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Tuesday, Jun 19, 2018
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Lawmakers stick with school tax holiday; other breaks in danger

TALLAHASSEE — Floridians should expect the return of the popular “back-to-school” sales-tax holiday this August.

But state funding for Daytona International Speedway and a temporary tax break on gym memberships could be casualties when the House and Senate meet next week on their opposing packages to complete Gov. Rick Scott’s election-year tax cuts.

House budget leaders have expressed surprise that the raceway funding was included last week in the tax-cut package. But senators, advancing a number of proposals to help the ongoing speedway improvements, consider the issue an economic development driver.

Overall, the two chambers have taken different approaches to filling in the remaining $100 million in tax breaks to accompany a $400 million a year repeal of a 2009 rate hike on motor vehicle registration fees. Scott has already signed the registration fee reduction (SB 156) into law.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said Friday the two chambers will “find a middle ground.” But when asked about the Senate’s inclusion of money for the speedway, Weatherford, who has been averse to government funding of stadiums, said “that would probably be one that we probably would not be supportive of. But it’s early.”

The House wants a wide array of tax breaks, from sales-tax holidays on back-to-school items, energy-saving appliances, hurricane supplies and gym memberships, along with the elimination of the sales-taxes on the purchase of child car seats and bicycle helmets for kids, a temporary lifting of sales taxes on the purchase of cement mixers, a loan program for television production in the state, and a lessening of the sales taxes businesses pay for electricity.

The Senate has countered with a package that keeps the back-to-school holiday while reducing a tax on cable and phone services, lessening an insurance tax paid by bail bond services, and directing sales tax dollars to assist the $400 million ongoing “Daytona Rising” improvements at the raceway.

Melbourne Republican Ritch Workman, the architect of the House plan (HB 5601) that he has christened a “patchwork of awesomeness,” described the Senate’s self-declared “broad-based” proposal as “nichey stuff.”

“There is no battle royal brewing, but there (are) definitely going to be some strong negotiations,” Workman said Friday, a day after the Senate replaced the bulk of the House patchwork. “We have to talk about what stays and what goes. We are very far apart and we need to get together.”

Leaders of the two chambers agree that they will provide up to $500 million in tax and fee cuts, and maybe go a little above that figure. But they are not looking to go a lot higher.

Despite philosophical concerns from Weatherford about stadium funding, Senate Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron and Finance and Tax Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Dorothy Hukill, who has sponsored the speedway funding, believe the racetrack will survive the final cut.

“I’m very optimistic that the speedway legislation will be passed and funded when we leave here in early May,” Negron, R-Stuart, said Thursday after the Senate package was crafted.

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