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'More Realistic' TV, Phone Tax Cuts Expected

tax cut chart
Jessica Palombo

Floridians could still get a reduction in their cable-TV and cell-phone bills as part of a new House tax-cut package, but the overall plan likely will fall short of the tax cuts sought by Gov. Rick Scott.

Also, Scott's call to permanently lift the sales tax on the purchase of college textbooks may be altered, as the House is repackaging a tax-cut package (HB 7141) from the regular legislative session to help develop a budget that lawmakers say will include higher health-care costs.

A $400 million-plus tax cut plan is scheduled to be presented to the House Finance & Tax Committee on Tuesday, the second day of a special legislative session. The proposal is expected to reach the House floor Thursday, said House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island.

During the regular session, the House proposed lopping $690 million in taxes and fees, with a reduction in the communications-services tax on cable-TV and cell-phone bills anticipated to account for $470.9 million of that amount.

The initial tax-cut package was larger than a $673 million plan Scott requested and touted in television ads.

However, as the House and the Senate use the special legislative session to negotiate a budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, a leaner House tax-cut approach is likely.

The changes are expected to shave overall savings from the communications-services tax to a little more than $200 million, said House Finance & Tax Chairman Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach.

"That was the largest portion of the House's initial proposed tax cut, so it felt the impact most significantly when we had to adjust our budget to accommodate more health-care spending," Gaetz said.

The Senate for the special session is considering four bills that include features of the House tax-cut package, including a cut in the communications-services tax (SB 4-A).

The initial Senate proposal maintains the higher communications-services tax savings sought by Scott. But the author of the bill, Senate Finance and Tax Chairwoman Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, said Monday that while she had not seen the House proposal or spoken recently with Gaetz, the lowered numbers appear to be "more realistic" in the current budget situation.

"As much as I would like it to be higher, if it's adjusted somehow I'm sure we would support that," Hukill said.

The governor's office didn't bemoan the potential reduction in the tax cuts.

"We applaud the House's efforts to cut taxes, and we are reviewing it," Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said in an email Monday.

As part of the tax cuts, the House and Senate continue to look at reducing a sales tax on commercial real-estate leases, and Gaetz said the House may be able to make the cut deeper than initially planned.

Meanwhile, Scott's call to eliminate the sales tax on college textbooks, a move he says would help families with higher-education affordability, may have to be tempered for now.

The House is looking to implement the textbook tax break for several days in August and again in January, the start of the fall and spring semesters.

The failure of the Legislature to craft a budget during the regular session may also have an impact on two sales-tax holidays that the House had proposed.

A sales-tax holiday on back-to-school items might be moved to the middle of August, from the start of the month, which actually would put the discounts on computers, clothes and school items closer to the school year.

And the tax package may go without a sales-tax holiday on weapons, ammo, fishing gear and camping tents for July 4. The House had proposed that holiday in its original package.

"Just the timing of getting that holiday operational presents some feasibility problems, so that's likely one that won't make it over the finish line," Gaetz said.

The House package is expected to maintain an elimination of taxes on gun-club memberships.

House Minority Leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, called it "good news" when asked about the potential removal of the July 4 sales-tax holiday.

"So there are some benefits of a special session and unconstitutionally departing," Pafford said. "It's going to be interesting how it all lines up."