Joe Gruters at Tiger Bay forum pushes for online sales tax collection

Opponent Katherine Norman focused on investment into green technology jobs.

Sen. Joe Gruters plans to make a fresh push for collecting online sales tax at the point of purchase in Florida.

The Republican lawmaker at Sarasota Tiger Bay Club forum said the pandemic showed precisely why Florida must receive a fair share of tax revenue from internet commerce. He noted the vast majority of residents don’t file forms to pay online sales tax through the Department of Revenue, and the state loses out on an estimated $800 million in revenue as a result.

“This pandemic, what it showed us is people are buying more and more stuff online,” he said.

“It doesn’t take rocket science to go to Main Street and see the stores closing, to go to the various malls and to see our retailers closing up shop, all for the benefit of foreign companies [and] out-of-state retailers. Our local people who are paying taxes, providing jobs, they are getting hit hard. At the same time, if we’re able to raise about $800 million, I think that will help.”

He appeared at the virtual debate with Katherine Norman, his Democratic opponent in Senate District 23, who focused her economic message on investing in technologies.

Norman specifically touted the Florida Climate and Economic Defense Initiativean effort marketed as a state version of the Green New Deal. She stressed the need to protect trust funds like Florida Forever. “Any time these trust funds are used for anything other than what they are supposed to be used for is not a proper allocation of funds,” she said.

Gruters for his part noted the Senate fought this session to fully fund the Sadowski Trust and budgeted money toward springs through Florida Forever. But he said all lawmakers will have to contend with unprecedented budget challenges next year because of loss of revenue related to the pandemic.

It’s likely his advocacy for collecting more revenue through sales tax that will be a hard push in Tallahassee. As chair of the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee, he’s pushed unsuccessfully for “e-fairness” legislation the last two Legislative Sessions.

He stressed that since consumers theoretically should be paying this tax to Florida anyway, charging at the point of sale, as most states already do, should not be considered a tax hike.

“As chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, I would never advocate for a tax increase,” he said. “However, this is much-needed revenue our state needs.”

He also suggested the state should be able to collect another $750 million through a compact with the Seminole Tribe connecting to casinos in Florida. That should go a long way to dealing with budget shortfalls softened in Florida this year by the presence of reserves.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected]


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