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Florida TaxWatch Announces Five Taxpayer Priorities for 2021 Legislative Session

Tallahassee, Fla. – Florida TaxWatch today announced five taxpayer priorities for the 2021 Legislative Session, which will begin on March 2 and adjourn on April 30. These priorities encompass several of the COVID-19 recovery strategies that the taxpayer research institute and government watchdog has taken the lead in developing over the last year, which are also outlined in multiple reports, such as July 2020’s Bringing Florida's Budget Back From COVID-19: A Roadmap for a Responsible Recovery and, most recently, Bringing The Sunshine State Back: the Impact of COVID-19 Across Florida’s Economy & Options for RecoveryThey include:

  • Ensuring the Integrity of the State Appropriations Process and Operations
  • Maximizing Existing Revenue Sources and Reducing Burdensome Taxes
  • Promoting Long-Term Economic Growth
  • Protecting Responsible Businesses and Healthcare Workers from COVID-19 Liability Claims
  • Strengthening Florida’s Telecommunication Infrastructure and Increasing Access to Telehealth

Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic M. Calabro said, “Florida TaxWatch has the unique responsibility of influencing sound fiduciary policy on behalf of taxpayers across the state, and we do not take that lightly – especially now. The past year was one of unprecedented stress and uncertainty, and many of our friends and neighbors are still working hard to get back on their feet. In championing these and several other key issues, we are hopeful that the current economic downturn will be reversed and that an efficient, transparent government will continue to be heavily involved in long-term recovery. We look forward to working closely with the Governor and our legislative leaders over the next 60 days and beyond to ensure this goal is achieved, proving that, with collaboration, accountability and an unwavering sense of resiliency, Floridians can overcome anything.” 

The weekly Florida TaxWatch Legislative Update is a trusted resource for the latest information on issues impacting Florida taxpayers throughout Session and can be accessed here.

The content below may also be directly attributed to Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic M. Calabro.

Ensuring the Integrity of the State Appropriations Process and Operations

Now more than ever, it is of the utmost importance that legislators are strategic about the state appropriations process and mindful of both the immediate and long-term impact these operations could potentially have on Florida.

At Florida TaxWatch, we commend Governor Ron DeSantis for his leadership in this area, which is exemplified by his “Florida Leads” budget recommendations. For instance, in accordance with one of our recurring suggestions, the Governor is proposing creating a more deliberate formal competitive selection process for the Economic Development Transportation Projects. This would ensure that the budget line-item would only be allocated to clearly planned and vetted projects, rather than those that provide little, if any, assurances they will return significant economic investments. It would also go a long way in supporting our internal goal to completely overhaul the state’s procurement system.

Additionally, Florida TaxWatch continues to be in favor of ending routine sweeps of Florida’s housing trust funds, including the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund, as noted in our 2019 briefing, The Legislature Must Stop Diverting Affordable Housing Funding.

Another proposed effort to adapt operations to this year’s drastic budget deficit is through the establishment of programs that would permit the conditional, supervised release of certain elderly inmates with terminal medical conditions, which the constitutionally mandated Government Efficiency Task Force’s 2016 Final Report estimated could result in annual savings of $75.5 million or more. Thank you to Sen. Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) for aligning with the findings in our report, Florida’s Aging Prisoner Problem, and championing this issue with SB 232.

More information about Florida TaxWatch’s oversight role can be found in the 2020 Budget Turkey Watch Report, our most recent annual review of the state budget. The 2021 Budget Turkey Report will be released shortly after this year’s Session, as it has been for nearly four decades.

Maximizing Existing Revenue Sources and Reducing Burdensome Taxes

Though it is not a new recommendation, Florida TaxWatch is urging lawmakers to enact e-fairness legislation this Session, as Florida is one of only two states in the nation that failed to do so following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling (South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc.) that states can apply reasonable requirements for remote vendors to collect sales and use taxes on sales to residents even if the vendor does not have a physical presence in the state. 

As explained in Florida TaxWatch’s reports Wayfair: Formulating a Florida Response and Session Spotlight: E-Fairness Legislation Moving in 2019, this is a matter of tax collection, not the implementation of a new tax. HB 15 by Rep. Chuck Clemons (R-Newberry) and SB 50 by Sen. Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota) would simply shift the burden of collecting and remitting the taxes on remote sales from hard-working consumers across Florida to where it belongs – out-of-state retailers. We are thankful to these legislative leaders for their persistence and dedication to solving this longstanding problem that costs our state and local governments over $1.3 billion a year and puts Florida retailers at a competitive disadvantage.

Florida TaxWatch also renews its recommendation for the Legislature to negotiate a new gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe. This would be a significant revenue generator, bringing in an estimated $350 and $750 million annually, depending on the terms of the executed agreement.

Finally, as highlighted in last year’s COVID-19 Taxpayer Task Force Final Report, we recommend helping struggling businesses by reducing burdensome taxes,drawing attention to the Business Rent Tax (BRT), which is not imposed in any other state, as well as the Communication Services Tax (CST) – Florida currently has the nation’s ninth highest cell phone tax rate.

Promoting Long-Term Economic Growth

As the trusted eyes and ears of Florida taxpayers, Florida TaxWatch has an innate focus on the state’s long-term economic growth. That’s why we support responsible programs that advance industries such as manufacturing and film.

For example, FloridaMakes, a statewide, industry-led, public-private partnership, is improving the productivity and technological performance of Florida manufacturers. We urge the Governor and our legislative leaders to prioritize continued investment in manufacturing and supply chain resiliency programs.

Moreover, Florida TaxWatch is thankful that Rep. Dana Trabulsy (R-Fort Pierce) and Sen. Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota) recognized the positive impact that film incentives could have on our state and filed HB 757 and SB 704, respectively. Florida TaxWatch supports a limited tax rebate program because, as noted in our report, Is the Sun Setting on Film in Florida?, as of 2018, the unwillingness to fund these tax rebates cost the state more than $1 billion in known lost film and television opportunities; more than 160,000 potential lost lodging/hotel room nights; and more than 87,000 cast and crew jobs for Floridians. 

We also strongly support full funding for VISIT FLORIDA and Enterprise Florida, as well as codifying VISIT FLORIDA in statute, as their unique functions are important to Florida’s success. For example, according to the Office of Economic and Demographic research, for every dollar the state invests in VISIT FLORIDA, $3.27 in state tax revenue is generated. Promoting tourism is important under normal circumstances, but now, with such a significant budget deficit, it is essential. Similarly, there is now an unprecedented need for the work that Enterprise Florida does in coordination with a statewide network of economic-development partners to expand and diversify the state’s economy through job creation.

Protecting Responsible Florida Businesses and Healthcare Workers from COVID-19 Liability Claims

Last month, Florida TaxWatch released The Best Defense Is A Good Offense: The Economic Impact of Protecting  Responsible Floridians from COVID-Related Civil Liability, a report that emphasized the need for legislation to protect responsible businesses and healthcare workers from COVID-19 liability claims.

Vigilant businesses owners who are doing the right thing – good actors – need to be able to open their doors and fulfill their important functions without the threat of litigation looming over them at all times. Otherwise, Florida’s economy could be reduced by as much as $27.6 billion and more than 356,000 jobs annually. Similarly, healthcare workers should not be in constant fear of impending malpractice lawsuits; instead, they should have the confidence required to provide high-quality care for their patients and ultimately save countless lives.

Still, it is critical that negligent business owners and healthcare workers—bad actors—are held accountable, and anyone who suffers from the virus as a direct result of careless decisions has the ability to recover from their injuries.

In short, as a state, we must ensure that good actors are protected and bad actors are punished. Florida TaxWatch is grateful to our legislative partners, Rep. Lawrence McClure (R-Plant City) and Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg), for understanding that and working diligently to ensure HB 7SB 72 and liability protections for healthcare providers are signed into law. 

Strengthening Florida’s Telecommunication Infrastructure and Increasing Access to Telehealth

There is no doubt that building a stronger telecommunication infrastructure in Florida will increase the state’s competitiveness, but it will also provide for internet access in rural and remote areas of the state. Florida TaxWatch’s recent research – which can be found in our report, Telehealth in Florida: Where We Are and What is Next – indicated that the “Digital Divide” still plagues over to 700,000 individuals in these small cities and towns, many of whom could benefit most from virtual care resources like telehealth. We thank Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez (R-Doral) for recognizing this need and working with the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) and healthcare providers statewide to increase access to telehealth services through SB 700 this Session. 

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