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Senate Panel Backs Scott's Corporate Tax Cut

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TALLAHASSEE (NSF) – Part of Gov. Rick Scott's proposed tax-cut package that would allow about 2,000 businesses to avoid the state's corporate-income tax got approval Monday from a key Senate committee.

The Finance and Tax Committee, after receiving an overview of Scott's $673 million in proposed tax cuts for the upcoming fiscal year, unanimously backed a proposal (HB 138) by Chairwoman Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, that would increase a tax exemption on corporate income.

Under current law, the first $50,000 of a corporation's income is exempt from the tax. Hukill's bill would increase that exemption to $75,000. Scott proposed the same cut in a tax-cut package released last week.

Hukill said she is more optimistic that the proposal will advance this year after failing to be included in a tax- and fee-cut package lawmakers approved last year. That package was dominated by a reduction in vehicle-registration fees.

"I'm a believer in broad-based tax relief that hits more people generally speaking than smaller bills put together," Hukill said.

The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee also voted 10-1 to approve Hukill's measure last month, and the proposal now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

An identical bill (HB 49) filed in the House by Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, has yet to make the first of its two scheduled stops, which are the Finance and Tax and Appropriations committees. Lawmakers are holding committee meetings in preparation for the March 3 start of the annual legislative session.

Reducing the corporate-income tax has long been a priority for Scott. Also in his new package of proposed cuts is a reduction in a tax on cell-phone bills and cable and satellite television; a three-day back-to-school sales tax holiday; eliminating sales taxes for college textbooks; and eliminating a tax on manufacturing machinery and equipment.

Sen. Darren Soto, an Orlando Democrat who supported Hukill's proposal, said the state's top economists should be asked to rank the different tax proposals, similar to direction given Friday by legislative leaders regarding four professional sports facilities that are seeking sales-tax dollars to help pay for construction projects.

"I'm all for tax cuts," Soto said. "I just think they have to be targeted and measured."

Under Scott's plan, the tax holiday on school items would be similar to a discount in 2014. No state or local sales taxes would be collected during the holiday period on clothing up to $100, school supplies worth up to $15, and the first $750 off the price of computers. That proposal is projected to cut state revenue by $33.7 million and local government revenue by $7.4 million.

The tax exemption on machinery is projected to cut $116.8 million in state revenue and $25.7 million in local revenue. Meanwhile, Scott's office, projecting the average cost of a college textbook at $100, estimates that a student could save $60 to $75 a year from eliminating sales taxes on textbooks, with state and local revenue taking a $41.4 million hit.

Increasing the corporate income-tax exemption is forecast to reduce state revenue by $18.7 million annually, once the measure is in place year-round.

Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, called the corporate-income tax proposal "modest" and said he'd eventually like to see the tax eliminated.

"This is one more step in doing that," Simpson said.

The corporate income-tax exemption was raised from $25,000 to $50,000 in 2012, which allowed 3,770 businesses to stop paying the tax.

When the exemption was raised from $5,000 to $25,000 in 2011 about 10,000 businesses no longer had to pay.

The largest feature of Scott's proposed cuts is a reduction in the communications services tax, applied to cell-phone bills and cable and satellite television. The communications-services tax cut is projected to reduce state revenues by $470.9 million and save an average Florida family about $43 a year.

Hukill has a similar, though somewhat smaller, measure (SB 110) than what Scott proposed. Hukill said she will file an amendment that expands her bill to match Scott's proposal.

But even with the Senate moving forward with key parts of what Scott wants, Hukill said any final tax package remains a couple of months from being completed. She expected the package will follow a process similar to the 2014 legislative session in which lawmakers gave Scott his requested $500 million in election-year tax cuts, even if the cuts didn't exactly line up with his initial proposals.

"The News Service of Florida's Jim Turner contributed to this report."


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