House Discusses Alternative $1B Tax Cut Plan

Jan 27, 2016

Finance and Tax Chairman Matt Gaetz
Credit Florida Channel

House lawmakers seem to be whistling past the graveyard—preparing to push forward a billion dollars in tax cuts similar to those championed by Governor Rick Scott.  But recent projections from state economists mean those efforts could face major head winds.

“I have two priorities this year,” Governor Rick Scott said before a Senate panel earlier this month.  “My big priorities are going to be $1 billion in tax cuts, and then having a dedicated trust fund for Enterprise Florida—$250 million, but today we’re talking about our billion dollar tax cut.”

It’s a relatively rare move for him to make his pitch in person, but it’s become more common as he’s thrown his shoulder behind that billion dollar tax cut package.  Wednesday in the House, Finance and Tax Committee Chair Matt Gaetz unveiled his proposal.

All told his package comes to just over $989 million, but hey—what’s $11 million between friends?

Gaetz’s plan is still in draft form so the hearing Wednesday was simply a workshop aimed at developing ideas and taking comments to incorporate into the final product.  And he’s going after the big issues.

“Last year we proposed taxing pear cider the same way we tax other malt beverages,” Gaetz explains.  “Due to just I think, an oversight in the law, pear cider though it’s a malt beverage is actually taxed as a wine, not as a malt beverage.”

But when it comes to the real big ticket items Gaetz has his eye on some of the same issues as the governor.

“I just wanted to thank you so much for your emphasis on cutting the business rent tax,” Rep. Jennifer Sullivan (R-Mount Dora) says.  “It’s something that we’ve talked a great deal about in the past two years and I’m very excited to see a plan for that for this year and next year going forward as well.”

Gaetz calls it the crown jewel of his tax package.  But not all of the Governor’s trophies made it into Gaetz’s plan.  The biggest casualty is Scott’s elimination of corporate taxes for manufacturers and retailers.  The total price tag is almost $800 million, but it would be about $385 million in the coming fiscal year.

That cut is absent in Gaetz’s version.  But the House plan does include a number of credits for investments in renewable energy and cleaning up contaminated sites.  Here’s how Gaetz explains his approach.

“Instead of accepting all of the recommendations that Governor Scott laid out,” Gaetz explains, “which I wish we could have—that would have created more recurring reductions in state revenue, we have instead focused a majority of this tax cut on tax cuts that will exist for some finite period of time.”

But the billion dollar price tag still has some representatives uncomfortable. 

“I also do have a concern about the billion dollars,” Rep. Lori Berman (D-Boynton Beach) says.  “We just had the report that we’re going to have $400,000 less in income, so I do think it’s quite a lot of money and think we have to balance this against making sure that we’re funding our education, our healthcare our safety and so I am a little bit concerned about the number that we’re dealing with.”

Berman’s figures actually make the situation look better than it is.  State economists project a $400 million rather than $400,000 shortfall.

But keep in mind it’s an election year, and lawmakers want something to show their constituents.

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