Hurricane sales tax holiday could boost coronavirus-stricken businesses
Image via AP.

HURRICANE MATTHEW SHOPPING
The sales tax holiday begins Friday.

Florida’s hurricane sales tax holiday begins Friday, and it couldn’t come soon enough for businesses desperate to boost revenue.

This year’s disaster preparedness tax holiday runs from May 29 through June 4 and exempts sales tax on qualifying hurricane supplies.

The sales tax holiday comes as many businesses are just reopening their doors after weeks of closures related to the COVID-19 pandemic that has crippled the economy.

“These are unprecedented times,” said Edie Ousley, vice president of public affairs for the Florida Chamber of Commerce. “Florida has for several years had this sales tax holiday, but I’m certain when lawmakers were finalizing the sales tax holiday for this year, they didn’t have a pandemic on their mind.”

“Nonetheless, it’s really important for Floridians to prepare.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts a busy 2020 hurricane season with 19 named storms. The season starts June 1 and runs through November.

“As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross in a May 21 NOAA summary of the projected hurricane season.

Sean Davis, associate professor of finance at the University of North Florida, said the sales tax break for hurricane supplies is a novel concept. While retailers will be helped, especially this year, consumers will get the ultimate advantage.

“It does benefit consumers who need to purchase some of these items at this time, so it makes them less costly, so it certainly helps Floridians,” Davis said.

Will Butler, deputy communications director for the Florida Department of Revenue, said the tax holiday would save consumers in the state an estimated $5.6 million in sales taxes this year alone.

The state started providing hurricane tax relief since 2005 with the Legislature approving the tax holiday each year. Lawmakers scrapped the tax break 2008 through 2013 amid the Great Recession but resumed in 2014 as state revenue began to rebound.

Some smaller businesses may have to make sure all cashiers know about the tax break, Davis said.

“Different retailers will categorize those [items] in different product categories,” Davis said.

“If you’re purchasing your items at … a smaller mom-and-pop shop, they may not have the computer systems in place to remember to not charge sales tax,” Davis said, adding consumers should check their receipts to make sure they weren’t wrongly taxed.

Qualifying supplies include flashlights under $20, portable radios under $50, tarps under $50, ground anchor systems or tie-down kits under $50, gas or diesel containers under $25, batteries under $30, coolers under $30, generators under $750 and reusable ice packs under $10.

The tax holiday is expected to boost retail sales statewide, though the surge is welcomed among businesses that stand to benefit.

“I’ll be honest with you, I think many businesses are focused right now on getting their doors open again,” Ousley said.

She added polls conducted by the Florida Chamber of businesses in the state show retailers are desperate in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

“Floridians will need to get comfortable getting back into the marketplace,” Ousley said. “With the sales tax holiday on hurricane products next week it’s definitely that opportunity to get out and safely shop for those products.”

Drew Dixon

Drew Dixon is a journalist of 40 years who has reported in print and broadcast throughout Florida, starting in Ohio in the 1980s. He is also an adjunct professor of philosophy and ethics at three colleges, Jacksonville University, University of North Florida and Florida State College at Jacksonville. You can reach him at [email protected]



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