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2021 Annual Report

The story of Florida TaxWatch in 2021 was one of taxpayer victories and a hand in the recovery of one of the world’s (14th if Florida were a country) biggest economies.

Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic’s most intense period, it was necessary for the Governor and state Legislature to make decisions that would jump-start economic activity, reinforce the basic foundations of Florida’s tax base, and provide the tools that would allow businesses to open back up in a safe and responsible way.

Each step of the way, Florida TaxWatch was at the forefront of that effort. The TaxWatch COVID-19 Taxpayer Task Force recommendations became the blueprint for a legislative session that saw a number of long-term TaxWatch issues handled in one bill: E-Fairness, substantially reducing the Business Rent Tax and unemployment compensation fund restoration.

For more than two decades, Florida TaxWatch research has consistently called for the state to collect the legally-owed sales tax from out-of-state sellers online, a revenue deficit that would exceed $1 billion in just the first year alone. When the Legislature needed a sensible solution to refill the unemployment compensation trust fund, the door was kicked open to implementing this necessary reform. TaxWatch research had reassured policymakers that the change was necessary and responsible, showing that our tenacity was worthwhile.

Throughout 2020 and 2021, a near-constant question was on the minds of everyone involved in Florida’s political sphere: what will the state of the budget be for 2021? Fortunately for taxpayers, Florida TaxWatch was there to keep them informed. A near-monthly tradition for years, the Florida TaxWatch Budget Watch publication proved to be the guidance many needed to keep up with an ever-changing revenue landscape, as well as where federal dollars were likely to end up.

A significant amount of Florida TaxWatch research in 2021 focused on the everyday lives of Floridians through recommendations that might not seem, at first, to be in the TaxWatch portfolio. A briefing on Red Tide Mitigation focused not on agricultural runoff or freshwater regulations, but on the innovative and economically beneficial use of bivalves, like clams, to make an impact and reduce the number of red tide incidents across the state.

A look at the extraordinarily costly ($36.5 billion) data privacy bill that nearly passed the Legislature in 2021 led to a follow-up report detailing what policymakers should be aware of, and stay away from, in the next round of what is the future of the regulatory space for governments across the world.

As the supply chain crisis began to affect industries across the state, TaxWatch research called attention to the CONNEX platform, an online database designed to help manufacturers better connect with prospective suppliers and develop business opportunities.

And in what might not appear to be on the “typical” TaxWatch research agenda, a report on the importance of teaching Florida’s children to swim helped usher in the first statewide action on encouraging parents to have their children attend swimming classes before the start of kindergarten. The impact of this report brought Rowdy Gaines, legendary Olympic swimming broadcaster to the Florida TaxWatch Spring Meeting to thank the team for its work on this life and death issue, long championed by Dr. Bill Kent, Chairman of the International Swimming Hall of Fame (and respected Florida TaxWatch Board of Trustees member).

But in no way has the organization’s research agenda made a departure from its tried-and-true staples, like the Budget Turkey Watch Report. The Report was first published in 1983 and promotes additional oversight and integrity in the state’s budgeting process based on the principle that: Because money appropriated by the Legislature belongs to the taxpayers of Florida, the process must be transparent and accountable, and every appropriation should receive deliberation and public scrutiny. The only organization in the nation that releases such a report, the Budget Turkey Watch report takes Florida TaxWatch staff months to develop, has saved the taxpayers billions over nearly four decades, and has ruffled more than a few feathers.

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