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Health Questions Slow Senate Tax Plan

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Florida Senate

The Senate has lined up a series of tax cuts that could top the House's freshly announced $690 million package.

However, the Senate isn't rushing to move forward with its proposed cuts.

The holdup is that the state could face a $2 billion hit if no agreement is reached in ongoing negotiations between state and federal officials over funding for the Low Income Pool program, which helps pay hospitals for health care for low-income and uninsured patients.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said Wednesday that tax-cut measures may not advance for a couple of weeks due to the talks with the federal government.

"And we're not going to get into conference (negotiations with the House) unless we get some remedy, in all likelihood anyway, on the health-care funding problems that we have," Lee said.

As for the House tax-cut package, which was rolled out Tuesday, Lee added, "I would say they're marketing their tax cuts better than we are, but they're certainly not in any different posture than we are."

Members of the House Finance & Tax Committee on Wednesday suggested they had little problem with their wide-ranging package, which is highlighted by Gov. Rick Scott's call to reduce taxes on cell-phone and pay-TV bills by 3.6 percentage points.

A few questions were raised in committee over a proposal in the package to hold a sales-tax holiday on July 4 for outdoor equipment that includes guns, spear-guns and bows, ammo, camping tents and fishing gear.

Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana, questioned offering the tax break on a day many businesses are closed.

"By doing it, we're encouraging people to work on a federal holiday," Berman said.

Committee Chairman Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, said July 4 is not typically a big shopping day, and the tax break could help families as they plan for summer trips before the start of school.

Asked if there is a plan B in case the health-care funding talks fail, Gaetz said the tax package has been supported by House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island.

"Of course if there is any dramatic change to our revenue model or our cost model, we'll have to evaluate how that change would affect some of the budgetary assumptions we've made at the appropriations level," Gaetz added.

The House review came as Scott, joined by Florida State University President John Thrasher and FSU football coach Jimbo Fisher, spent a few minutes Wednesday at a display table on the first floor of the Capitol. The display sought to highlight the proposed cut in the communications-services tax, which Scott argues would help all Floridians who use cell phones or pay for cable or satellite TV.

Meanwhile, the Independence Day sales-tax holiday is one of three being proposed by the House. The package also includes a a three-day period starting July 31 when back-to-school shoppers would be able to avoid paying sales taxes on clothes and other school-related items. Also, the House has proposed a small-business tax holiday two days after Thanksgiving.

The House tax-cut package, which is $17 million larger than Scott proposed, would eliminate sales taxes on college textbooks, materials sold at book fairs, certain farm equipment and gun-club memberships.

The House also has proposed cutting a tax on commercial-real estate leases from 6 percent to 5.8 percent, reducing state revenue by $22.1 million the first year, with the savings to businesses growing to $53.1 million annually.

Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, asked if the commercial rent tax could be further cut in later years.

A Senate committee this week approved a bill (SB 140) that would make a deeper cut in the real-estate tax. That measure would reduce the tax from 6 percent to 5 percent.

Rep. George Moraitis, R-Fort Lauderdale, suggested that next year the House should consider cuts on essential household items for families, such as toilet paper.

"It's disappointing that a lot of things can get in but that can't," Moraitis said.