News from Tallahassee for 10/21/14

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Gov. Rick Scott releases 2013 tax returns; questions remain posted on 10/17/14

by Mary Ellen Klas | Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

TALLAHASSEE— Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday released his 2013 tax returns “in the interest of full transparency” with just weeks to go before the election.

Scott, a multimillionaire who files his annual return jointly with his wife Ann, reported that he and his wife had an adjusted gross income of $8.2 million and paid $2 million in taxes. They filed their returns Wednesday, the final day allowed by the IRS for taxpayers who sought the six-month extension.

The release of Scott’s tax return, however, left unresolved many questions that have emerged about the accuracy and completeness of his financial disclosures since he filed his 2013 state financial disclosure reports as required to run for re-election.

The governor reported a net worth of $132.7 million, and put many of his assets in a blind trust managed by his longtime investment advisor, Alan Bazaar. The goal of the blind trust, the governor said, was to shield him from any conflict of interest when the companies in which he holds stock do business with the state.

Excluded from his reported assets, however, are investments held by his wife, or held by his family’s Scott Family Partnership Trust. The Herald/Times reported last week that documents filed with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission show that Scott has a history of dividing his assets into those and other multiple trust accounts and he remains the “beneficial owner” on some of the stock.

According to the reports filed with the state, Scott may only be disclosing the assets held in his newly formed personal blind trust, not the assets for which he is the beneficiary, raising questions about the completeness of his reports.

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Report: Florida has one of highest cellphone tax rates in the U.S. posted on 10/9/14

by Scott Mackey, Joseph Henchman | The Tax Foundation

Wireless consumers continue to face excessive tax burdens when compared to the tax burden on other goods and services purchased in the competitive marketplace. The average rates of taxes and fees on wireless telephone services are more than two times higher than the average sales tax rates that apply to most other taxable goods and services. Consumers in seven states—Washington, Nebraska, New York, Florida, Illinois, Rhode Island, and Missouri—pay total taxes and fees in excess of 20 percent of their bills...

Key Findings

• Americans pay an average of 17.05 percent in combined federal, state, and local tax and fees on wireless service. This is comprised of a 5.82 percent federal rate and an average 11.23 percent state-local tax rate.

• The five states with the highest state-local rates are: Washington State (18.6 percent), Nebraska (18.48 percent), New York (17.74 percent), Florida (16.55 percent), and Illinois (15.81 percent).

• The five states with the lowest state-local rates are: Oregon (1.76 percent), Nevada (1.86 percent), Idaho (2.62 percent), Montana (6.00 percent), and West Virginia (6.15 percent).

• Four cities—Chicago, Baltimore, Omaha, and New York City—have effective tax rates in excess of 25 percent of the customer bill.

• The average rates of taxes and fees on wireless telephone services are more than two times higher than the average sales tax rates that apply to most other taxable goods and services.

• Excessive taxes on wireless consumers disproportionately impacts poorer families.

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All Aboard Florida move claims to take heat off taxpayers posted on 10/7/14

by Dave Berman | florida today

All Aboard Florida has modified its financing plan for its proposed passenger rail service, so that the public would not face any financial risk and the project could be completed quicker, the company's president said Monday.

Under the $1.75 billion financing plan, "no public entity or taxpayer bears risk," All Aboard Florida President and Chief Development Officer Mike Reininger said.

All Aboard Florida plans to start rail service from Miami to Orlando, with interim stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Under the current plan, the trains would pass through south and central Brevard County 16 times a day in each direction, but would not stop within the county.

Members of the public have raised a number of objections to the project. One of them is the possibility of federal loan guarantees for track and station development putting public money at risk.

Now, All Aboard Florida instead will use what's known as private activity bonds to finance the project. Those bonds — which are designed to encourage private companies to invest in public infrastructure — would be marketed and sold to private investors. Reininger said All Aboard Florida is "highly confident" of finding the needed investors.

Construction of the first phase of the project, from Miami to West Palm Beach, is underway, with service expected to begin by the end of 2016. By using this financing mechanism, Reininger said, All Aboard Florida hopes to begin construction of Phase 2, from West Palm Beach to Orlando, in early 2015 and have service underway by mid-2017.

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Gray Swoope: Speeding Up Incentives Could Help Land Apple-like Firm posted on 10/1/14


Florida may be trying to entice Apple Inc. to build a manufacturing plant in the state.

Or a top economic-development leader could just be using the prospect of landing the multinational electronics and technology company to get state lawmakers to allow more leeway on state incentives packages through a program known as the "Quick Action Closing Fund."

Enterprise Florida President and Chief Executive Officer Gray Swoope told the agency's board members Tuesday that Apple is the kind of manufacturer desired by Florida. However, he said, state laws might hinder such economic-development efforts because of the length of time needed to get approval for incentives as firms try to open facilities quickly.

Under the Quick Action Closing Fund, a joint House and Senate panel known as the Legislative Budget Commission is required to approve incentives packages over a $5 million threshold. The commission meets periodically throughout the year.

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State economic report casts doubt on feasibility of Scott's tax cut plan posted on 9/11/14

by michael van sickler | Times/Herald Tallahassee News Bureau

Dollar puzzleTALLAHASSEE — Since late August, Gov. Rick Scott's promise to slash taxes and fees by $1 billion over the next two years has been the backdrop for his re-election campaign, fueling a two-week tour through Florida.

But while Scott's campaign to promote the plan took him to the Panhandle town of Milton on Wednesday, the focus on whether it could actually work shifted 178 miles east to the Capitol, where lawmakers discussed the state's financial outlook.

The housing crash still haunts Florida's economy, state economist Amy Baker told legislative budget leaders. Florida is still No. 1 in foreclosure filings. Construction isn't projected to return to peak levels until 2022. Homeownership is at 65.3 percent, the lowest level since 1990.

Although tourism is booming, the housing hangover continues, forcing economists to project slower revenue growth than they had in the spring, Baker said.

"The residential real estate market is still sluggish," she said. "There's still a long way to go before normalcy is reached in Florida."

Assuming that lawmakers will set aside $1 billion in reserves, economists now estimate that next year's budget will produce a surplus of $336 million. That's less than half the $845.7 million surplus this year.

So, could Florida afford Scott's cuts?

"Unfortunately, we find ourselves in the middle of political season where things are said that can't be backed up,'' said Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, the incoming House minority leader. "(Scott) commits a billion, but where do you find that? It's a campaign gimmick to increase his votes."

Announced on Aug. 29, Scott's package of tax cuts was so vague, it didn't explain when the cuts would take effect, or precisely define everything he's proposing.

The plan includes $200 million in cuts from sales tax holidays, and a $120 million reduction in the communications services tax, imposed on cellphone bills and other sources. Scott proposes a $120 reduction on the $225 charge for first-time vehicle registrations, but it's not clear how much this will cost the state in total.

Other plan components whose full impact aren't defined include eliminating the state's manufacturing sales tax, and phasing out the business income tax and the 6 percent sales tax on commercial leases.

Another tax cut, a limit on property tax increases that would affect local governments more than the state, would require the approval of 60 percent of state voters. While it sounds bold, it might not add up to much savings for homeowners.

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