News from Tallahassee for 7/31/14

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'Hurricane Tax' on Insurance To End posted on 7/23/14

by JIM Turner | NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

hurricane andrewTALLAHASSEE— An extra charge on property-insurance and auto-insurance policies to cover claims paid for the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons will end Jan. 1.

The Office of Insurance Regulation formally issued orders Tuesday for insurance companies to move up by 18 months the end of a 1.3 percent "emergency assessment" for the state-run Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, which provides backup coverage to insurers.

The assessment has hit policyholders for $2.9 billion, which has gone to reimburse insurance companies for claims from the eight hurricanes that hit Florida in 2004 and 2005, the last time a hurricane made landfall in Florida.

"It's been nine years since (Hurricane) Wilma," said Sam Miller, executive vice president of the Florida Insurance Council. "If anything, the assessment helps us remember how devastating these storms may be."

Miller said the industry had been waiting for the orders so it could begin preparing for the new end date for the assessment, which previously had been set for July 1, 2016.

The orders make official a decision Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet made last month to end the assessment, Amy Bogner, a spokeswoman for the Office of Insurance Regulation, said in an email.

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Back-to-school sales tax holiday to save Floridians $40 million posted on 7/23/14

by Miriam Valverde | Sun Sentinel

The back-to-school sales tax holiday on Aug. 1-3 is expected to save Floridians at least $40 million, the Florida Retail Federation said Tuesday.

That weekend, shoppers won't have to pay taxes on clothing, footwear and accessories that cost $100 or less per item, on school supplies that are $15 or less per item, and on the first $750 of personal computers and computer-related accessories. So if you buy a $1,000 computer, you won't have to pay tax on the first $750.

Florida's sales tax is 6 percent.

Overall, Florida's back-to-school spending is projected to reach about $5 billion this year, up about 5 percent from last year, according to the retail federation.

Shoppers will benefit both from the tax exemption and also retailers' markdowns and promotions, said John Fleming, spokesman for the Florida Retail Federation.

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Tourism tax, rate hike before high court posted on 7/15/14

by JIM SAUNDERS | NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Supreme Court began an annual summer break last week, taking a breather from its routine of issuing opinions each Thursday in complex legal disputes.

But justices will face major issues when they return from the break in cases that could affect tourism taxes and utility rates.

The court is scheduled to resume releasing its weekly opinions Aug. 28, though it can handle issues before then as needed. Here are some key cases ahead.

In courtrooms and the Legislature, online-travel companies and counties have sparred for years about hotel bed taxes.

The dispute centers on whether companies such as Expedia and Orbitz should pay tourist-development taxes on the full amounts they collect from customers, or only on the portions that go to room rentals.

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Backroom Briefing: Are Spouses Fair Game? posted on 6/27/14

by BRANDON LARRABEE | News Service of Florida

Is the issue one of transparency, or is it about how much the public should be allowed to know about the families of those running for office?

That's the tricky question raised by the back-and-forth between Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Charlie Crist as the two jostle over tax returns and who should release what. Scott's campaign has hit Crist, his most likely Democratic opponent, for not disclosing the tax returns of Crist's wealthy wife, Carole...

Scott's campaign committee, Let's Get to Work, hammered home that message in a television ad released Wednesday.

In return, Crist has tried to shift the focus, blasting Scott for bringing Crist's spouse into the campaign while pledging to release more facts about his own finances than Scott has...

By Thursday, Crist had released his own tax returns back to 2001, and promised to release documents dating back to 1991. That's far beyond what Scott has released about his own finances -- but it still doesn't include disclosures about the income of Carole Crist.

The Scott campaign has pointed to then-Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink's run for governor in 2010, when she released her tax returns as well as the tax returns of her husband, Bill McBride. And, of course, Scott has done so himself -- though it should be noted that the Scotts file jointly, making it impossible to release the governor's tax returns without releasing those of his wife, Ann.

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Why shouldn't the public see the investments of Crist's -- and Scott's -- wives? posted on 6/27/14

by adam smith | Tampa Bay Times

Charlie Crist's campaign in recent days has been in full outrage mode, suggesting that Rick Scott and his allies have hit "a new low" in sleazy, negative campaigning. Why? Because Scott's Let's Get to Work Committee released an ad yesterday that featured an image of former First Lady Carole Crist and noting that the Crists are declining to release her tax returns.

"What's he hiding?" the ad asks, while Crist campaign adviser Kevin Cate contends targeting a candidate's spouse in a TV ad is unprecedented in Florida and beyond the pale.

But why shouldn't the public have a look at the investments of the woman Crist says has the greatest influence on his decision-making? Heck, why isn't the Crist campaign demanding to see more disclosure of the trusts Rick Scott put under the control of his wife?

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