It’s not the $335 million in tax cuts he asked for, but Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Wednesday signed the $121 million tax-cut package lawmakers gave him during the recently concluded legislative session with a commitment “to do a lot more” in coming years.
The package, adopted as House Bill 7123, includes a seven-day “holiday” – May 31 through June 6 – from sales taxes on emergency supplies such as batteries costing $30 or less, tarps costing $50 or less, self-powered radios costing $50 or less and generators costing $750 or less.
Noting Floridians have become “battle-tested” after hurricanes Matthew in 2016, Irma in 2017 and Michael last year, DeSantis said, “Hopefully, we won’t have to use that experience this year” as he signed HB 7123 into law at the 33rd annual Governor's Hurricane Conference in West Palm Beach.
The tax package also includes an Aug. 2-6 back-to-school “holiday” from sales taxes on clothes costing $60 or less, school supplies costing $15 or less and personal computers costing $1,000 or less.
Among its primary features is a reduction in the sales tax from 5.7 to 5.5 percent on commercial leases, otherwise known as Florida’s “Business Rent Tax.” [BRT].
In 1969, the Florida Legislature adopted the BRT, the nation’s only sales tax on commercial leases. The state’s Revenue Department estimates at least 150,000 businesses will collectively pay nearly $2 billion in BRT in 2018.
Momentum to trim or eliminate the BRT has gained traction in recent years. In 2017, legislators passed HB 7109, which lowered the BRT from 6 percent to 5.8 percent.
According Florida TaxWatch, the modest .2 percent reduction – effective since Jan. 1 – saved Florida businesses almost $70 million this year, as will this year’s .2 percent decline.
Although this year’s tax-cut package falls about $50 million shy of last year’s $171 million iteration, the BRT reduction was welcomed by state business organizations.
“Thank you @GovRonDeSantis for signing the tax package! Includes Back-to-School & Disaster Preparedness sales tax holidays + reduction in Biz Rent Tax. Millions of Florida biz owners and families will get needed tax relief and a sales boost for our 270k retailers,” tweeted the Florida Retail Federation [FRF].
“Anytime you can give Floridians some needed tax relief is great,” FRF Senior Director of External Affairs James Miller said later in a statement.
“Today @GovRonDeSantis approved a tax reform package that lowers the cost of living on families and reduces the cost of doing business on job creators,” the Florida Chamber of Commerce tweeted. “Thanks @GovRonDeSantis and the FL Legislature for ensuring FL remains one of the best business and tax climates in the nation.”
The tax plan also provides tax breaks to help with Hurricane Michael recovery, covering building materials, replacement fencing and hurricane debris removal, and a one-year property tax break for farmers who can no longer use their land.
HB 7123 is one of about 20 bills DeSantis has signed into law this week, including 17 on Tuesday. Among them is HB 7121, which creates a public-records exemption for “information that could pose a security threat to the Florida Lottery.”
Critics contend HB 7121 allows the state’s lottery department and vendors to essentially declare everything about its operations – such as technology, manufacturing processes, production, shipping and validation of lottery tickets, even how lottery terminals function – as “information that could pose a security threat.”