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Ring Proposes Tax Credits for Homeless Workers

By: Kathleen Haughney, The News Service of Florida
By: Kathleen Haughney, The News Service of Florida

Tallahassee, FL - A Florida lawmaker is proposing that businesses should get a tax credit in exchange for employing homeless people.

State Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, filed legislation Wednesday that would give corporations employing a homeless person a tax credit of $1,000 against any corporate income tax due to the state for taxable years beginning Jan. 1, 2012.

The idea came from a homeless man living at a shelter that Ring sometimes volunteers at on Sundays. It is the third time the bill has been filed, but it has received little attention thus far, Ring said. But with newer faces in the Legislature, he said, it was worth a shot.

“All the faces are new, so we filed it,” Ring said. “We could have just held it up on the sidelines.”

With the overall high unemployment rate and the foreclosure crisis, Florida homelessness has been on the rise. The Florida Department of Education has tracked the number of students who are homeless over the past several years and the number has risen from 6,201 students in the 2002-2003 school year to 49,104 in 2009-2010.

The Florida Legislature last year passed a measure making it a hate crime to attack a homeless person. However, lawmakers have not specifically looked at job creation measures for the homeless, instead focusing on job packages for the state at large.

Under Ring’s measure, the tax credit can be no larger than $2 million per calendar year and companies that fraudulently claim the credit are liable for payment of the credit, plus a 200 percent penalty and those responsible could get up to five years in prison.

How far Ring’s proposal will go in the Senate is unclear. The state is facing a $3.5 billion budget shortfall and the state’s economists have predicted the economic recovery will remain sluggish for at least another year with unemployment likely to remain in double digits until the second quarter of 2012. Lawmakers may not want to chance reducing state coffers even more.

However, legislative leaders are stridently anti tax, so a new tax cut might have better chances. Ring said he has not spoken to legislative leadership about the bill and is still shopping around for a House sponsor. In the past, Rep. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, has shepherded the bill in the House, but he is quitting the House to run for the state Senate seat left open by the resignation of Frederica Wilson, who was elected to Congress.

David Bishop, a spokesman for Senate President Mike Haridopolos, said the president has not yet seen the bill, but is maintaining a policy of not weighing in publicly on individual pieces of legislation.

“He’s going to let every bill go through the process, so if it goes through three committees, it can go up or down on the floor,” Bishop said.


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