2020 Annual Report
From the 40th Anniversary celebration to the pandemic, Florida TaxWatch was on the job for Florida's taxpayers
LIKE THE GREAT DEPRESSION, THE MOON LANDING, OR SEPTEMBER 11, NO ONE WILL EVER FORGET WHAT 2020 WAS LIKE. There was not a single American (or virtually any citizen of the world) unaffected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the stories of the past year will be told for generations. From the rapid advancements in telework, to spending more time with our families than we had ever thought possible, to learning the differences in types of protective masks, 2020 will go down as perhaps the strangest year in the past century.
The pandemic had a devastating effect on Florida’s economy and the health and wellbeing of its 21 million residents. The economic impacts of COVID-19 began to manifest themselves in early March. As businesses closed, tens of thousands of Floridians lost their jobs. Florida’s unemployment rate, which had remained steady at 2.8 percent prior to the pandemic had increased to 14.5 percent as of May 2020. More than 5 million reemployment assistance (unemployment insurance) claims were filed by the end of the year.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused problems for the people of Florida and their government at all levels. While the government’s response has and must continue to take many forms – from public safety mandates and health interventions, to safety net support services – and been costly to public coffers, the taxpayer burdens created by the pandemic needed to be an important component that received appropriate attention.
When businesses are without customers and people are without jobs, tax burdens become amplified. For many taxpayers, paying tax bills was difficult, if not impossible. With layoffs, sick leave, and remote working impacting companies, all services were affected.
Other questions sprang up as the virus took hold. What is massive unemployment going to do to Unemployment Compensation Taxes? What about the increased costs for businesses to protect their employees and customers? What can be done to help some of the economic sectors and workers most severely impacted? How can we help the economy and Floridians bounce back?
To proactively address these issues, in close partnership with our volunteer leadership and network of subject matter experts and business partners, Florida TaxWatch began researching ways to help Florida dig out from under the inevitable rubble of what was to come. To start, the Roadmap for a Responsible Recovery was released, detailing immediately actionable ideas in the event that a significant budget deficit occurred in FY2020-21.
TaxWatch then formed the COVID-19 Taxpayer Task Force to discuss opportunities and options to help Florida recover and ease the burdens created by the pandemic on Florida taxpayers.
Made up of public policy professionals, tax and budget experts, and leaders of both small and large businesses, the Task Force was established to identify those areas of state tax policy that could be addressed both immediately and in the long term to provide Florida’s businesses—and their employees and customers—appropriate relief and assistance.
The Task Force and Florida TaxWatch recognized that there are other policy challenges that must be addressed to help the state fully recover from the pandemic (e.g., eviction and housing needs, healthcare costs, unemployment, etc.), but the Task Force was brought together to identify specific tax and revenue policy issues. The report was released over the Summer and quickly gained traction throughout statewide media and the Capitol.
Florida TaxWatch then undertook an independent analysis to better understand the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on each sector that makes up Florida’s economy, and to offer industry-specific recommendations and options to help Florida recover and further ease the burdens created by the pandemic on Florida taxpayers.
The success of Florida’s economy may hang on the decisions made in the latter half of 2020 and the start of 2021, and it is our sincere hope that the Governor, Cabinet, Legislature, state agency leadership and local officials strongly consider the recommendations put forth by Florida TaxWatch research in 2020 as a starting place to determine the best course of action on tax policy for the state moving forward.