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Cut to communications services tax gets cut from Senate bill

With the tax cut nixed, the committee hearing turned into a home rule battle.

A Senate measure that would have cut the state’s communications services tax by 1 percent cleared another committee Tuesday — but the tax cut itself was left out of a strike-all amendment put on the bill.

A recent Florida TaxWatch report estimated the cut could have saved Floridians upward of $128 million a year, and the group’s opposition to the amendment didn’t make the record until it was already adopted by members of the Senate Community Affairs Committee.

“With the commercial rents tax and the communications services tax, you can’t find two better taxes to cut,” said TaxWatch head Dominic Calabro. “We hope another vehicle is found to cut this tax.”

With the cut nixed, the committee hearing turned into a home rule battle between major telecommunications interests and local governments.

Other provisions in SB 1000, sponsored by GOP Sen. Travis Hutson, are aimed at fixing a law passed in 2017 to speed up the installation of “small wireless facilities” on the same sites as utility poles or current wireless support structures on public rights of way.

The goal is getting 5G wireless pushed out ASAP.

Hutson and industry representatives contend local governments have “taken it upon themselves to slow roll their implementation.” But local governments have their own list of gripes, and they say the new bill will only make things worse.

“This bill is much broader than a co-location on existing facilities,” said Amber Hughes of the Florida League of Cities. “Two years ago, [communications companies] had to comply with undergrounding ordinances. This bill removes that.”

“We recognize there is a desire to expedite the rollout of small cell, but this is not small cell, this is all communications.”

Fort Walton Beach City Manager Michael Beaty said his city was upholding its half of the bargain, but installers aren’t.

“The issue we have is these providers come in, they tear up the road ways do the installation and they’re gone,” he said. “Sure we can go after their insurance, their bonds, but the residents want answers now. This legislation takes away our teeth other than going after insurance, which takes months.”

Most communications companies waved in support of the bill, thought Charlie Dudley, representing Florida Internet & Television, said the law in place was slowing down wired communications just as much as wireless, making it harder for broadband providers to expand into new areas.

The back and forth caused South Florida Democratic Sens. Gary Farmer and Jason Pizzo to suggest the two sides go into mediation.

“It’s a tough balance because [local governments] keep getting hurt and getting dinged here and there,” Farmer said. “I just want to throw this out there, and I’m being serious, there’s a new thing called legislative mediation.”

According to Hutson, however, that’s already happened.

“I think that mediation did happen two years ago. Every committee stop it went through I brought all major stakeholders in, and I gave them everything they wanted,” he said. “It wasn’t about aesthetics or any of that, it was about them being able to charge whatever fees they want.”

With the favorable vote, the Senate bill now moves to the Finance and Tax Committee.

Written By

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for Florida Politics. He is a former editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and business correspondent at The Hollywood Reporter. Wilson, a University of Florida alumnus, covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools and The Florida Current prior to joining Florida Politics.

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