

Stargel’s bill wouldn’t require super-majority votes when amending or repealing tax exemptions and wouldn’t apply to county, municipal, school-board or special-district taxing authorities.

In voting against the Senate proposal Monday, Miami Democrats Daphne Campbell and Jose Javier Rodriguez expressed concerns that the proposal would further shift tax burdens to local governments, leave the state unable to keep up with environmental and educational crises and reduce services for families in need.

“The fact that it would be harder to raise revenue, but remain just as easy to carve out special-interest tax breaks, just means that our tax code will continue to become more and more regressive over time,” Rodriguez said.

A super-majority requirement isn’t new to the Legislature.

For example, a three-fifths margin is required to raise the corporate income tax rate above 5 percent. The tax sits at 5.5 percent. Also, bills that cause state-revenue collections to exceed a limit set in the state Constitution must be passed by two-thirds votes of each chamber.

The proposed has the backing of Florida Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries of Florida and Florida TaxWatch.

But critics argued that tying the hands of future lawmakers would establish minority-rule legislation.

“It sets in place, permanently, a situation in which people —- who take the position in opposition to taxes —- have a vote that is approximately one-and-a-half-times as powerful as people who want to provide the services and want the money to do the things they think the state should be doing,” said David Cullen, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club.

Rich Templin, a lobbyist for the Florida AFL-CIO, said Stargel’s proposal is more reasonable than the House proposal. But while he’s still opposed, he could see it getting approved if it reaches the November ballot. Proposed constitutional amendments require support from 60 percent of voters to be approved.

“This is really a bumper-sticker political issue. It doesn’t convey the complexities of the revenue problems that we’re dealing with in the state of Florida,” Templin said. “As such, it is really easy to oversimplify. It may be really easy to pass. But at the end of the day, it’s not sound, conservative, fiscal economic policy.”

The tax measure is expected to be a campaign topic for Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who are widely expected to run for other offices later this year: Scott for U.S. Senate; Corcoran for governor.

“When I first announced this proposal, Speaker Corcoran joined me to ensure we do all we can to let families and job creators keep more of their hard-earned money,” Scott said in a statement after the House approved its proposal.

Corcoran said after the House vote that he was “encouraged” the Senate was taking up a proposal that would “secure and protect” tax cuts lawmakers have made the past seven years.

“We should always make it much more difficult to raise taxes than it is to cut them,” Corcoran said in a prepared statement Thursday.

Stargel’s proposal needs to get approval from the Appropriations Committee before it could go to the Senate floor.

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