Signature deadline nears for disaster, 'freedom' holidays
By Jim Turner
News Service of Florida
May 22, 2023
TALLAHASSEE --- Retailers are awaiting action by Gov. Ron DeSantis as two of the six sales tax “holiday” periods included in a nearly $1 billion proposed tax-relief package are scheduled to begin this weekend.
Key components of the tax package (HB 7063) include a 14-day period in which sales taxes would be lifted on hurricane supplies, common household items and pet supplies, along with a separate three-month effort encouraging people to be more physically active, dubbed “Freedom Summer.” The proposal accompanies the state budget (SB 2500), which also is pending action by DeSantis.
The two upcoming sales-tax holidays, strongly supported by the Florida Retail Federation, are vastly expanded from previous years’ tax breaks. According to state economists, the holidays are expected to account for nearly 40 percent of the $965.6 million in sales tax and time-limited tax credits in the tax package.
But Scott Shalley, president and CEO of the Tallahassee-based lobbying group, said it’s uncertain how shoppers will respond to the proposed tax breaks.
“We really don't have a feel yet because it's new. And because we are on a relatively short schedule here with regard to the approval of the governor,” Shalley told The News Service of Florida. “We're very appreciative of how robust the factors are. We just want to make sure that people are educated and that they get out and shop.”
Much of the initial focus will be on storm-preparation discounts, which would now go beyond batteries and portable radios to include common household supplies such as laundry, trash bags and even pet foods. The already-active 2023 Atlantic Hurricane season officially begins on June 1.
“Keep in mind, this is a holiday that is intended to be geared towards disaster preparedness, but certainly not restricted to that,” Shalley said. “So, it's a great time to shop for those items and get out and save a few dollars.”
If approved by DeSantis, the “disaster preparedness” holiday period would run from Saturday to June 9. It will be rerun just before the peak of the storm season, from Aug. 26 to Sept. 8.
The second upcoming holiday would lift sales taxes throughout the summer on a variety of items for outside activities, from exercising and camping to attending a ball game, concert or art museum.
The "freedom" holiday for the past two years was a week-long tax holiday that ran across the Independence Day weekend. This year’s plan would stretch from Monday to Labor Day, Sept. 4.
State economists have estimated that the disaster-prep periods would save shoppers $143.8 million, with “Freedom Summer” carrying a $229.9 million price tag for state and local revenue.
The tax package also would lift taxes on Energy Star appliances and gas ranges for all of fiscal year 2023-2024, which starts July 1. The proposal also includes sales-tax holidays on school items from July 24 to Aug. 6 and again from Jan. 1 to Jan. 14, and a tax break on skilled workers’ tools from Sept. 2 to Sept. 8.
As of Monday, the governor had not yet received the tax package or the record $117 billion state spending plan.
Here is a look at what lawmakers included in the disaster-preparedness holiday:
— Items $10 or less: cans or pouches of wet dog food or cat food.
— Items $15 or less: manual can openers, pet waste disposal bags, cat litter pans, collapsible or travel-sized food bowls or water bowls, and hamster or rabbit substrate.
— Items $20 or less: reusable ice, pet leashes, collars and muzzles, and pet pads.
— Items $25 or less: cat litter weighing 25 or fewer pounds.
— Items $30 or less: laundry detergent and supplies, such as fabric softener, dryer sheets and bleach; toilet paper; paper towels, paper napkins and tissues; hand soap, bar soap and body wash; sunscreen; dish soap and detergents; cleaning or disinfecting wipes and sprays; hand sanitizer; and trash bags.
— Items $40 or less: portable self-powered light sources and pet beds.
— Items $50 or less: batteries, not including automobile and boat batteries; gas or diesel fuel tanks; portable self-powered radios; two-way radios; and weather-band radio.
— Items $60 or less: portable power banks and nonelectric food storage coolers.
— Items $70 or less: Smoke detectors or smoke alarms, fire extinguishers and carbon monoxide detectors.
— Items $100 or less: bags of dry dog food or cat food weighing 50 pounds or less, over-the-counter pet medications, portable kennels or pet carriers, tarpaulins or other flexible waterproof sheeting, and ground anchor systems or tie-down kits.
— Items $3,000 or less: Portable generators.
Here’s a glance at proposed “Freedom Summer” discounts:
— Tickets for a live music event, live sporting event, fair, festival, ballet, play or movie in a theater scheduled to be held between May 29 and Dec. 31.
— Entry to a museum or state park, including any annual passes, and gym memberships.
— Items $5 or less: bait or fishing tackle.
— Items $15 or less: sunscreen, sunblock and insect repellant.
— Items $25 or less: snorkels, goggles, and swimming masks.
— Items $30 or less: camping lanterns and flashlights, tackle boxes or bags, and water bottles.
— Items $35 or less: recreational pool tubes, pool floats, inflatable chairs and pool toys.
— Items $50 or less: sleeping bags, portable hammocks, camping stoves, collapsible camping chairs, safety flares, hydration packs and bicycle helmets.
— Items $75 or less: fishing rods and reels; life jackets; coolers; paddles and oars.
— Items $100 or less: children's athletic equipment, for an individual 12 or younger; sunglasses; and residential pool and spa replacement parts.
— Items $150 or less: water skis; wakeboards; kneeboards; recreational inflatable water tubes or floats capable of being towed; and residential pool and spa chemicals, when purchased for individual use.
— Items $200 or less: tents and binoculars.
— Items $250 or less: outdoor gas and charcoal grills.
— Items $300 or less: paddleboards and surfboards.
— Items $500 or less: canoes, kayaks and bicycles.