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Online sales tax collection proposal goes to Florida Senate committee

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A proposal that would require more online sellers to collect Florida sales taxes and turn the money over to the state will appear Monday before the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee.

The proposal (SB 50), filed by Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, for the upcoming legislative session has gained support as state revenue has taken  a massive hit amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, has highlighted the issue as one of the ways lawmakers can offset a projected $2.75 billion shortfall.

Many out-of-state online retailers have not collected and remitted the taxes.

“We use the honor system to collect those taxes,” Simpson said in November. “And I can assure you the honor system does not work very well. So it’s not a tax increase to pay the taxes you owe.”

Similar past proposals, dubbed “Wayfair” bills after the online purveyor, have died as Republican lawmakers have been leery of appearing to raise taxes.

House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, reiterated in November that, “I rule out tax increases,” before noting the online “sales tax already exists.”

Gruters filed a similar measure for the 2020 legislative session, but it did not get through Senate committees.

The House never took up a version of the bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Chuck Clemons, a Newberry Republican who is again sponsoring the issue for the 2021 session (HB 15).

A staff analysis of Gruters’ 2020 proposal stated the expanded collection of the tax would generate $479 million for the state and $132.9 million for local governments.

A task force led by officials from Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Retail Federation, the National Federation of Independent Business Florida and the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association included the collection of online sales taxes in a list of proposals for the 2021 legislative session.

Florida retailers have long complained of being at a competitive disadvantage because of out-of-state retailers not collecting and remitting the taxes.