House Finance and Taxation Committee Gets Marching Orders

By: Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida
By: Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, January 13, 2011 --

Property tax breaks, unemployment compensation, corporate incentives and a revenue cap proposal favored by the Senate president will be among a handful of high priority items to be addressed by the House Finance and Taxation Committee this session, its chairman said Thursday.

The committee chairman, Rep. Steve Precourt, R-Orlando, told members details of those issues will likely not be available until at least next month as Gov. Rick Scott and Senate President Mike Haridopolos fine tune their priorities in preparation of the 2011 Legislative session.

In addition, Precourt said the committee plans to delve deeply into the issue of special taxing districts, the proliferation of which has attracted the attention of House lawmakers because they often fall outside the jurisdiction of other branches of government. But for now, Precourt said all the committee can do is wait.

“All of our bills have not been filed yet,” Precourt said Thursday. “Right now, we’re at the wide end of the funnel. Right now we are still narrowing things down. “

The first major deadline comes Feb. 4, when Scott is expected to release his budget proposal to lawmakers. Expected to be included in the package are details on Scott’s campaign promise to lower property taxes and phase out the state’s corporate income tax, pledges that will cost the state billions in lost revenue.

Scott’s corporate income tax proposal will also have an impact on the state’s scholarship program that allows corporations to receive tax credits for providing educational scholarships. Last year, the program cost the state about $120 million in lost revenue.

Among items expected to come before the House committee:

-Unemployment compensation: The prolonged recession has caused the state to exhaust its reserves to pay jobless benefits. Florida now owes the federal government $1.8 billion which must be repaid. Meanwhile, small business owners especially have been smacked by higher unemployment tax payments that in some cases tripled Jan. 1.

Among proposals being floated would be to raise the 5.6 percent cap on unemployment compensation premiums or raising the rate for targeted industries such as construction, which puts less into the system then is taken out by the workers from that industry who draw unemployment. Lawmakers may also review existing state law that business groups say unfairly favors workers in unemployment disputes.

-Back to school sales tax holiday: A perennial issue, the sales tax holiday will likely again be up for debate. Last year, cash-strapped lawmakers limited the tax break to a three-day window.

Online hotel bookings: Legislation passed by the House last year protected online booking services like Expedia and Travelocity, which currently do not pay sales tax on their fees for rooms booked on line. A measure last year by Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, would insulate such companies from remitting the tax to state coffers. The measure, which was opposed by local governments, passed the House but died in messages.

- Revenue caps: A Haridopolos priority, the concept of capping state and local revenue growth is expected to be on the front burner over the next two years, Precourt said.

- The Florida Infrastructure Fund Partnership: A tax credit program floated last year that would raise $350 million in private funds for direct investment in infrastructure projects. The tax credits could be redeemed in 2023 or later under a measure introduced last year but not acted upon.

Historically routine issues may attract greater attention during the upcoming session. For example, the committee usually fields a bill every year to comply with changes in federal tax law. Known as piggybacking, the measures usually cause little stir.

This year, however, federal tax changes will reduce the revenue stream to the state by bolstering tax breaks for certain filers. State lawmakers may decide to decouple the state from the federal law to limit the impact on state revenues, though decoupling would likely reduce the tax benefits to consumers of the federal stimulus package.

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