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Tax package shrinks as budget talks continue

“There are things that still need to be worked out there, but nothing that I don’t think can’t be done in a relatively short time.”

Back-to-school and hurricane-related sales tax “holidays” are part of a loose tax-package agreement reached by House and Senate budget chiefs as they continue this weekend to hammer out differences between the two chambers’ state spending plans.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley and his House counterpart Travis Cummings, both Fleming Island Republicans, said Saturday they also have settled on $115 million for housing needs in areas still struggling after last year’s Hurricane Michael, and agreed to set aside money for a series of major toll roads that must still be approved by the House.

Late Saturday afternoon, Bradley and Cummings agreed to a $90 million cap on a tax package as they worked to close out areas of next year’s budget, which totals roughly $90 billion.

The tax breaks, which the Senate has yet to vote on, falls short of the $102.4 million in tax cuts approved by the House late Thursday.

“We have a general understanding that we’re going to do something for back-to-school sales tax holidays and hurricane sales tax exemptions for hurricane season, so the people will buy the supplies and get ready for hurricane season,” Bradley told reporters Saturday afternoon.

The Senate is reviewing the rest of the House’s tax package “in good faith,” he said.

Other parts of the plan include a 5.7 percent reduction in commercial lease tax; amending guidelines for hospitals to qualify for a charitable tax exemption; providing flexibility to the Department of Revenue when reviewing property assessments in counties affected by natural disasters; and a controversial provision that would spread voter-approved local tax dollars to charter schools.

Meanwhile, Bradley said the two leaders also agreed to designate $45 million to establish task forces to study the economic and environmental impacts of transportation corridors that are a priority of Senate President Bill Galvano. The Senate plan would extend the Suncoast Parkway from the Tampa Bay area north to the Georgia border, extend the Florida Turnpike west to hook up with the Suncoast Parkway, and create a new transportation corridor, including a toll road, from Polk County to Collier County.

In addition to next year’s funding, the Senate proposal calls for growing the spending to $90 million in the 2020-2021 fiscal year, about $135 million the next year and a recurring amount of $140 million starting in the 2022-2023 fiscal year. Construction is envisioned to begin by the end of 2022 and the roads to open to traffic before Dec. 31, 2030, but environmental groups have vowed to fiercely fight the proposed roads.

In the contentious area of higher-education construction, Cummings didn’t give specifics but said public education capital outlay, or PECO, funding for building projects is likely to be resolved in a “relatively short time.”

“There are things that still need to be worked out there, but nothing that I don’t think can’t be done in a relatively short time,” Cummings said. “Obviously, PECO projects are still being heavily discussed.”

Four days ago, Cummings deemed PECO funding one of the “thorny issues” in talks about spending for the fiscal year which starts July 1.

The House has made higher education a priority this legislative session, and some of the chamber’s proposals have included cutting university funding across the board as a result of a financial scandal at the University of Central Florida. House investigators found university officials misused millions of dollars in state funds for a construction project.

Due to a 72-hour “cooling off” period before a final vote on the budget can be taken, lawmakers have to cement an agreement on the state spending plan by Tuesday to wrap up by Friday’s scheduled conclusion of the legislative session.

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Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Written By

Jim Turner is a Capitol reporter for the News Service of Florida, providing coverage on issues ranging from transportation and the environment to Legislative and Cabinet politics, which are some of the areas he worked in 20 years with TCPalm in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast. Jim grew up in Millburn, New Jersey, where he started his journalism career providing weekly reports on the high school soccer team --- of which he was a member--- to the local Millburn Item. Jim received degrees in journalism and history from High Point University in North Carolina.

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