TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) - Floridians preparing for the looming hurricane season can avoid paying sales taxes on many types of disaster gear starting late next week after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a $196.3 million tax package on Friday, but that's not all.
Appearing at a Home Depot in Pensacola, DeSantis said the package, passed by lawmakers in April, reflects the state's economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. Along with a 10-day tax "holiday" for disaster-preparedness supplies, it also includes a tax holiday for back-to-school shoppers and a "Freedom Week" tax holiday designed to encourage people to participate in outdoor activities and entertainment events.
"We're proud of being open. And we want taxpayers to be able to benefit if they're participating in all these things," DeSantis said. "No state has had more events than we've had over the past year."
House and Senate leaders negotiated the tax package as they put together a $101.5 billion budget (SB 2500) for the fiscal year that will start July 1. The budget, bolstered by billions of dollars in federal stimulus money, has not formally been sent to DeSantis.
The tax package (HB 7061) has 22 separate parts. For most Floridians, the benefits will be found in the three sales-tax holidays.
Scott Shalley, president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation, on Wednesday, called the holidays generous for Floridians and retailers as the state continues to emerge from the pandemic.
"As we come out of COVID, and people are getting out and about, we don't want them to forget about the fact that hurricane season is just around the corner," Shalley said. "It provides a good opportunity for Floridians to prepare, but it also gives the local retailer a little infusion of business that they certainly need as we come out of a tough year."
The disaster-preparedness tax holiday will run from May 28 through June 6 and is expected to save shoppers $10.5 million in state and local sales taxes. Its timing is tied to the June 1 start of hurricane season.
During the period, shoppers will be able to avoid paying sales taxes on such things as reusable ice packs that cost $20 or less; portable radios, gas tanks and packages or batteries that cost $50 or less; non-electric food coolers that cost $60 or less; tarps that cost $100 or less; and portable generators that cost $1,000 or less.
State Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie encouraged Floridians to take advantage of the period to stock up on supplies.
"When a storm is approaching your area, that is not the time to build your kit," Guthrie said at the Home Depot in Pensacola. "The time is now, starting next week during this sales tax holiday, to stock up on your critical supplies."
The other tax holidays, meanwhile, are expected to have a bigger impact on state and local coffers.
State economists projected that the "Freedom Week" tax holiday, which will start July 1, will save $54.7 million for shoppers. During that week, people will be able to avoid paying sales taxes on tickets purchased for such things as live music, athletic contests, in-theater movies, cultural events, and entrance to museums and state parks. Tickets could be purchased during the week for events that occur later in the year, including annual passes.
The holiday will also provide sales-tax exemptions for such outdoor equipment as tents, grills, bicycles, kayaks and fishing gear.
"We're going to celebrate that freedom with a dedicated freedom week on sales-tax cuts on everything ranging from sunscreen to sporting goods to camping to state park admission to concert and sports venues," House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, said. "Our message to our Floridians is very clear, and that is we want you to celebrate that freedom. We know that this year more than most families have been cooped up, sometimes their businesses were hurt."
A 10-day holiday in August for back-to-school shoppers is expected to provide a $69.4 million tax break. During the period, shoppers can avoid paying sales taxes on clothes costing $60 or less, school supplies costing $15 or less and the first $1,000 of the price of personal computers.
The tax package includes numerous other issues, such as setting aside $17.5 million for taxpayers that clean up contaminated brownfields, changing the formula for distributing cigarette tax revenues to boost funding for the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and repealing an unused pool of state money that was approved in 2014 to help build and renovate professional sports stadiums.
Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, said the funding change should help Moffitt become a global leader in cancer research.
"The state of Florida, now in the next five to 10 years, will have the leading, what I believe will be, cancer research and institute in the United States, probably in the world, and it'll rival any institution anywhere in the country," Simpson said. "And it's something we've worked very hard on for many years."
The Tampa cancer center has received about $15.5 million a year through the current formula, but the changes will lead to it receiving $26.9 million starting next fiscal year and $38.4 million starting in the 2024-2025 fiscal year, according to a Senate analysis. The change will reduce the amount of cigarette tax dollars going into the state's general revenue.
(©2021 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida's Jim Turner contributed to this report.)
for more features.