Gov. Rick Scott signed a wide-ranging tax cut package Monday that fulfills an election-year pledge and could boost sales for businesses through a series of tax-free periods during the typically slower summer months.
The signing of the package (HB 5601) lets Scott campaign that he got lawmakers to make $500 million in tax and fee cuts, even if the total won’t reach that figure in the upcoming budget year, while providing shoppers with sales-tax holidays on hurricane gear, school supplies and energy saving appliances.
“The bill we signed today is $121 million right back in to Florida citizens’ hands,” Scott said during a news conference after he addressed the Governor’s Hurricane Conference at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando.
Lawmakers already sent a larger part of the tax and fee cuts to Scott, rolling back vehicle registration fees that were increased in 2009. Scott signed that bill (SB 156) on April 2, giving motorists on average savings of $20 to $25 per vehicle.
The vehicle fee reduction is expected to collectively save motorists about $309 million during the upcoming 2014-15 budget year, with the new lowered rates going into effect Sept. 1. Those savings are expected to grow to about $395 million a year, once they are in effect for the full 12 months of a fiscal year.
Lawmakers approved the other tax-cut package May 2 and said it would save Floridians about $105 million. But Scott put the number Monday at $121 million, and his office also repeated that number in a news release.
The tax cut law, dubbed the “patchwork of awesomeness” by House Finance & Tax Chairman Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, goes into effect immediately. The three sales-tax holidays are projected to save $36.9 million for Floridians, according to the Legislature’s estimates.
“Retailers like the tax holidays because they boost store traffic considerably during the tax-free periods,” said John Fleming, a spokesman for the Florida Retail Federation.
The package has a wide swath of targets, including reducing electricity taxes for businesses and helping bail bondsmen, Habitat for Humanity, construction contractors, parents buying car seats and bicycle helmets for their children, college students buying meal plans and pet owners.
Scott focused Monday on hurricane preparations, with an emphasis on the recent heavy flooding in the western Panhandle. The hurricane sales-tax holiday runs from May 31 through June 8.
During that time, no state or local sales taxes will be collected on items such as tarpaulins selling for under $50, first-aid kits worth $30 or less, self-powered radios at $50 or less, gas tanks at under $25, portable generators worth up to $750, and non-electric food storage coolers priced at $30 or less, and most battery packages under $30.
Hurricane season begins June 1.
The back-to-school holiday, meanwhile, will run from Aug. 1 through Aug. 3 and will allow Floridians to buy clothes, school supplies and personal computers without paying sales taxes. The back-to-school holiday expands a discount introduced last year on computers and raises the tax-free bar from $75 to $100 on the prices of clothing, bags and backpacks.
Last year, sales taxes weren’t collected on personal computers and related gear worth under $750. This year, no sales taxes will be collected on the first $750 of any computer and related gear, regardless of the overall cost of the piece of electronics.
After the back-to-school holiday, shoppers from Sept. 19 through Sept. 21 will be able to avoid sales taxes on the first $1,500 of the price of new Energy Star and WaterSense products, an energy conservation proposal from Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
The tax package also includes such things as a permanent elimination of the taxes on college meal plans. Also, pet lovers can receive a tax discount on therapeutic pet food only available from licensed veterinarians. Among other things in the package are permanent sales-tax exemptions for car seats and bicycle helmets for kids; an expansion of the New Markets Tax Credit program for investments in low-income communities; a temporary lifting of sales taxes on the purchase of cement mixers; a measure that would reduce by 20 percent the insurance premium tax on Florida-based bail bond premiums; and a projected $14.7 million savings through a community contribution tax credit that benefits Habitat for Humanity.
–Jim Turner, News Service of Florida