News from Tallahassee for 7/22/14

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


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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Tax returns an issue in Florida governor's race posted on 6/26/14

by AP

TALLAHASSEE — Republican Gov. Rick Scott's campaign suggests in a new ad that former Gov. Charlie Crist has something to hide by not releasing his wife's tax returns, while Crist said Wednesday that Scott is "hitting below the belt" by dragging his wife Carole into a negative campaign ad.

Scott last week released the joint tax return he filed with his wife Ann and called on Crist to do the same. The same day that Crist released tax returns for the three years since he left the governor's office, the political committee working to re-elect Scott released a statewide ad criticizing Crist for not releasing his wife's.

"It's outrageous. It is hitting below the belt," Crist said in a phone interview. "He has no honor, no decency. To drag my wife into a political ad is beyond the pale."

Unlike the Scotts, the Crists file separate tax returns.

Crist's Democratic primary rival, former Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich, took his side on the issue. She said she isn't releasing her tax return, which she filed jointly with her husband.

"I really don't see why my husband, as a private citizen, should put his personal finances out there," Rich said. "I feel the same way about Carole Crist as my husband — they're private citizens. There's no indication she's done anything improper."

But she said it is appropriate for Scott to release his wife's finances because there are questions about whether he uses her trust fund or assets to hide his own income.

"When there's suspicions, to make sure that the voters get the full information, there's a reason to release that information," Rich said in a phone interview. "There is a linkage here with Rick Scott and his wife because of how they handle their finances."

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Early end forecasted for ‘hurricane tax’ posted on 6/19/14


TALLAHASSEE -- Collected to help pay claims from the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, an extra charge on homeowners- and auto-insurance policies will be removed 18 months earlier than expected.

The 1.3 percent charge, added to most property and casualty lines, covers losses incurred by the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund from those storm-filled seasons. Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet this week moved up the end date of the “assessment” to Jan. 1, 2015, from July 1, 2016....

The charge, which first appeared at 1 percent in 2007 and was increased to the current rate in 2011, collectively hits policyholders for between $350 million and $500 million a year.

The charge is imposed on most property and casualty policies other than medical malpractice and workers compensation...

Such a fee could return if the state is again hit by a large storm that depletes the fund’s resources.

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