A House committee, voting mostly along party lines, advanced a less robust tax-cut package Tuesday that drastically trims Gov. Rick Scott's call to reduce taxes on pay-TV and cellphone bills.
Claiming a need to raise money for health care, the Republican-dominated House Finance and Tax Committee, in a 12-5 vote, approved a $273.2 million tax-cut package (HB 33A) for the coming fiscal year that maintains many features of a $690 million plan (HB 7141) that the House proposed during this spring's regular legislative session.
The wide-ranging package, which is expected to appear before the full House on Thursday, would reduce the savings on the communication-services tax to about $10 a year for Floridians who pay $100 a month for cable-TV and cellphone services. The savings, which would grow during the following year, had been proposed during the regular session at $40 a year.
"When you start adding up that 83 cents (a month), or that $1.66 in year two, in each and every home, and each and every kitchen table, I think that can have a very cumulative and positive effect on the economy," said committee Chairman Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach.
The 0.9 percentage-point reduction in the communication-services tax during the fiscal year starting July 1 would account for $78.4 million of the tax-cut package. The tax would receive an additional 0.9 percentage-point reduction during the fiscal year starting in July 2016. The communication-services tax cut had initially been proposed at 3.6 percentage points.
The Finance and Tax Committee took up the package on the second day of a special legislative session needed to pass a state budget. The committee's Republicans, along with Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, voted for the bill. The panel's other Democrats opposed it.
Scott, speaking to reporters at Disney's Yacht Club Resort Convention Center, called it "positive" that a tax-cut package had been advanced.
"We have a $1.8 billion surplus. We need to make sure we spend that money wisely," Scott said. "But I'm very appreciative that the (House) speaker has worked on cutting taxes."
The Senate has proposed four bills that include features of the House tax-cut package, including a cut in the communications-services tax (SB 4-A).
The initial Senate proposal would maintain the larger communications-services tax savings sought by Scott. But the author of the bill, Senate Finance and Tax Chairwoman Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, said Monday the lowered numbers appear to be "more realistic" in the current budget situation.
In voting against the House measure, Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, said the proposal he had supported in the regular session is now "a tax shift."
Rodriguez said revenue should be used to "draw down more federal funds" to offset an anticipated increase in property taxes that will otherwise be needed to cover growing health-care costs in Florida.
The committee rejected, along party lines, an amendment by Rodriguez seeking to increase revenue by closing a state loophole that allows national and international businesses to avoid paying corporate income taxes on sales made in Florida.
Rep. Hazel Rogers, D-Lauderdale Lakes, added that while there are many positives in the package, money is needed for communities facing double-digit unemployment and for people who need "quality, affordable" health care.
But Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, said the package provides benefits to a broad array of Floridians, from college students, widows and people with disabilities to farmers and military personnel.
"It's my understanding, when you're paying a tax and then you're no longer paying as much for that tax, that means the tax has been cut," Sullivan said.
Remaining in the House tax plan from the initial package are sales-tax holidays for back-to-school shopping in mid-August and for small businesses the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
The package would revise Scott's call to permanently eliminate the sales tax on college textbooks. It would lift the tax for single days at the start of the upcoming fall, spring and summer semesters.
The measure also would eliminate taxes on admissions and membership fees for gun clubs, certain farm and irrigation equipment, food and beverages sold in support of school extracurricular activities, recycling machinery, and motor vehicles purchased overseas by internationally deployed service members from Florida.
The package would provide refunds or credits to flight schools run by Florida-based colleges and aeronautical schools from the state's 6.9 percent excise tax on fuel.
The House plan also would eliminate Florida's estate tax, increase property-tax exemptions for residents who are widows, widowers, blind, or totally and permanently disabled, and provide more tax credits for businesses involved in Brownfields cleanup and for research and development.
Also cider made from pears would be reclassified from wine to a malt beverage, which would reduce a tax on pear-cider production from $2.25 a gallon to 89 cents a gallon. Cider fermented by apples is already taxed at the lower rate.
Gone from the regular-session tax package are the proposed elimination of sales taxes on book fairs and a proposed July 4 sales-tax holiday on weapons, ammo, fishing gear and camping tents.
News Service of Florida senior writer Dara Kam contributed to this report.