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House tax package gets bipartisan backing

By Jim Turner

News Service of Florida

April 27, 2023

TALLAHASSEE --- The Florida House on Thursday unanimously approved a wide-ranging $1.38 billion tax package that would include savings for shoppers and businesses, as leaders work out differences with the Senate.

The House bill (HB 7063) would offer shoppers a series of expanded sales-tax “holidays” on back-to-school items, hurricane-preparedness supplies, summer activities and tool purchases. As an example, the state would offer two back-to-school holidays, after offering one in the past.

“This year we hit a home run,” Rep. Dianne Hart, D-Tampa, said. “You know, for five years I've wanted schools to have a better sales (tax) holiday. I could not be more pleased with having two back-to-school holidays. I'm excited about it. I know that this will mean a lot to many parents.”

Most of the tax-holiday plans match what is included in a Senate version of the tax package (SB 7062). Both versions also would provide tax exemptions on items such as diapers, adult incontinence products, gas stoves, Energy Star appliances and oral-hygiene products.

“What we're doing in this tax package, especially as it relates to --- and I can speak for young families that have young kids --- you have a newborn, you're someone in need,” Rep. James Buchanan, R-Osprey, said. “And so, we're helping the broadest portion of the population that is in need.”

Rep. Berny Jacques, R-Seminole, said he heard from voters last year that providing a tax break on dental products would help working families whose visits to dentists “can be few and far between.”

The Senate package would provide about $1 billion in tax savings. Among the biggest differences is that the House wants to temporarily reduce a commercial-lease tax from 5.5 percent to 4.5 percent.

“Obviously, if we can bring the business rent-tax in for a landing, you know I think it's about $310 (million), $312 million, that's going to be a direct impact right back into the economy of the state of Florida,” House Ways & Means Chairman Stan McClain, R-Ocala, said.

In 2021, the Legislature directed the commercial-lease tax to be cut to 2 percent when revenue from sales-tax collections on out-of-state retailers replenishes the state’s Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund, which became depleted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A staff analysis of the House bill projected the trust fund would be made whole in May 2024. That would lead to reducing the commercial-lease tax to 2 percent starting Aug. 1, 2024. The House bill would temporarily set the rate at 4.5 percent before it would drop to 2 percent.

“In the future, I’d really love to see us trying to get that 2 percent down to zero,” Rep. Chip LaMarca, R-Lighthouse Point, said.

The Senate proposal includes such things as $35 million to offset property-tax refunds that counties are providing to homeowners whose properties were uninhabitable for at least 30 days after Hurricane Ian or Hurricane Nicole. Also, it would provide tax savings of $4.1 million on the purchase of firearm-storage devices and $27.5 million on equine products and $32.9 million in credits on brownfield site cleanups.

The House and Senate bills include two 14-day back-to-school tax holidays that would allow shoppers to buy such things as clothes, school supplies and computers without paying sales taxes. Those holidays would be held before the fall and spring terms.

Also, the state would hold a 14-day tax holiday in May and June to allow people to buy disaster-preparedness supplies without paying sales taxes. That period also would include exemptions on certain household items and supplies for pets.

In addition, the state would hold a “Freedom Summer” tax holiday from Memorial Day through Labor Day that would provide a sales-tax exemption on certain recreational gear and outdoor activities and a seven-day “Tool Time” tax holiday in September for tools and equipment.

House and Senate leaders could reach an agreement on a tax package as they finish negotiating a budget for the upcoming 2023-2024 fiscal year.

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