Legislature passes tax bill with insurance cuts, sales tax holidays

'No bill is going to be perfect … but I do think this is a strong package that has more of a consumer focus.'

Article Courtesy of Florida Politics

By Gray Rohrer

Published March 11, 2024


In one of the last bills to pass in the Regular Session, lawmakers approved a bill (HB 7073) that is projected to save consumers, homeowners and businesses up to $1.5 billion over two years.

The measure even won plaudits from Democrats, some of whom have criticized the tax cut bill in prior years for being tilted toward big businesses instead of average citizens.

“No bill is going to be perfect … but I do think this is a strong package that has more of a consumer focus,” said Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat.

One provision not included in the bill but part of a budget bill (HB 5003) is a measure to grant toll rebates for one year worth up to $450 million for drivers with more than 35 toll transactions per month across the state. The program will start April 1 and last for 12 months.

That was adopted late in negotiations between the House and Senate over the bill at the behest of Gov. Ron DeSantis, who previously secured a similar one-year toll rebate program from the Legislature that expired in January.

The biggest piece of the bill cuts insurance premium taxes and assessments, giving insurance companies a rebate on those taxes for reducing rates for homeowners. It’s projected to save $502 million over two years, but the savings for homeowners is projected to be 3%, a small amount in the face of skyrocketing rates in recent years.

The package also includes a quartet of sales tax holidays, but some are pared back from the past year.

The back-to-school sales tax holiday on clothing and school items will last two weeks starting July 29; the holiday for the Spring semester lawmakers that approved for the current year wasn’t included.

Last year’s “Freedom Summer” sales tax holiday on event tickets to museums, sporting events, plays, festivals, fairs and outdoor items has been reduced to “Freedom Month” and will last during July. There’s also a one-week holiday on tools starting Sept. 1 and two separate two-week sales tax holidays for disaster preparedness items, starting June 1 and August 24.

The bill passed unanimously in both chambers, but one provision that caused some consternation was a piece that grants a reduction in the sales tax in Hillsborough County sales tax for a short period, until $165 million from the state is drained to replenish the county.

That is part of the way the state is returning $570 million to Hillsborough, where a surtax approved by voters in 2018 was in effect for two years before it was ruled unconstitutional. The tax was intended to pay for transportation improvements, and the rest of the funds will go toward those projects and to refund taxpayers and settle lawsuits.

Rep. Mike Beltran, a Riverview Republican, said all of the money should be refunded to taxpayers or given back through a short-term sales tax reduction instead of going toward the transportation projects the surtax was intended to support.

“This money should not be spent on the exact same types of projects that were being promoted by the downtown special interests who (passed) the illegal tax in the first place,” Beltran said.

But House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell, who represents a Tampa district in Hillsborough, said the money is needed to improve roads in the area.

“Traffic is ruining peoples’ lives,” Driskell said. “We just want people to have a better quality of life.”