Lobbyists: online sales tax measure would be a boon for county

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Lobbyists: online sales tax measure would be a boon for county

Tue, 12/29/2020 - 11:58
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At the December 15, 2020 Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) Meeting, the board heard from the county’s lobbyists, Shawn Foster of the Sunrise Consulting Group and Laura Boehmer of The Southern Group, with discussion focused on the upcoming legislative session. 
The recent designation of the Aquatic Preserve along Hernando’s coast, an outcome of the 2020 session and CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act Funding were briefly mentioned.  
Looking forward to the 2021 session, online sales tax stands to increase revenues for the state as well as the county, according to Foster who said, “We've seen this kind of can kicked down the road. A lot of people look at the online sales tax and implementing it as putting in a new tax. But 69% of the top 500 retail companies and the state of Florida do not pay (online) sales tax... For Hernando County it means almost $700 million to the state of Florida and $133 million [of that] sales tax revenue going to counties. That is something that we've been told that they're going to look into and put into a session.”
HB 15 was introduced by co-sponsors Clemons (R) Miami Beach and LaMarca (R) Broward.  It would require remote vendors and sales platform companies like Amazon to collect and remit tax after 200 sales or over $100,000 worth of sales  within Florida during the previous calendar year.  If signed into law, it would take effect July 1, 2021.
Foster estimated that if the online sales tax measure passes, together with the Seminole Compact, which allows for legal gaming and gambling in the state,  Florida makes $800 million to $1 billion in revenues. 
Commissioner Steve Champion supports the online sales tax based on his experiences in his retail business.  Champion, who owns American Gun and Pawn stated that he has lost the business of customers who choose to buy online and avoid paying sales tax.  
Another source of revenue has seen an increase in 2020 -- the gas tax.  
Foster then advised that the state still has a “two billion dollar hole to fill next year” and told the board to expect cuts in state funding.
Foster expressed uncertainty in what to expect in Tallahassee this year.  “I don't know if we're going to be able enter the capital complex (or) what it is going to be like.  I would say do not expect to bring any large groups up to Tallahassee.  We’ve already been told if you do come up bring a maximum of six…”
Boehmer added that the “National Association of Counties and the National League Of Cities have been pushing [the state] for some direct funding to come down directly to these smaller cities and counties.”  She went on to say, “We thought we had a deal a couple days ago when it fell apart.”  
Boehmer expects to have more information in January when they are more clear on what the budget looks like.
The two consultants plan to address additional items not heavily discussed in the meeting, such as COVID-19 vaccine management, issues stemming from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Department of Transportation (DOT).
Commissioner John Allocco asked about the state budget surplus, which Foster estimated to be $4.5 to $5 billion.  The discrepancy between the previously mentioned “2 billion dollar hole” was not discussed.
Foster mentioned that the county should expect an increase in contributions to the Florida Retirement System (FRS) as revenues for that fund have also fallen.  Commissioner Jeff Holcomb asked Foster how the FRS investment returns can be so low when the stock market has shown to recover and maintain strength.  Foster surmised that fewer people joining the FRS in favor of traditional IRAs and 401Ks could at least partially account for decreased funding. If less workers are joining the FRS, then there are less people paying into the system to support the current beneficiaries. The county will need to make up the difference.
Foster and Boehmer answered County Administrator Jeff Rogers' question about the funding of rural broadband, which has become an acute issue during the pandemic.  The team answered that there could possibly be Federal funds available to assist the county in rolling out broadband to rural communities. 
Chairman John Allocco said, “We don't have state income tax, so the state can't say ‘well we're going to give you a tax benefit if you go and invest in northern Hernando County and put in some broadband,’ because we don't tax them on those revenues but the federal government does and they could advance the depreciation schedule and these companies would then go ahead and put the infrastructure in place. We're definitely at a disadvantage when it comes to this and I'm ... sick and tired of going to DC for help because they're not doing anything.”
Boehmer then said that a state infrastructure could be addressed in the coming session, however provided no details.  
The Hernando County Legislative Delegation meeting is scheduled for January 29, 2021.
 

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