How many times did Gov. Rick Scott cut taxes? You better believe the unpopular Republican running for a second term is counting the ways.
“Twenty-four times,” Scott said after signing the state’s $71.1 billion budget.
The claim certainly got our attention at PolitiFact Florida. Could Scott and the Legislature have enacted two dozen tax cuts in just three budget years, two of which were hamstrung by billion-dollar budget shortfalls? We turned to the Truth-O-Meter to sort it out.
To Scott, a “tax cut” means anything that reduced government revenue by $3 million in any given year.
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Here is his full list, which actually is 25, not 24.
1, 2.) Unemployment compensation taxes: Lawmakers spared businesses from paying higher taxes in 2011 by reducing the number of weeks and payout for unemployment compensation.
In 2012, the Legislature rolled back a tax increase businesses were supposed to pay. Businesses still paid more than in previous years but not as much as originally anticipated.
3, 4.) Manufacturing equipment: Scott signed an expansion of a sales tax exemption on machinery purchases in 2012. In 2013, lawmakers eliminated the tax entirely, at least temporarily. The tax will be eliminated for three years starting next April.
5.) Property taxes: In 2011, Scott and lawmakers forced water management districts to slash property tax collections by about 30 percent, leading to about $210 million in savings for property owners. Most Floridians saw modest savings.
6, 7, 8, 9.) Sales tax holiday: Scott counts the mostly annual tax-free shopping holiday four different times. It applies to shoes and clothing (up to $75/item) and school supply purchases (up to $15). The state has offered the holiday every year since 1998 except in 2002, 2003, 2008 and 2009.
The 2013 tax holiday (Aug. 2-4) counts twice, according to Scott, because it also exempts sales taxes on electronic equipment up to $750.
10, 11.) Corporate Income Tax exemptions: Per Scott’s wishes, the Legislature expanded the exemption for corporate income taxes from $5,000 to $25,000 in 2011, and again in 2012 to $50,000.
12.) Tax credit scholarships: Lawmakers expanded a program that gives businesses a tax credit if they purchase tuition vouchers for low-income families to go to private schools.
13, 14, 15.) Energy breaks: One 2013 law implements part of a 2008 constitutional amendment that says a property appraiser may not base an increase in a property’s just value on the installation of a “renewable energy source device.”
Two other minor credits are aimed at inspiring more renewable energy production. No one has received the credits yet, according to the state.
16, 17, 18, 19.) Various business tax incentives: Four small tax incentives target businesses that either are moving into Florida, growing their company or investing in high-tech fields.
20, 21, 22, 23, 24.) Targeted breaks: Lawmakers eliminated sales taxes on repairs to planes between 2,000 and 15,000 pounds and blocked an automatic inflation adjustment factored in registration for hunting and fishing license fees every five years. They also awarded cuts to the phosphate industry and licensed real estate agents.
25.) Communications dealers: A 2012 law spared communications dealers, in certain situations, from being liable for penalties if they assign a customer to the wrong local tax jurisdiction.
True tax cuts?
That’s the evidence. What to make of it?
After speaking with experts and considering the evidence, we found numerous caveats — some more noteworthy than others.
Some cuts are temporary and others are very narrowly targeted. The three-day sales tax holiday counts four times on Scott’s list (Nos. 6-9). “Does it really count as a tax cut if you’ve been providing it since 1998?” said Kim Rueben, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center.
Other cuts are not really cuts but credits, which mean you have to spend somewhere to save somewhere else. The energy legislation (No. 13) prevents property appraisers from raising someone’s property taxes for making energy-efficient home improvements.
The break for communications dealers (No. 25) is not a tax cut but a removal of a penalty.
And while changes in unemployment compensation rules save businesses money (No. 1), they also take money away from out-of-work Floridians.
“It’s a tax cut for employers, but who’s really paying for it? Unemployed workers,” said Karen Woodall, director of the left-leaning Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy, pointing to a committee analysis.
Readers may hear Scott’s statement and rush toward to their tax bills, eager to see the savings. But the truth is that most of the breaks are for business.
“There is very little in that that provides some benefit to the average working person,” said state Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach.
Besides the caveats, there’s also another thing to consider: Are there places Floridians are being asked to pay more?
Scott, for example, said he considers raising tuition a tax increase. He signed an 8 percent tuition increase into law in 2011 and a 5 percent tuition increase for colleges in 2012.
Scott said, “We cut taxes 24 times.” The evidence backs him up, to a point.
Lawmakers and Scott have done several things to reduce the financial burden, but mostly for business owners — not average working Floridians.
Using such a specific number is also troublesome. Backing up that specific claim requires overlooking all sorts of caveats, including counting the same effort multiple times.
We rate his claim Half True.
This item has been edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com/Florida.