It’s probably not a good idea for people appearing before legislative committees to advocate for a position by calling “ridiculous” a measure the chairman of that committee is supporting. Especially when the chairman happens to be the advocate’s own representative.
But that’s what Roy Sieger, director of the Flagler County Executive Airport, did Thursday in an appearance before the House Ways and Means Committee, the powerful panel chaired by Paul Renner, the Palm Coast Republican.
The committee was considering one of those sizeable, intractable tax bills introduced by the committee itself–essentially, with Renner’s full support–with many provisions relating to the state’s sales tax, including tax credits for a state education voucher program, generators for nursing homes and assisted living facilities, a 10-day back-to-school tax holiday and a three-day disaster-preparedness tax holiday. Some of the measures are controversial, such as the tax credit for vouchers. Many others are not. But along the way, amendments were introduced.
One in particular drew the opposition of Sieger and many airport directors like him from around the state. It was introduced by Rep. Lawrence McClure, a Plant City Republican, proposing to lower the fuel sales tax from 4.27 cents a gallon to 2.85 cents–and to do so just two years after it was reduced from 6.30 cents. The reduction would cost the transportation trust fund from $8 to $9 million a year. McClure described it as an insignificant reduction in a trust fund of $11 billion, a statement that drew a sharp rebuke from Rep. Joseph Geller, the Daytona Beach Democrat.
“I don’t think $9 million out of the budget every year is insignificant and I don’t see the need for it,” Geller said. “Just for once let’s try to listen to the voices we’ve listened top here.”
It was an odd sight: a staunch Republican like Sieger this time finding his greatest allies among Democrats on the committee as he and others argued against the sales tax reduction. Renner listened, not saying a word.
“I’m here to adamantly oppose the amendment to reduce sales tax to the aviation fuel,” Sieger said. “We use those moneys to do the capital projects at our airports. The Flagler Executive Airport is an example. For the last nine years, we’ve completed $35 million worth of projects.” Among those projects is the much-touted new 5,500-foot, $12.2 million runway the airport just opened, with $2.72 million from the state trust fund. Another $25 million is slated for the airport, Sieger suggested, in the next five years.
“How does this money really get spread out all over with the trust fund? And I will tell you, every penny–it is a federal statute–that every penny from the sales tax has to go back into aviation projects,” Sieger said. “So any reduction to that fuel tax will have a direct correspondence to the projects being done across Florida.” He said the projects are beneficial to economic development, and most of all to airline, airport and passenger safety.
“I believe that reducing this fund would, I really kind of find kind of ridiculous,” he then said, stumbling a bit on the sharp words and recalling how only two years ago the tax had already been reduced in an effort to make it revenue-neutral. “We haven’t even seen what those impacts will actually do right now,” Sieger said. “Now we’re talking about going to $2.85. So I don’t think this is a good idea. We adamantly oppose it.”
His facts and his conclusions solidly rebutted several committee members’ claim that the reduction was intended to make Florida airports “more competitive,” an amorphous claim committee members like Tom leek, the Daytona Beach Republican, could only buttress not with facts but with an appeal to “belief” in the “free-enterprise” system.
“What this boils down to me is straight up protection of a trust fund,” Leek said. “It’s a pot of money, and we want to make sure it stays as big as it can.” He said “this reduces the cost to do business, it will increase the number of competitors we have.” Leek pointed to a handful of state that don’t charge a fuel surtax.
Sieger’s evidence was more grounded: Florida has the 18th-highest fuel tax, he conceded, but the state also has the highest number of “enplanements,” meaning the second-highest number of people boarding planes, in the country–hardly the sort of figure that suggests lack of competitiveness. California is first on that list–and has the highest fuel tax. “So I don’t think there’s a correlation at all to fuel tax,” Sieger said.
Sieger also is a member of the board of directors of the Florida Airport Council, which also opposes the proposal.
“It’s a much greater issue than many of us realized,” Joseph Abruzzo, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said, asking for the amendment to be tabled (and joking about the amendment’s sponsor: “As a new member he doesn’t recognize that his bags will never make it on time for the rest of his life.”)
The tax, another member of the committee said, will benefit only major carriers. “I love our air carriers and fly them all the time but didn’t know they were particularly financially challenged at this point, so why are we reducing the excise tax on fuel?” Geller had asked.
The tax does not apply to non-profits or educational institutions such as Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, which use the county airport.
Debate stretched almost an hour. When it was time for the vote on the amendment, Renner was first to say Yea. It passed on partisan lines. Renner’s vote was not a surprise. When the choice is between a tax cut–any tax cut–and Flagler County interests–any interest–Renner will opt for the tax cut. At least that’s been his record so far as he continues to guard-rail his road to the speakership of the House in 2022.
Earlier today the Flagler County administration issued a relatively smiley-faced release about Sieger’s appearance, summarizing the issue. It did not quote Sieger’s judgment of the amendment as “ridiculous.” Nor did it once mention that Renner was chairing the committee. Or that he had voted for the amendment.
Who is going to make up the difference, Mr. Renner? Who will pay for this now? Or will we just not develop these projects? Are we to go back to being a dying retirement community?
Anyone who thinks that Paul Renner is ‘representing’ Flagler County just isn’t paying attention. He obviously has his own agenda, and constituents be damned.
Government “by the people and for the people” is a joke. Our elected officials do not listen to us; they only listen to big donors/business. Amendment 1 was to be used to preserve our environment and when 70% of us voted for it the legislature and administration decided to use the money to lower their budgets for various departments instead…. time after time they ignore us. Let’s vote them out and put people in office who care about our issues.
A classic example how elected people do not discuss a proposal like this with the ones in their district it would affect. Makes you wonder who has the ear of this State Rep. I guess the only answwer would be is to check the political donations.
Renner is killing our budget here. The only way you get this money back is to raise taxes.
More of the same
Diana L says
Paul Renner’s seat is on the ballot in Nov. We have the power to take this seat away from him.
Better check your numbers. The tax rate you are quoting sounds very high.
The figures are correct. Here’s the amendment.
Why do these idiots not understand that their complete obsession with doing NOTHING but cutting taxes is absolutely ruining our country! Try passing some sensible gun “safety” regulations or regulations for the “motels/hotels” that are cropping up in “residential” neighborhoods!!! Renner and Hutson need to go! Vote them out!
Ben Hogarth says
I respect Paul as a former Navy Commander, but to become a puppet for special business interests while serving the public in a higher capacity is unbecoming.
Please “retire” the representatives by election who are actively misrepresenting their constituents as a means of pandering to wealthier interests. Mr. Renner has proven that he believes his seat to be safe enough to oppose even his own constituents.
Prove him wrong Flagler
I for one will.
Vincent Reeves says
BZ Cmdr. Renner, getting flack from all angles means you are over the target. And thank you for having the courage to stand and fight for your conservative convictions: tax less and downsize big government.
Local Floridian, family man, loving father and always working to preserve our pristine state, waterways, hammocks and ocean. Retain and increase our jobs opportunities, safety and love for the simple things in life.
A voice for renewable clean energy and a lover of his native Florida:
Adam Morley for State Representative district 24.
Renner sees Flagler County for what it is. Sieger needs to pack his bags and get out of Flagler County, he is a puppet and filling his pockets at our expense. His high paying position needs to be cut. This airport crap is just that—it does not benefit all of us yet tons of money year after year are poured into it. Let the elite pay for their own! Way to go Renner…..you know what you are doing and you know why.
Layla, I applaud Renner for his decision. Flagler doesn’t doesn’t need all these $100k jobs like for the Petitio’s (yes two of them are on the fat payroll), Hadeed, Joe Mayer, Coffey, Sally Sherman, the Director of the airport and so on. The unincorporated area of the county is only like 20 percent of the county. These people are all getting big fat paychecks and don’t have authority over the entire county! It is time for Flagler County Commissioner’s the tighten their belts and stop mismanaging. There is no reason why they can’t live within their budget….time to cut the fat, not the little people like the custodians. Layla, you seem to forget that if Renner didn’t make the cut that the money would too be our tax dollars. The insanity has to stop. Flagler County needs to come back to reality and live within a reasonable budget and quit putting their handout for more from us and any other source they can get it from because in the end it is all of our tax dollars. CUT THE FAT BOCC!!!
look again at your numbers. It is 4.27 cents not dollars pre gallon
We stand corrected. Thank you for your persistence.