A tax package that provides relief for farmers and property owners impacted by Hurricane Irma, while offering sales-tax breaks at the start of the school year and hurricane season, was approved by the House and Senate in a rare Sunday conclusion to the legislative session.
Gov. Rick Scott’s office didn’t indicate Sunday if he would sign the package, which totals about $170 million, saying he will read the bill when it arrives on his desk.
Less robust than what lawmakers had initially proposed, the package (HB 7087) contains a number of proposals offered by Scott before the session started in January. Lawmakers said they had to reallocate money in response to the mass shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County.
Senate Finance and Tax Appropriations Chairwoman Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, touted efforts to provide “targeted tax relief that promotes ongoing recovery from the recent hurricanes that devastated our agriculture community.”
The package offers tax breaks on agricultural fencing materials purchased for repairs after Hurricane Irma. Also, it includes tax breaks for citrus packing houses that had their businesses interrupted by Hurricane Irma or by the deadly disease citrus greening and for fuel used to transport agricultural products after the storm.
The proposal also includes a property-tax break for homeowners displaced by Irma and a break for nursing homes that purchase electric generators.
The House agreed to a Senate proposal to reduce a commercial lease tax from 5.8 percent to 5.7 percent. The House had earlier proposed dropping the tax rate to 5.5 percent.
The House voted 93-12 --- with all of the opposition coming from Democrats --- to approve the package. That came after the Senate voted 33-3 for the bill, with opposition from Minority Leader Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, and Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami.
Rodriguez said much of the package is crafted to allow Republicans to campaign on reducing taxes, while the Legislature failed to address issues that have more impact on Floridians, such as climate change and the influx of citizens from Puerto Rico due to Hurricane Maria.
As they have in past years, lawmakers approved tax “holidays” that will allow Floridians to prepare for the school year and hurricane season without paying sales taxes.
The back-to-school tax “holiday,” lifting sales taxes on clothes costing $60 or less and school supplies costing $15 or less, will occur over three days in early August.
Starting June 1, there will be a seven-day tax “holiday” on hurricane-related gear, such as tarpaulins, batteries, weather-band radios and portable generators.
The package also includes a 9 percent reduction on civil penalties for non-criminal traffic infractions --- such as speeding within 30 mph over the posted limit --- if motorists attend driver-improvement school.
Scott had sought an 18 percent reduction, while asking for a 10-day back-to-school “holiday” and three week-long disaster preparedness tax “holidays.”