- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - With a budget stalemate still possible, the Republican-controlled Florida House on Tuesday rolled out a hefty package of tax cuts and tax breaks that it wants to push through during this year’s session.

House leaders are pitching nearly $700 million in tax cuts, including a substantial cut in the taxes charged on cellphones and cable television, a three-day back to school sales tax holiday, and exempting college textbooks from sales taxes.

“We want to send that money back to the kitchen tables all across this great state, because the decisions made at the kitchen table about how to spend money are always better than the decisions made by politicians far away,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican and main sponsor of the tax package.

The House package includes more than a dozen tax breaks, ranging from sparing school booster groups from paying taxes for concessions to creating a sales tax holiday for small businesses in late November. It also includes tax breaks being sought by some of the state’s business interest groups, including a slight reduction in the tax now charged on commercial leases.

The biggest part of the $690 million package is a reduction in the taxes now charged on cellphones and cable television. The proposed cut would save the average Floridian about $40 a year and would divert nearly $500 million out of the state’s main budget account.

A cut in the tax known officially as the “communication services tax” is one of this year’s top priorities for Gov. Rick Scott.

Scott himself rolled out a $673 million tax cut package, but House leaders aren’t embracing all of the changes he is seeking. Scott wanted another small cut in the state’s corporate income tax - which was once a key part of his “7-7-7” plan to turn around the state’s economy - but House leaders did not include it in their package. Gaetz said House members decided instead to offer tax breaks in targeted business areas.

While the House rolled out its tax package with fanfare, Senate Republicans have remained relatively mum on what taxes they would support cutting this year.

Senate President Andy Gardiner said his chamber wants to resolve other budget items before deciding on a tax cut package.

Senate Republicans worry that Florida will lose more than $1 billion in federal aid now being used to help hospitals treat the poor and uninsured. The Senate has crafted a replacement program but the House has not included the extra money in its budget proposal. Right now the House and Senate proposed budgets differ by more than $4 billion in spending.

“I don’t think we’re anywhere near even talking about what the number is,” Gardiner said on Tuesday. “There’s still a lot of things that have to be resolved before you can get to that point.”

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