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Florida TaxWatch to Legislators: Enforce Internet Sales Tax, Privatize State Lands

January 16, 2013 - 6:00pm

The Sunshine States premier tax watchdog group published 25 recommendations Thursday which it says, if implemented, would save the states taxpayers over $1 billion. The proposals include the collection of an Internet sales tax and the return of state lands to the private sector.

We are constantly looking for ways to find cost savings while still responsibly funding essential government services for all Floridians, said Dominic M. Calabro, president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, in a news release announcing the release of the Report and Recommendations of the Government Cost Savings Task Force for FY2013-14. Implementing these recommendations will streamline government, modernize long-overdue systems, and align public employees with the private sector in several ways.

A handful of those 25 recommendations grouped into five categories: health care reform, criminal justice reform, education reform, revenue enhancement, and general government reform were highlighted by task force chairman John R. Alexander at a press conference held at the Capitol:

  • No. 25 -- Replace the Florida Accounting Information Resource (FLAIR) with a modern accounting system that will provide fiscal transparency and accountability to the taxpayers.
  • No. 16 Reduce state health insurance costs by implementing a program to provide financial incentives and disincentives for state employees based on controllable wellness indicators (e.g., weight, tobacco use).
  • No. 1 -- Design and implement a plan to convert the state health insurance system from a defined benefit to a defined employer contribution model. Under such a scheme, the state would not provide health plans to state workers; rather, the workers would be given a fixed dollar amount to spend on health insurance costs or other medical expenses.
  • No. 2 -- Reduce operational expenditures through the use of benchmarking for appropriations and the states shared-savings program. Such programs would reward agencies and employees who save costs for the state, while reducing appropriations for those agencies which overspend.
  • No. 6 -- Adopt both E-Fairness legislation and legislation to become a full member of the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement (SSUTA). This would begin leveling the playing field for Florida businesses and begin collecting some of the revenue legally due. Any additional revenue should be used to offset another tax that is currently imposed on Floridians. Florida already imposes a sales tax on its citizens, but its seldom enforced. Alexander says noncollection of the tax unfairly disadvantages traditional brick-and-mortar businesses.

After much hardship and economic loss over the last few years, Florida is finally moving forward to recovery, Alexander said. In challenging and uncertain times as we are still in, we must continue to strive for reforms that will increase government efficiency and accountability, which will save taxpayers money. I believe that this report moves us significantly forward.

Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, took to the podium after Alexander, voicing his support for the work of Florida TaxWatch and highlighting two more recommendations he believed the Legislature should prioritize for implementation:

  • No. 9 -- Provide resources and authority to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Florida Department of Management Services (DMS) to identify underutilized and surplus state properties, to review each as to its highest and best potential, and to dispose of those state properties not being used to their highest and best potential in an expeditious manner.

While many lands are used for essential purposes, including conservation, the state also owns numerous properties that are not needed by state government, Hays said. "[This leaves] the taxpayers responsible for unnecessary costly annual maintenance and upkeep . ... If the land is not serving a useful purpose ... we need to put that land back on the tax rolls and let it be productive.

  • No. 10 -- Implement electronic time and attendance systems across all state agencies.

Hays said the Florida Department of Children and Families has saved $6 million over the last two years through the use of such systems, which better ensure that employees are paid for time actually worked.

Reach Eric Giunta at egiunta@sunshinestatenews or at (954) 235-9116.

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