Below you will find information on the bills and issues that Florida TaxWatch is following in the 2015 Session. Most of the committees this week were informational, providing agency and program overviews for new members, as well as updates and research. Only a handful of bills were considered.
For more information on any of these issues, please feel free to contact our Research staff by emailing Stephani Meyers, Research Assistant.
Appropriations sub-committees heard from agencies, going over their legislative budget requests and providing basic information on mission and operations for the newer members. Several department heads addressed the committees, including Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who told the Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government that the Legislature should “think big and act boldly” in the area of water, focusing on spring and lake restoration and finishing implementation of the Central Florida Water Initiative, a collaboration between three water management issues to address water resource issues.
The full Appropriations Committee in the Senate received a briefing on the state’s Long-Term Financial Outlook. Florida TaxWatch attended every appropriations meeting and will continue to do so throughout the session.
The week started with Governor Scott announcing that his recommended budget (to be released next week) will include a proposed cut to the state Communications Services Tax of 3.6 percentage points. It is estimated the cut will save taxpayers $470 million annually. Florida TaxWatch research has highlighted the need for a reduction in this tax. A bill to reduce the CST rate by 2 percentage points (SB 110) has been filed. Tax reduction will be one of the focuses this session. The Governor and legislative leaders have also suggested another increase in the corporate income tax exemption, a reduction in the sales tax on commercial leases, making the manufacturing machinery & equipment sales tax exemption permanent, and sales tax holidays as other possibilities.
One tax bill did receive a hearing this week, as the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee voted favorably on SB 138, which proposes increasing an existing exemption on the first $50,000 of corporate income taxes to $75,000. It is estimated this will save $21.6 million annually.
Last week, the House Finance and Tax Committee decided it would take a proactive approach and reviewed a wide-ranging list of potential issues for its consideration. This week, the committee made it clear it would look beyond traditional tax issues by discussing best practices for capital recovery for local governments, to help ensure they are collecting as much of the revenue that is due as possible. They also discussed best practices for hospital districts to maximize revenues and keep costs down. The Auditor General also made a presentation on financial accounting reform.
Senate Finance and Tax had a brief meeting this week, with staff making a presentation on the corporate income tax “piggy-back” bill, done annually to conform the state’s tax code to the federal code. This year, the committee will have to decide to either accept federal changes on expensing and acceleration depreciation, or “de-couple” these issues. Conforming Florida’s law would cost in excess of $100 million.
The Senate Government Oversight and Accountability committee met this week to take up SB 172, a proposal to change the distribution of insurance premium tax revenues that provide some funding for Florida’s municipal police and fire pension plans. The new bill is identical to a measure unanimously passed by the Senate in 2014 (SB246) that ultimately failed in the House when it was attached to a reform of the Florida Retirement System. Florida TaxWatch was asked for input on an alternative proposal by Representative Janet Adkins. On behalf of the Taxpayers for Sustainable Pensions coalition, Florida TaxWatch presented the letter to the Senate committee, which contained principles for quality reform that the current bill does not contain. The bill passed out of committee unanimously.
The Senate Education Pre-K-12 Committee unanimously approved a proposed committee bill SPB 7006 that would increase compliance with child care standards and increase training qualifications for early childhood education providers. This large bill is similar to one that died at the end of last session. The bill would require child care personnel to be at least 18 years old and have high school diplomas, unless they are not responsible for supervising children. Currently, the state's licensing standards don't require a high-school diploma or GED, while permitting instructors to be as young as 16.
The House Economic Development and Tourism Subcommittee heard presentations on Space Florida, VISIT Florida and CareerSource Florida. The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee heard presentations on the Economic Development Program Evaluations performed by the Office of Program Policy Analyses and Government Accountability and the Office of Economic and Demographic Research on VISIT FLORIDA, the Florida Sports Foundation, and the entertainment industry financial incentive program. Chair Nancy Detert said the committee will being taking a “hard look” at the state’s economic development incentives to be sure they are making a positive return on investment.
Florida TaxWatch made a presentation this week to the Enterprise Florida Board of Directors Legislative Policy Committee. The meeting was chaired by Florid TaxWatch member Fred Leonhardt of GrayRobinson. Dominic Calabro and Robert Weissert spoke to the committee about TaxWatch research in the economic development arena including GrowFL, tourism, enterprise zones, seaports, telehealth, reducing the Communications Services Tax and making the sales tax exemption for manufacturing machinery and equipment permanent.