Florida TaxWatch outlines budget, policy wins from Session
Research VP Kurt Wenner of Florida TaxWatch gives a budget breakdown.

Wenner taxWatch
At a spring meeting, the organization broke down how its research informed legislation this year.

Few organizations produce the array of white papers as Florida TaxWatch. At a spring meeting for the organization, officials laid out how that has resulted directly in policy change.

On topics from vacation rentals to urban forestry practices and teaching kids to swim, TaxWatch leaders saw their findings from the group reflected in legislation and appropriations this Legislative Session. And that’s before counting 68 “turkeys” killed by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ veto pen.

TaxWatch Senior Vice President of Research Kurt Wenner, at the organization’s spring meeting in Winter Park, showcased a series of reports released this year. That included a November report finding than Florida is home to more than 35,000 unlicensed vacation rental units, about 19% of all such units operating in the state.

The organization recommended lawmakers step up enforcement and streamline tax collection mechanisms. Much of that was done to an extent in a bill (SB 280) ultimately passed by both chambers. Wenner noted TaxWatch’s research was cited twice during public discussion of the legislation.

The organization’s work also influenced larger packages. Senate President Kathleen Passidomo made the Live Healthy Act (SB 7016) a chief priority this year. Included in that was an increase in medical residency opportunities for out-of-state physicians to practice in Florida.

That could address a need identified in TaxWatch Research for an additional 22,000 practicing physicians in Florida by the year 2030. The same could be said for another bill (SB 1600) providing new licensing pathways.

Also on the health care front, TaxWatch in a February 2023 report noted that the Florida College System was ineligible for State Group Insurance Program plans, while State University System institutions can participate. A budget conforming bill addressed that inconsistency.

The organization also supported certain government programs, such as a push to reduce drowning deaths. TaxWatch released an update to its “Every Child a Swimmer” report in February that showed the number of accidental drownings in Florida for children ages 4 to 12 has almost doubled over a decade.

A bill passed this year (SB 544) that funds $500,000 worth of swimming lesson vouchers for low-income children, a direct effort to reduce the number of deaths in the water.

The most high-profile project TaxWatch does each year remains its Budget Turkeys list. That for decades has spotlighted questionable spending items, most often member-sponsored projects benefiting only their home communities, as a critical moment— before the budget hits the Governor’s desk.

For the 2023-’24 budget, TaxWatch classified 218 items as Budget Turkeys. Ultimately, Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed 68 of those, collectively making up $83 million of what was slashed. Meanwhile, both the organization and the Governor’s Office continue to evaluate the budget passed by the Legislature this year.

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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