By: Capitol News Service
May 24, 2019
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) – In the 2019 session, the governor and Florida lawmakers passed on a chance to collect more than $500 million. The funds are already owed to the state from sales taxes not paid from online purchases.
It is a number that will grow each year, but policymakers were concerned about the optics of collecting a tax people were ignoring.
Store fronts across Florida are closing, which retail experts blame on online sales taking their toll. Floridians are already required to pay sales tax when making online purchases, but it's voluntary and few pay.
“This is something that is vitally important to our members, basically for the survival of retail in Florida,” said James Miller with the Florida Retail Federation.
Miller said not collecting the tax is unfair to retailers and shoppers.
“These companies are using our roads. They’re using our infrastructure to ship their products inside of Florida, but they're not paying for any of the infrastructure, any of the schools, anything that goes into making our state great,” said Miller. "They’re taking advantage of all those things that our in-state retailers are paying for."
The fear from the Governor’s Office was that if it looked like a new tax, even though it isn’t, it would be perceived as one.
Sponsor Senator Joe Gruters said fellow lawmakers are worried about the potential mailers that could show up in mailboxes next election.
"In a lot of peoples eyes, I think, they thought it was a tax increase, and I just couldn’t convince people that it wasn’t a tax increase. In fact, it was a tax already owed,” said Gruters.
Initially, there were efforts to offset the increased revenue by giving bigger tax cuts, but the idea fizzled.
“Next year, I’ll file the bill again. I’ll double my efforts to try and convince people that all of this is a convenience for consumers because this is something that's already owed,” said Gruters. "People are breaking the law."
The $500 million not collected could have gone to help hurricane victims, schools, or a host of other unmet needs.
41 other states have already acted to collect online taxes. Some did it before and others did it after the US Supreme Court said collecting the tax was not an undue burden on retailers.