House approves gov's business tax cuts

Feb 15, 2012

Lawmakers in the Florida House are looking into legislation that would give tax breaks to businesses in the state. Regan McCarthy reports legislators are considering a measure that combines several of Governor Rick Scott’s business tax initiatives like doubling the corporate income tax exemption. It’s a move that would let thousands of businesses skip the tax and that Scott says will grow jobs.

Representative Steve Precourt says most lawmakers agree one of their main goals in Tallahassee should be to garner job growth. And Precourt, a Republican from Orlando says his proposal would do exactly that.

“It contains significant tax relief for Floridians, exquisite economic development incentives that will help our current economy and bureaucratic streamlining that will help the whole thing work that much better – these are things that Floridians need now.”

The measure would allow a number of tax cuts for businesses by increasing the corporate income tax exemption form 25-thousand dollars to 50-thousand dollars, repealing the sales tax on certain products used to make airplane and gas turbines, and exempting packing houses from sales tax on electricity usage. But Representative Richard Steinberg, a Democrat from Miami Beach disagrees with Representative Percourt about the bill’s purpose.

“If this bill was about creating jobs, then there was an amendment yesterday that would have been very friendly. It was an amendment that said, in order to qualify for that tax break, you had to increase the number of Floridians that you employed. If we’re really here to create jobs, that would have been a very friendly amendment. But, instead it was blocked by a procedural move, by placing an amendment that had already been adopted on top of that amendment.”

Steinberg filed one of several amendments to the bill yesterday, most of which would have put more qualifications in place in order for a business to receive the tax benefits. But Representative Carlos Lopez Cantera, a Republican from Miami says he doesn’t think those amendments were genuine.

“This bill was heard in committee. This bill had third second reading, third reading, it went through the entire process. And a lot of these ideas, I don’t believe came to people at the moment that it came to the floor. There was ample opportunity to address these issues and amend this bill.”

The amendments were made mostly by Democrats and were generally not accepted, by the Republican majority, however, Republicans did respond with their own amendment – a requirement that companies must not employ union members in order to qualify for the tax exemptions. The amendment, put forward by Lopez Cantera, was used several times to replace amendments proposed by Democrats, and is now a reason some, like Representative Joseph Abruzzo, a Democrat from Wellington, say they can’t get behind the bill as a whole.

“I believe that this is a good bill. I believe that this bill puts us in a position in our country where other states are raising their corporate taxes and businesses are fleeing, this puts Florida in a position to pick up large corporations and the jobs that goes with it and keep those in Florida here. Unfortunately with the amendment tacked on that goes against labor and our working people in Florida I cannot support it right now.”

Some go so far as to say the amendment is unconstitutional. Others, like Representative Jeff Clemons, a Democrat from Lakeworth, are raising different concerns. Clemons says the measure isn’t focused enough on small businesses.

“The truth of the matter is that this bill doesn’t benefit small businesses because most small businesses are sub chapter S or LLCs. This benefits large corporations or the subsidiaries of large corporations and I just don’t think this is the time to be giving tax breaks to large corporations that don’t really need them while we’re instead cutting healthcare for seniors and for kids.”

The proposal, which would result in more than $120 million  in business tax breaks, passed through the House with a 92- to -22 vote.