Tax Cut Package Faces Pushback, Moves Forward

Feb 22, 2018

Credit Erich Martin

A tax cut package moving through the House is facing pushback from animal rights activists, educators and working people. But the proposal does include more tax free holidays and a break for nursing homes adding generators.

One of the most controversial pieces in the measure is a provision that would preempt local ordinances banning the sale of any item that is subject to sales tax. Bill sponsor, Rep. Paul Renner (R-Palm Coast), says in recent years local governments have established a wide range of bans.

“By way of example, here in Florida ordinances proposed or passed would ban the sale of plastic bags, Styrofoam, leaf blowers, fertilizer, which has been addressed in separate legislation. Across the county prohibiting the sale of tobacco, baby bumpers,” Renner says.

But opponents of the bill say those bans were put in place for a reason. For example, animal rights activists say preempting local ordinances will pave the way for more puppies from puppy mills in Florida. Jennifer Hobgood works for the ASPCA.  

“It would revoke the authority of local governments to address the harm caused by the sale of cruelly bred puppies from puppy mills. Most puppies sold at pet stores do some from puppy mills. These are commercial pet breeding operations—many of them in the Midwest—that prioritize profit over the wellbeing of the animals in their care. Dogs in these situations often are kept in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions without adequate food, water or socialization,” Hobgood says.

Meanwhile, a representative from Broward County gives the example of bath salts. While they’re considered illegal now, he says before a state law prohibiting the dangerous drug passed, his local government created an ordinance banning the sale. But he says if Renner’s bill passes, local governments won’t be able to take those same steps to protect residents from the next dangerous substance. On the other hand Melissa Ramba from the Florida Retail Federation says the positive side of Renner’s bill is getting overlooked.

“We’ve had retailers put out of business by local ordinances. I understand the puppy mill thing, I didn’t want to address it, but address the bigger problem not the sale of cats and dogs. A retailer should be able to sell any legal product in Florida. They should be open for business. They support your local baseball teams, but the ordinances that local governments pass only support online sales. They don’t support your local business,” Ramba says.

Another provision in the House tax package that faced criticism in the House Appropriations committee Thursday would expand the state’s tax credit scholarship. Renner says there are lots of kids interested in taking advantage, so the state is working to ensure there’s enough money.

“In essence what we do is not change the eligibility or the cap of who can participate, but simply there’s a problem with funding and so we open up sales tax, up to 154-million for participation in that program.”

But Kathy Bame with the Florida Education Association feels the move is disingenuous.

SOT--Bame                                       TRT:                                        OQ:...

“If you want to fund private school tuition, then why not be honest about it and just directly fund it? If there’s a constitutional issue then work on a provision and change the constitution. If you’re successful in convincing the public that our tax dollars should support private K-12 public schools, then you have that right. But it’s just dishonest to direct the department of revenue to ignore sales tax revenue that you as the legislature should direct,” Bame says.

Meanwhile, Rich Templin with the AFLCIO calls the entire package poor fiscal policy. He says the state has over the past several years been cutting too much revenue and has been reducing services as a result.

“I know saying this to elected officials is a difficult thing because what elected official doesn’t want to say they support a tax cut. But it’s not sound fiscal policy when you consider that 48 percent of the working families in this states are the working poor—they don’t have the means to make ends meet, according to the United Way Alice Report,” Templin says.

And many of Templin’s concerns are echoed by Rep. David Richardson (D-Miami Beach.) He says there are better ways for the state to spend its money.

“I’m reminded because I sit on healthcare appropriations, I’ve been there for six years, that there is still a waiting list of people with disabilities waiting to get services from the state of Florida,” Richardson says.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Coral Springs) says he’s unwilling to consider any appropriations until lawmakers look at legislation as early as next week that would address increasing safety in schools. He says he wants to be sure there’s plenty of money for that before giving any away in tax breaks. Despite the concerns, the measure passed the appropriations committee Thursday.