The House Ways and Means Committee took up a long list of tax issues at its meeting Thursday morning, including the annual back to school and hurricane preparedness proposal sales tax holidays. They are part of the $102.4 million House tax  package that would provide tax relief for Floridians and for businesses.

The package includes a reduction in the state’s business rental tax from 5.7 to 5.35 percent saving businesses close to $48 million next year. The House plan also would include 3-day back-to-school tax holiday and a one-week tax holiday on hurricane-preparation items.

“I think that when you look at this tax package as it’s currently organized right now, you could certainly say we’re doing a lot more with a lot less,” said committee chairman Rep. Bryan Avila, R-Hialeah. “So, we’re really providing a big bang for our dollars in terms of tax relief for our residents.”

The proposed tax relief package would also require local school districts which have enacted a special local property tax to enhance public education to share that money with charter schools. It would affect about 15 school districts, including Miami-Dade, Broward and Pinellas, which encouraged local voters to adopt the specialty property tax.

The bill, which was just filed this week, would allow the state to withhold other sources of funding from districts that don’t comply.

Avila says the intent of the proposal is aimed at clarifying recent differing court opinions in Indian River and Palm Beach counties involving the specialty property tax and how counties that have enacted the tax are using the funds.

One of the biggest issues involving the tax and the use of the revenue can be found in Miami-Dade. Voters there enacted the tax increase in November. Most of the revenue in the first year of the tax — about $200 million — has already been designated for teacher salaries.

Critics of the measure see it as another attempt to transfer taxpayer dollars to charter schools. But Avila says the tax referendum is not a debate over funding for public schools and charter schools.

“I’m not trying to get into a debate as to public schools versus charter schools,” Avilla said. “I’m more so thinking there should be parity among teachers. One teacher is no different than the other. They put (in) the same amount of dedication and work.”

Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, tried to amend the bill to require charter schools to use the revenue from that tax for the same purpose that local districts originally proposed referendum.

“So, what I mean by that is as access expands where charter schools can access the funds that were traditionally only restricted to the  traditional public school, they can access those funds but because there’s a different governing at the charter school level, just to make sure those funds are used for what the voters had proposed,” Eskamani said.  

The amendment failed.

The House tax package will now go to the House floor for consideration where it could be amended. It will then be sent to the Senate where negotiations between the two chambers will likely result in further changes to the plan before legislators give final approval on a budget.

 

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