NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA, Apr 20, 2021
TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis quietly signed into law late Monday a bill that will cost Florida consumers who shop online an estimated $1 billion a year in sales taxes, with the money used to cut business taxes.
The governor’s office announced the decision at 11:23 p.m. Monday in an email that contained no comment. Early in the day, he traveled to Polk County to surround himself with law officers and publicly sign the controversial “anti-riot” bill (HB 1) that Democrats and civil rights activists contend is unconstitutional.
“Governor just signed a bill into law to increase your taxes and give the new revenue of $1 billion to businesses,” Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, tweeted after the bill signing was announced.
Outnumbered Democrats in the Legislature had argued that working Floridians will be hurt by the proposal. The final package was approved 27-12 by the Senate and 93-24 in the House.
The governor’s office did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment.
The bill is estimated to tax consumers $1 billion a year, with the money first earmarked for the unemployment trust fund, which became depleted because of massive job losses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses pay taxes that go into the trust fund and, without another source of money, would have faced higher taxes to replenish the fund.
After the fund is replenished, the revenue will be used to make a major cut in the commercial-rent tax, long a target of business lobbying groups. Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, and House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, agreed to reduce the commercial rent tax from 5.5% to 2%.
Florida business groups have lobbied for years to require out-of-state retailers to collect and remit sales taxes, saying it is a matter of fairness. But past proposals failed because of concerns by Republicans that they could be viewed as increasing taxes on consumers.
Scott Shalley, president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation, said in a statement that the law creates a “level playing field” for all businesses. The sales-tax revenue will be used to replenish a depleted unemployment trust fund and then will go toward reducing a commercial rent tax.
Get latest daily updates on the Joel Greenberg & Matt Gaetz investigations plus political news from Central Florida and across the state.
“The tax cut on business rent is an added bonus,” Shalley said. “With this cost-savings, Florida businesses across all sectors of the economy can reinvest in their community, create jobs and grow their businesses.”
Retailers that have a physical presence in Florida are already required to collect and remit sales taxes, But retailers without such a presence haven’t faced the requirement when they make sales to Floridians, who have been technically supposed to send in sales taxes on their purchases, though few do.
Proponents of the bill maintained that requiring collection isn’t a tax increase and that Florida retailers have been hurt by out-of-state businesses being able to sell products with tacking on taxes.
“We’ve created an unfair competitive advantage for foreign players and out-of-state retailers on the backs of our local retailers,” Senate sponsor Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, said last month.
DeSantis faced a Monday deadline for signing, vetoing or letting the online tax bill become law without his signature.
Staff writer Steven Lemongello contributed to this report.