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    Tax break for private health clubs proposed

    By STEVE BOUSQUET, Times Tallahassee Deputy Bureau Chief
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published December 20, 2001

    TALLAHASSEE -- A day after Senate President John McKay called for wiping out billions of dollars in business tax breaks, a House committee voted to create a new exemption for all private health clubs in Florida.

    The bill, by Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, would eliminate the state's 6 percent sales tax on all private health club memberships. It passed the House Business Regulation Committee on Tuesday on a 6-4, party-line vote, with Republicans casting all votes in favor, and Democrats casting the no votes.

    Harrell said her bill promotes physical fitness. She said it's wrong for health clubs run by nonprofit organizations, such as the YMCA or public hospitals or cities, to be tax-exempt while private clubs must collect the tax.

    "It puts them at a competitive disadvantage," Harrell said.

    Rep. Ron Greenstein, D-Coconut Creek, who voted no, said it makes no sense for lawmakers to carve out new tax breaks one week after they slashed the budget by $1-billion.

    "We should not be doing any more tax exemptions at this point," Greenstein said.

    The exemption is unlikely to become law. But if it did, it would decrease state revenues by $7-million to $14-million a year, according to its sponsor.

    Harrell said a lobbyist for the Southeast Health, Racquet and Sports Club Association is also working to get the bill approved.

    McKay, R-Bradenton, is pushing a 2002 constitutional amendment to overhaul Florida's tax system by lowering the statewide sales tax from 6 percent to 4 percent and eliminating billions of dollars in exemptions for many professional services.

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