School voucher tax credits comprise 46% of Florida House tax cut plan

  • Jim Turner
  • News Service of Florida
4:53 p.m Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018 Politics

Farmers, nursing homes and property owners impacted by Hurricane Irma could receive tax relief as part of a $332.7 million package that will be introduced Wednesday in the Florida House.

The package (PCB WMC 18-03), which will be rolled out in the House Ways & Means Committee, will be built on education-related tax credits, a reduction in a commercial-lease tax and sales tax “holidays’ on back-to-school items and hurricane supplies.

Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, said Tuesday the goal is to offer “across the board” savings, without hurting the budget.

“There are many people that are interested in tax cuts, tax credits, but we tried to look at what is the most effective way from a public policy standpoint to benefit Floridians,” Renner said.

A Senate tax-cut proposal is still in the works.

Senate Finance and Tax Appropriations Chairwoman Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, said the Senate has not set a “bottom-line number” for its package.

Stargel said the package might include a number of the House proposals, from hurricane relief for agriculture to the sales tax holidays. But she said the numbers might not exactly align.

“There are several things that they’ve included that I think that we can agree on, that we like that they’re doing,” Stargel said. “There’s a couple of things we’re not really sure. It’s ambiguous. We’re having to look into a little more detail as to how it’s supposed to work out.”

Stargel said she’d like to support a further reduction in the commercial-lease tax, while she needs more information about the educational tax credits.

With a hit to local government revenue accounting for $37.6 million of the House package, the overall proposal tops the $180 million in cuts approved this past year and a $180 million request by Gov. Rick Scott for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Scott’s proposal includes shopping tax “holidays” and a request to cut fees on driver’s licenses.

Similar to Scott, the House also is proposing an 18 percent reduction on civil penalties for non-criminal traffic infractions — such as speeding within 30 mph over the posted limit — if motorists attend driver-improvement school.

The House package also includes a $6.7 million cut by providing a sales-tax exemption for generator purchases by nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. Scott’s administration has pushed for nursing homes and assisted-living facilities to have generators after the deaths of residents of a Broward County nursing home that lost its air-conditioning system in Hurricane Irma.

The largest part of the House package, an estimated $154 million a year reduction in state revenue, would come through sales-tax credits that businesses could take to finance voucher-like scholarships in the Gardiner Scholarship Program and the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program.

“It’s something different that we’ve not ever seen,” Stargel said. “The proposal has not run through any of our discussions.”

Another $34.1 million next year in the House package would come from reducing the commercial lease tax from 5.8 percent to 5.5 percent starting Jan. 1. That reduction would affect half of the state’s 2018-2019 fiscal year, and the savings to businesses would grow to $81.1 million when implemented for a full fiscal year.

Long a target for elimination by business-lobbying groups, lawmakers dropped the lease tax from 6 percent to 5.8 percent a year ago.

The House would offer a 10-day back-to-school tax holiday in August that would allow families to avoid paying sales taxes on school supplies, clothes costing $60 or less and personal computers and accessories up to $1,000. The package also would offer three separate seven-day periods in May, June and July when Floridians could buy hurricane supplies without paying sales taxes. The holidays are collectively projected to total $74.5 million.

The package also would offer post-Irma tax refunds on agricultural building materials, which would be a projected $8.8 million savings for farmers; on agricultural fencing, $2.7 million; and fuel used to transport agricultural products, $3.7 million.

Another $13.1 million would be available to cover losses when citrus processing equipment went idle because of Irma or because of the industry’s decade-long battle against citrus greening disease.

The state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has estimated farmers and ranchers incurred $2.5 billion in losses from Hurricane Irma.

Most of the losses are expected to be covered through a federal spending plan signed by President Donald Trump that included $2.36 billion for agricultural impacts from Irma and hurricanes Harvey in Texas and Maria in Puerto Rico.

Among other proposals, the package also would provide a property-tax abatement for homeowners forced out of their residences for at least 30 days because of damages from hurricanes Hermine, Matthew and Irma in 2016 and 2017.