Florida Legislature passes $88.7 budget

Bill focuses on education, public safety, $3.3 billion reserves

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Senate on Sunday passed House Bill 5001, the 2018-19 General Appropriations Act, an $88.7 billion budget and a tax-cut package for the upcoming fiscal year. The House voted 95-12 to approve the budget (HB 5001), which was then approved by the Senate in a 31-5 vote.

The budget provides unprecedented K-12 per-student funding, makes key investments in Florida Forever Programs, and prioritizes funding for vulnerable residents of Florida’s nursing homes while setting aside $3.3 billion in total reserves. 

The budget also accounts for $400 million in critical investments in public and school safety signed into law as part of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act (Senate Bill 7026), $53.5 million to fund treatment and prevention of opioid abuse (House Bill 21), and approximately $124 million to fund need-based and merit-based student financial aid, including the permanent expansion of the Bright Futures Academic and Medallion Scholarships, signed into law as part of the 2018 Excellence in Higher Education Act (Senate Bill 4).  

Legislative leaders announced Thursday afternoon the new budget had been printed and would be available Sunday for a vote after a 72-hour “cooling off” period. The spending plan then will go to Scott, who has line-item veto power.

Both the House and Senate discussed the budget bill on Friday, which was the last scheduled day of the 2018 session. Legislative leaders extended the session through Sunday, after running out of time to complete work on the budget before the 60-day session ended. Sunday’s vote on the final budget will take effect July 1.

A significant increase in school spending is tied to the Feb. 14 tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

“This balanced budget includes unprecedented K-12 per-student funding, targeted pay raises for state law enforcement, state firefighters, and Department of Juvenile Justice probation and detention officers, and $100 million for Florida Forever, while setting aside $3.3 billion in reserves,” said Florida Senate President Joe Negron (R-Stuart). 

2018 Disaster Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday

The legislation creates a seven-day “disaster preparedness” sales tax holiday from June 1 to June 7, 2018, for disaster preparedness supplies. Tax-free items include flashlights and lanterns costing $20 or less; radios and tarps costing $50 or less; coolers costing $30 or less; and, generators costing $750 or less, among others.  

Creates Tax Exemptions for Hurricane Recovery 

The legislation creates several exemptions related to hurricane response, preparedness and recovery including: 

  • Sales tax exemptions for farms damaged by 2017 hurricanes for building materials used to repair nonresidential farm buildings and farm fencing.
  • Refund of taxes on fuel used for agricultural shipments post-Hurricane Irma.
  • Citrus processing and packing equipment not being used will be assessed at the salvage value for the 2018 property tax.
  • Agricultural property taken out of production can retain an agricultural classification for property tax purposes for five years.
  • Residential homestead property damaged by a natural disaster is eligible for a refund of taxes paid.
  • Documentary stamp tax exemption for emergency loans. 
  • Sales tax exemption for generators purchased for a nursing home or assisted-living facility.

Establishes the 2018 Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday 

The legislation creates a three-day “back-to-school” sales tax holiday from Aug. 3 to Aug. 5, 2018, for clothing, footwear and backpacks costing $60 or less, and school supplies costing less than $15. 

Reduces Business Rent Tax 

The legislation permanently lowers the sales tax charged on commercial leases. In 2017, the Legislature lowered the 6 percent tax on the total rent or license fee charged for renting any real property from to 5.8 percent. Florida remains the only state in the country to impose this type of tax on businesses. House Bill 7087 further reduces the business rent tax from 5.8 percent to 5.7 percent. 

Constitutional Amendment Requiring Supermajority Vote for Tax Increases

The House and Senate passed House Joint Resolution (HJR) 7001, Supermajority Vote for State Taxes or Fees. The legislation proposes an amendment to Florida’s Constitution to require that a state tax or fee imposed, authorized, or raised by the legislature, be approved by two-thirds of the membership of each house of the Legislature. The amendment proposed in HJR 7001 will take effect on January 8, 2019, if approved by 60 percent of the voters. 

“Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature have worked together for the last several years to reduce the tax burden facing Florida families and businesses in a broad-based and meaningful way. This good bill furthers that commitment,” Negron said. “In particular, again this year the tax relief package includes a Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday that offers an important tax savings for students and parents preparing for the new school year.”