TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - With the traditional hanky drop, the 2016 Legislative session has officially come to a close. The Legislature avoided a Special Session this year, approving the $82.349 billion state budget, which will fund various state agencies and critical needs for all Floridians.
“State leaders made great strides during this legislative session to improve the lives of Floridians. Through the impact of meaningful legislation, Florida will create crucial jobs, increase access to quality healthcare and enhance our criminal justice system,” said Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic M. Calabro. “Unfortunately, lawmakers were unable to come to agreement on various bills featuring TaxWatch recommendations, including a cut to the discriminatory business rent tax and funding for economic development incentives that help bring high-wage jobs to Florida.
We commend the Legislature for enacting various TaxWatch recommended bills that will improve the future for the Sunshine State and its residents, including:
- Permanently extending the sales tax exemption on manufacturing equipment, which will boost Florida’s manufacturing industry, provide high-wage jobs for Floridians and diversify the state economy.
- Moving forward on telehealth by creating a Telehealth Advisory Council to make recommendations in forming a regulatory framework for Florida. Florida TaxWatch appreciates that the Legislature made a small step in addressing telehealth expansion in Florida but the legislation does not do enough in broadening access and lowering healthcare costs for millions of Floridians who desperately need care. We hope that the Legislature continues to work on this issue in 2017 and make a concentrated effort in truly expanding telehealth in the Sunshine State.
- Expanding scope of practice for advanced registered nurse practitioners (ARNPs) and physician assistants (PAs), which would significantly lower costs for patients while improving access across the state. We hope that the Legislature will continue to pass legislation to expand scope of practice in the 2017 Legislative session as TaxWatch research has found that if state ARNPs and PAs were permitted to practice to the full extent of their training and education, the state could save up to $339 million across the entire health care system.
- Various smart justice reforms, including increased use of veteran and drug courts, adult alternative sanctioning and expungement of juvenile records, which will reduce recidivism, improve job prospects for ex-offenders and result in cost-savings for the Sunshine State.
- Better integrating the state’s mental health and substance abuse services to improve access to care for Floridians suffering from complex behavioral health issues.
Florida TaxWatch also commends the Legislature for achieving record per-student funding for public schools, largely with state funds rather than using a large local property tax increase as has been the case the last couple of years.
Florida TaxWatch again thanks the Legislature for their great work on these issues during the 2016 Legislative Session. However, bills regarding various other TaxWatch recommendations unfortunately did not make it to the Governor’s desk.
The business rent tax (BRT) is unique to Florida which is the only that taxes commercial leases, preventing small businesses and start-ups from expanding and dissuading larger companies to relocate to other states. The House tax cut package originally had a cut to the BRT from six percent to five percent in fiscal year 2016-17. This provision was not included in the final package by the House and Senate.
Properly deployed economic development incentives are crucial to ensuring that Florida is able to compete with peer states. These incentives help lure businesses to the state, leading to the creation of much needed jobs, more stable incomes and an increasingly diverse economic portfolio. One of the major components of improving Florida’s economic incentive programs was $250 million for the Enterprise Florida Fund, which would replace the Quick Action Closing Fund incentive program. This was dropped from consideration during budget conferences by both the House and Senate.
Legislation reforming Florida’s public records also died in Session. A TaxWatch report calling for reform to stop bad actors from taking advantage of current law noted that the public’s right for transparency and accountability in government is in jeopardy.
Florida TaxWatch hopes the Legislature reconsiders these issues during the 2017 Legislative Session and will work with lawmakers to educate them and make recommendations that will ensure that Florida remains the greatest state to raise a family, receive an education and get a job.