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Gov. Bush signs tax savings into law

Bush, saying he wished he could have cut taxes more, boosts state incentives and signs other laws.

Published June 21, 2005

TALLAHASSEE - Floridians will be shopping tax free for back-to-school supplies, wealthy investors will get a tax cut and a few hundred businesses will continue to enjoy controversial tax refunds under laws Gov. Jeb Bush signed Monday.

The governor also approved laws granting immunity from some lawsuits for utilities and asbestos-related companies.

Bush, who signed the bills at a growing Panhandle aerospace company that has benefited from the state's tax refund program, said he wished he could have cut more taxes, particularly the intangibles tax on stocks and bonds.

"Government doesn't create jobs, but we can create the environment where businesses can succeed and grow," Bush said in a statement on his trip to Crestview Aerospace Corp. in Crestview, a small town near Eglin Air Force Base.

The tax bills Bush signed include a renewal of two economic incentive tax breaks that have come under scrutiny in the past year after high-profile beneficiaries announced job layoffs at their Florida locations. The Qualified Target Industry and Qualified Defense Contractor programs have served roughly 540 businesses since their inception more than a decade ago.

The St. Petersburg Times reported last year, for example, that financial powerhouse Capital One collected $2.7-million in tax refunds from state and local governments to bring jobs to Florida under the Qualified Target Industry program only to announce last year that it was closing a Tampa call center and shedding 1,100 jobs.

But the programs received little scrutiny in the Legislature this year, where lawmakers overwhelming approved continuing the programs through at least 2009-10. And they made the refund slightly sweeter: Adding a communications tax to the list of seven taxes that companies can request be reimbursed, as well as relaxing deadlines for hurricane-affected businesses to collect the full refunds they anticipated.

Under the most popular formula, companies that add at least 10 jobs paying 115 percent of the state or local average wage can win tax refunds of $3,000 per job or up to $6,000 per job localed in rural counties or enterprise zones.

The other two tax laws Bush signed:

--A $38-million sales tax holiday, from July 23-31, for back-to-school clothing and supplies. Clothing priced at $50 or less and supplies costing $10 or less will qualify.

--Another reduction in the state's intangibles tax. Lawmakers cut in half the tax rate on stocks, bonds and other investments starting Jan. 1 to 50 cents per $1,000 of value. Under the law, only people who hold at least $310,000 in stocks and bonds outside IRAs or 401(k)s pay the tax; for married couples the threshold is $560,000.

The laws bring to $14-billion the amount in taxes Bush claims to have helped cut since he took office in 1999.

Bush has long contended that such tax cuts stimulate the economy by putting more money into business and consumer hands. But critics argue the tax breaks have come at a price: cuts in government services and insufficient investment in schools and other infrastructure such as roads.

Under the tort laws signed Monday, utility companies will have immunity from liability for 60 days from the time they're notified of a malfunctioning streetlight for any nighttime accident or crime that occurs in the vicinity.

And any plaintiff filing an absestos-related lawsuit in Florida's state courts will have to prove they have a physical impairment from asbestos exposure, rather than just potential impairment.

The two business-friendly changes in tort law reflect just a fraction of the agenda pushed during the recent session by the state's two biggest business lobbies.

As recently as last week, a group affiliated with Associated Industries of Florida was pushing for a special session to reconsider bills dealing with product and premises liability, a position that has gained no traction with Bush or the legislative leadership.

[Last modified June 21, 2005, 02:30:30]

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