Tax Cuts, Beer Fight, Moving in Legislature

Jan 23, 2015

Lawmakers are rounding out the second week of committee meetings, their way of jump starting the session. The agenda will be dominated by Governor Rick Scott’s call for a sweeping telecommunications tax cut. It will also include business priorities, the environment and growlers – a fight between beer distributors and the craft brewing industry.

Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth
Credit Florida Senate

The session actually begins before March. Staff number crunchers set the table in December, projecting a billion-dollar surplus. Doling it out will color everything the Legislature does this year. In a Republican controlled House and Senate, that mostly means tax cuts.

Gov. Rick Scott wants a four hundred and seventy million dollar cut in cell phone and cable TV taxes. Average subscribers would save less than $4 a month, but Scott insists it will make a difference .

“As we put money back into families’ hands, guess what, they can pay the rent, they can buy a car, help keep the economy going, maybe even start a business.”

For those keeping score, that makes Scott’s forty-first tax cut proposal. One important score keeper is Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee, a Republican from Bradenton. He’s less than enthusiastic about Scott’s plan.

“Whether or not we can do that and still address the needs of the Senate and House remains to be seen.”    

Like Scott, the business lobby is counting on the fact that Republicans seldom meet a tax cut they doesn’t like. The National Federation of Independent Business wants a one hundred and four million dollar cut in the taxes businesses pay on commercial leases. The plan would phase it in over several years to reduce the annual hit.

“We know, we feel, that the state is in a strong recover. We’re looking for some public policy that would help sustain that.”

Tax cuts won’t be decided until the final days of the session. Some are already moving through committees over Democrats’ objections. This week, a Senate panel approved a 22 million dollar a year corporate tax cut.

Senator Jeff Clemens, a Democrat from Lake Worth, was the lone opponent in the committee.

“I’m more in favor of middle class cuts and individual tax cuts and that’s why I’m voting against the bill.”

Still fermenting is a collision between major beer distributors and the craft brewing industry. For years, distributors defended a ban on selling craft beer in oversized containers called “growlers.” This week they changed course. Now they’re fighting the licensing of craft brewers.

Senator Jack Latvala, a Republican from Clearwater, is on the side of the craft brewers. Here he is grilling  Eric Criss, president of the Beer Industry of Florida.

“So the 49 other states that allow a 64-ounce growler, I mean, has there been, and they’ve deregulated to the point of allowing a 64-ounce growler, has there  been any problems that any of  your colleagues that run the associations in those other states point to out of that? My guess is no sir, there’s not. And that’s why we’re willing to support the 64.”

Actually, the number of states is 48.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce is pushing an insurance plan for low-income workers it says would draw down billions in federal dollars. It is carefully cloaked to avoid the term “Medicaid expansion” to give Republicans cover. Conservatives vow not to accept a single dollar tied to Obama Care.

And Senate President Andy Gardiner, a Republican from Orlando, is keeping his promise to an old friend. A bill he’s fast tracked to crack down on greyhound racing injuries passed its first committee. It’s named after the wife of Gardiner’s predecessor, Senate President Don Gaetz.