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Florida House’s Tax Package Includes Savings For School Shopping, Cell Phones

Floridians would get sales-tax breaks before hurricane season and the new school year, while taxes on commercial leases and cell phones and other communications services would be trimmed, under a tax package rolled out Tuesday in the House.

The $100.3 million proposal is a starting point as the House and Senate prepare to negotiate a budget during the next month. It also calls for increasing a refund on aviation-fuel taxes, eliminating an unused pool of money for professional sports stadiums and expanding a tax-distribution requirement about charter schools.

House Ways & Means Chairman Bryan Avila, R-Miami Springs, said the goal was to address as many areas as possible with the money available.

“We’re trying to cover as much ground as possible,” Avila said after the proposal was introduced. “This is just the first step in the process. The tax package evolves as it moves through the committee process. … Certainly, there is room for there to be changes to be made.”

A number of the tax proposals are moving as individual bills in the Senate, such as an aviation-fuel tax bill (SB 1192), a reduction in the communications services tax (SB 1174) and a 10-day back-to-school tax “holiday” (SB 542).

House Ways & Means Committee members expressed a desire for a deeper cut to the commercial-lease tax and the communications services tax, which is collected on cell phones, cable TV and home satellite services.

Rep. Al Jacquet, D-Riviera Beach, supported the tax package being as broad as possible.

“The airline fuel tax, that is a tax that perhaps doesn’t directly affect every Floridian, but we understand the importance of that, of incentivizing more tourism, more flights in and out and more travel,” Jacquet said.

The largest part of the package is a proposed three-day back-to-school tax holiday in August, which would allow shoppers to avoid paying sales taxes on clothes that cost $60 or less, school supplies that cost $15 or less and the first $1,000 of the cost of personal computers. The proposal is projected to save shoppers $41.8 million.

A disaster-relief tax “holiday” at the end of May would allow people to avoid sales taxes when buying items ranging from battery packages to portable generators, totaling a projected $5.6 million tax reduction.

The second largest projected amount of savings, $24.9 million, would come through a 0.5 percentage-point reduction in the communications services tax.

A proposal to cut the commercial-lease tax by 0.1 percentage point, to 5.4 percent would generate a $15.8 million savings next fiscal year. The commercial-lease tax has been a longtime target of business leaders.

Another $3.6 million reduction to state and local revenue would come through the aviation fuel refund. The proposal would expand a refund now available on the 4.27-cent-per-gallon excise tax on aviation fuel. The refund in the package would go from 1.42 cents per gallon to 2.38 cents per gallon.

Parts of the package would affect local governments.

Controversy about the charter school issue nearly scuttled a $121 million tax package approved in 2019. The issue involves distributing money from local half-cent sales taxes to charter schools. The debate during the 2019 session, in part, involved whether distribution should be applied to existing half-cent sales taxes. The House and Senate compromised by making the requirement apply to future referendums involving teacher pay and school security.

Avila said the new proposal would cover referendums that deal with any capital outlay project.

Among other things, the package also would eliminate a stadium-funding program that has been a target of the House since it was approved in 2014. Avila also has been moving a separate bill this year on the topic (HB 6057).

The program, which makes available $13 million a year in tax dollars for work involving professional stadiums and events administered by the Breeders’ Cup Limited and NASCAR. Amid House opposition over the years, the money has never been touched and stadium owners stopped applying a couple of years ago.

The program was set up to prevent a repeat of the type of lobbying that occurred in 2013 when the Miami Dolphins unsuccessfully sought $350 million for stadium upgrades.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has asked for a tax package that includes $65 million in savings for shoppers through an eight-day back-to-school tax holiday on clothing, school supplies and personal computers and a 10-day tax holiday to help prepare for the hurricane season.