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Politics

Chamber Backs Online Tax Collection, Education Reforms in 2012 Agenda

October 19, 2011 - 6:00pm

The Florida Chamber of Commerce remains opposed to new and increased taxes, but also believes that taxes currently on the books -- even in the paperless world -- should be collected.

Chamber President Mark Wilson said it isnt fair that businesses in Florida must collect the state sales tax while online companies, such as Amazon, can advertise the same item to Floridians without having to charge the same sales tax.

He said the loophole puts small businesses at a disadvantage.

Everyone in Florida right now who goes online and makes a purchase is required by Florida law to pay a sales tax, whether they buy from a Florida retailer or someone else, Wilson said. This is a current tax that is on the books that is not currently being collected. We would like to see the state put a process in place where they can simply collect the taxes from online purchases just as they do for offline purchases.

Wilson said the tax could generate $1 billion to $2 billion a year for Florida.

The loophole falls into one of a wide range of areas the chamber hopes will be changed when legislators begin their 60-day session in January.

While Senate President-elect Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and Sen. John Thrasher, R-Jacksonville, both openly endorsed the chambers agenda, Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, expressed some doubt about the online tax loophole.

Haridopolos, saying this may be a federal issue, said the proposal may require a reduction in taxes in another area.

Well look at it as it comes forward, Haridopolos said. If there were any adjustments there would have to be an equal reduction somewhere else. The income revenue through increased taxes would not pass in the Senate and Im pretty confident it would not pass the House. If it somehow passed both chambers, which I consider likely to be zero, the governor would surely veto it as well.

Still basking in getting legislators to approve 31 of the 36 bills the business organization championed earlier this year, the chamber on Thursday outlined six areas it wants senators and representatives to focus on in the upcoming session next year.

The generalized areas echo many of Gov. Rick Scotts proposals, including revamping higher education to focus on science and math, streamlining government and promoting economic innovation.

The chamber will also maintain its opposition to the implementation of a state-only electronic means to verify the legal status of workers and to the expansion of casino gambling in South Florida.

While he said the E-Verify system should be a federal program rather than implemented at a state level, Wilson said the business group is willing to take a second look at the casinos if advocates are able to show the proposed resort megacasinos would reduce rather than expand gambling.

All of the research that weve seen suggests that when you move commercial casino gambling into an already-established tourism market like Miami, nothing good happens, Wilson said. In fact, what happens is, you end up taking dollars that are going into one part of the economy and moving them into another part of the economy.

Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, and Senate sponsor Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, could file identical bills as soon as Friday that would allow for three massive resort casinos to open beyond the Florida Seminole land in South Florida.

The bills are also expected to establish an independent gaming commission that would oversee most aspects of gambling in-state. The Florida lottery would not be under the commission.

The casino gambling proposals have brought a slew of political donations from gambling interests into Florida.

According to a recent Miami Herald report, in the last quarter alone Gambling Malaysian casino giant Genting Group donated $202,920 $160,000 of it to the state Republican Party of Florida. Other donors include Miami Beachs Fontainebleau Hotel and Resort, $135,000; Hollywood's Gulfstream Racetrack, $63,385; Hollywood's Mardi Gras Gaming in Hollywood and affiliated Racing Corp. of West Virginia, $69,500; the West Flagler Dog Track, $54,500; Isle of Capri casino chain $49,500; and the Palm Beach Kennel Club, $36,750.

The Florida Chambers agenda for jobs, which is focused around the Six Pillars of Floridas Future, calls for:

Talent Supply and Education:

  • Advocating for expanded use of technology in the classroom to support Floridas transition into the new economy.
  • Maintaining Floridas status as a national leader in producing a talented work force through high-value programs.
  • Promoting more flexibility, efficiency and performance in higher education and increasing the number of science, technology, engineering and mathematics baccalaureate degrees.
  • Enhancing parental choice in education.

Innovation and Economic Development:

  • Further transforming Floridas economy through the trade, logistics, manufacturing, aerospace and related industries.
  • Continuing to pursue research and development activities to build on Floridas economic diversification.
  • Strengthening Floridas manufacturing base by making Florida more competitive by providing targeted and timely incentives.
  • Investing in intermodal connections and viable inland ports in order to achieve the goal of doubling Florida-origin exports and increased manufacturing activity.

Infrastructure & Growth Leadership:

  • Eliminating regulatory roadblocks and incentivizing governments to turn to the private sector to speed up shovel-ready transportation projects,
  • Stopping the federal Environmental Protection Agencys Florida-only numeric nutrient criteria rulemaking (a Florida-specific water mandate),
  • Supporting the creation of science-based water quality standards to protect Floridas natural resources.
  • Advocating for a comprehensive energy policy that increases energy independence and promotes sustainable economic growth.

Business Climate and Competitiveness:

  • Reforming Floridas no-fault auto insurance system to cut down on fraud and abuse.
  • Stabilizing and lowering unemployment compensation tax increases for Floridas job creators,
  • Ensuring workers compensation premiums are fair and not inflated with unnecessary costs by closing the loophole on drug repackaging contracts that are inflating the price of medication and responsible for nearly one-third of the 8.9 percent increase and costing Florida employers an additional $100 million annually.
  • Ensuring the taxpayer-subsidized Citizens Property Insurance Corp. becomes the insurer of last resort, not first resort.

Civic and Government Systems:

  • Closing the Internet sales tax loophole and supporting e-fairness for Florida-based retailers.
  • Removing duplicative, outdated, obsolete rules, permitting processes and statutes.
  • Streamlining the permitting process to limit excessive costs on employers and encourage efficiency for business development and job creation.
  • Supporting a one-stop shop venue that provides existing and new businesses with permitting, licensing and regulatory assistance.
  • Supporting 401(k)-style defined contribution retirement programs for new government employees.

Quality of Life and Quality Places:

  • Supporting medical/legal reform efforts aimed at stabilizing health care costs.
  • Protecting Floridas future by maintaining a longstanding opposition to the expansion of casino gambling in Florida.

Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859 or (772) 215-9889.

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