How Business Fared in the 2010 Legislative Session
The Pro-Business Approach Florida lawmakers worked to get the state’s economy back on track with a variety of measures favored by the state’s business interests. By Linda Kleindienst Originally published in the June/July 2010 issue of 850 Magazine
Florida’s business lobbies went into the 2010 legislative session hoping that state lawmakers would do them no harm. They did better than that, producing several business-friendly measures to improve the state’s economic climate, including an economic stimulus package designed to lure more companies to Florida, boost high-paying jobs and diversify the economy.
“With the state’s unemployment lurching past 12 percent, we need to focus on jobs, jobs and more jobs,” said Barney Bishop III, president and CEO of Associated Industries of Florida. “This comprehensive legislation will expand and create tax-credit programs, implement new incentive programs, and encourage hiring practices that will take individuals off the unemployment rolls.”
The $70 million jobs package, a top priority of Gov. Charlie Crist, establishes tax credits for film and entertainment companies and for businesses that hire workers who have been unemployed for at least 30 days. It also gives a boost to the space industry, which is facing the loss of the shuttle program, by earmarking nearly $30 million for infrastructure improvements at Space Florida. Another $15 million was added to a fund controlled by the Governor’s Office to sweeten deals with businesses considering a move to Florida.
“The recovery and long-term health of Florida’s economy is closely tied to the ability to attract and retain high-wage jobs and innovative industries in Florida,” Crist said after the passage of Senate Bill 1752.
The measure, which also contains some beach renourishment funds, cuts taxes on corporate jets and yachts and expands the ability of cities to use state funds to lure Major League Baseball spring training to Florida, passed on the final day of the Legislature’s 60-day annual session.
In short, it was a good session for business, which saw many priorities passed into law.
“Pro-business initiatives passed by the Legislature will help transition our economy and ensure Florida remains a leader in education, legal and business reforms,” said Mark Wilson, president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
Here’s how other major business issues fared:
Corporate Income Tax A move to cut the corporate income tax by 1 percent was doomed because of its $60 million price tag during a tight budget year. Certain corporations pay a tax of 5.5 percent on income earned in Florida, although the first $5,000 of net income is exempt. The tax annually generates about $1.7 billion.
Health Care In answer to the health care reforms passed by Congress, Florida voters this fall will have the option to amend the state constitution to block implementation of the federal law and proclaim that Floridians cannot be forced to purchase health insurance.
The Legislature also authorized the state attorney general to challenge the federal health-care law, which was opposed by major business interests.
High-School Graduation Standards Business leaders have been pushing for tougher graduation standards, especially to produce workers ready for high-skilled jobs. In a new focus on science and math, students will be required to pass geometry, algebra II, biology and either chemistry or physics to graduate. End-of-course exams will replace the more generalized FCAT.
Insurance Reform Pressing for changes in the state’s volatile property insurance market, the business lobby wanted to give insurers more leeway in the rates they can charge. On the last day of the session, lawmakers passed a bill allowing increases of up to 10 percent a year with little state oversight.
Lawsuit Reform It will be harder to win slip-and-fall lawsuits with a new law putting the burden of proof on the victim, who will now have to show that the business knew the danger existed for enough time to have it fixed or removed.
Oil Drilling Senate President Jeff Atwater put the brakes on any move this year to allow drilling for oil and gas in state waters between 3 and 10 miles off the state’s coastline. The April 20 oil-platform explosion and subsequent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will likely kill any attempt to resurrect the issue in the near future.
Parental Liability Parents are allowed to sign liability waivers for certain risky activities their children engage in without losing the right to sue if unforeseen yet preventable events lead to injury. The legislation was filed after a court ruled that parents could not waive their child’s right to sue. Businesses where children might be injured argued that they might be forced to close if they had to operate without liability waivers.
Sales Tax Holiday After a two-year hiatus, the annual tax-free, back-to-school shopping holiday, a favorite of retail stores, was revived but will be much shorter in duration. Once a 10-day holiday, this year it has been reduced to three days, Aug. 13–15.
No sales tax will be charged on school supplies under $10 or on clothing, books, shoes, wallets and bags costing less than $50. It will cost the state $21 million in lost sales tax revenues.
School Vouchers More dollars were made available to allow corporations to get a state tax write-off for contributions to programs that provide private school vouchers for low-income students. The law expands the cap on Florida Tax Credit Scholarships to $140 million and increases that further as more companies contribute. The student scholarships would gradually increase from $3,950 to 80 percent of the per-pupil funding for public school. Currently, public schools receive $6,866 per student.
Trade with Cuba State employees cannot provide a “certificate of export” for any goods being sent from Florida to Cuba.
Unemployment Tax There will be a two-year freeze on the higher taxes needed to replenish the state fund that provides unemployment compensation benefits. Business interests last year agreed to pay higher taxes because the fund was running out of money, but the quick rise in unemployment led to taxes far higher than what had been expected.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.