Representatives want a 10-cent gas tax break in August and a nine-day sales tax holiday. Approval awaits Senate agreement.
By STEVE BOUSQUET
Published April 27, 2004
TALLAHASSEE - Florida consumers deserve two tax breaks this summer, one at the gas pump and another at the cash register, the House said Monday, merging the two in an election-year package but delaying approval until the Senate agrees.
The House wants a 10-cent-per-gallon cut in the gasoline tax for August and a nine-day break from sales taxes on books, clothing and school supplies purchased before the start of the next school year.
"This is an extraordinary year, with extraordinarily high gas prices," said Rep. Bob Henriquez, D-Tampa, who sponsored the gas tax cut. "We're providing a tax break."
The House hitched the gas tax cut to the more popular back-to-school sales tax holiday (HB 237) but delayed a vote until Wednesday.
Senators like the back-to-school holiday but have been wary of the gas tax cut because of a complex collection formula that could make it hard for consumers to feel a price break.
The monthlong cut in the gas tax would take $70-million from road construction. To make up the difference, the House would shift the money from general tax collections.
The House version makes it a third-degree felony for retailers or wholesalers to not pass the tax break along to consumers. The bill gives Attorney General Charlie Crist the power to prosecute violators through his Economic Crimes Unit.
"It could be a challenge," Crist said. "But we're happy to do whatever we can to help."
The sales tax holiday would run from July 24 through Aug. 1. Books, most articles of clothing under $100 and school supplies of under $10 would be exempt from sales tax.
Also in the bill is $310,000 for the state Department of Revenue, some of which would pay for a public awareness advertising campaign to tell the public about the gas tax cut.
Gasoline prices have soared to all-time highs across Florida in recent weeks, with prices nearing $2 a gallon in some cities. On Monday, the statewide average for a gallon of regular gas in Florida was $1.82, according to a survey by AAA Auto Club South.
Legislators cautioned that motorists should not necessarily expect the price at the pump to drop by a dime on Aug. 1. It's not that simple. The tax is added at the wholesale level, and some station owners will already have paid the tax for the fuel in the pumps on Aug. 1.
The gas tax cut would expire on Aug. 31, the same day as the statewide primary election for U.S. Senate and other offices. Byrd is one of seven Republican candidates for the Senate.
The gas tax reduction is an unusual example of bipartisan cooperation in the House this year. It was a Democrat's idea, but Republicans backed it and guided it toward passage.
AAA Auto Club South, a statewide motoring organization, opposes the tax cut, calling it of "minuscule benefit" and an example of government price controls. AAA also strongly opposes taking money out of the transportation trust fund.
"The whole thing just seems ill-advised to us," said Greg Laskoski, a AAA spokesman.
The sales tax holiday, which dates to 1998, is popular with voters. It would cost the state $39-million and enjoys broad support in the House and Senate and with the governor. Budget problems prompted the Legislature to forgo the tax break the past two years.