Now is not the time for Florida to hand out $543 million in “gratuitous” income tax refunds to the state’s very largest corporations, Sen. José Javier Rodríguez and a handful of Democratic lawmakers implored Gov. Ron DeSantis Wednesday.
Rodriguez and the others called on the Governor to stop the checks from going out to some of the nation’s largest corporations at a time when Florida has so many pressing and undetermined financial needs because of the coronavirus crisis and consequential state economic collapse.
They focused on the tax refunds that were approved in the 2018 Florida Legislative Session, set to go to corporations that pay the state’s 4.5% corporate income tax, a move once seen as a safe measure in that strong economic climate. Since the vast majority of Florida’s businesses are too small to qualify for that tax, Rodriguez and the others contended the refunds only can go to the top 1% of corporations.
Rodriguez called the tax refunds “gratuitous” with no clear justification, saying that the coronavirus crisis is not the time to extend such financial favors. He noted since the crisis’ impact on the state’s revenue won’t be projected before May.
“Let’s not send that money out the door at a time like this,” he said.
The tax refunds are set to go out sometime between April 15 and May 1. Last month DeSantis said he intended to go forward with sending out the refunds.
Rep. Javier Fernández of Coral Gables said the refunds are discretionary, not mandatory for the state to provide. He and other Democrats said that if DeSantis cancels them, the companies might challenge, but the Democrats essentially dared them to try, given the crisis.
“The challenges we are going to face on the revenue side are massive,” Fernández added. “This handout is ill-timed. We should keep that money in the treasury to preserve all options.”
Rodriguez, of Miami, and Fernandez were joined by state Reps. Carlos Guillermo Smith and Anna Eskamani, both of Orlando. Sen. Victor Torres of Orlando also is a part of the call, though he did not attend Wednesday’s virtual press conference.
“Folks, there are so many deep priority needs for our state when it comes to funding,” Eskamani said.
She started with a call for an increase in Florida’s unemployment benefits, and the state’s bridge-loan program for small businesses, two programs that are struggling to start, and are seeing projections that they would be seriously underfunded to meet the demands arising in the coronavirus crisis.
“Meanwhile, the Governor is set to give away these checks to the biggest businesses in the state of Florida,” she said.
Smith focused on where the refunds would be going, saying the program is neither targeted nor strategic to increasing jobs in Florida,
“We have to really underscore who is receiving these refunds,” Smith said. “We’re talking about the top 1% of Florida’s 2.3 million businesses who are going to receive this $543 million corporate tax refund. Not one small or medium sized business is going to receive any benefit from this.”