Florida’s hurricane prep sales tax holiday looking like a hot air tax cut

By William Patrick | Florida Watchdog

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida’s nine-day Hurricane Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday appears to have ended Sunday night with a whimper, rather than a Category-5 roar.

HURRICANE SALES TAX HOLIDAY: Many Floridians likely weren’t aware of it.

Many Floridians weren’t aware of it, much less benefited from the relatively high-profile part of Gov. Rick Scott’s $500-million tax cut budget. Repealing motor vehicle registration fee hikes instituted under former Gov. Charlie Crist represented the majority of the tax cuts. The state is expected to spend $281,000 to implement the exemption.

“I had no idea,” said Brian Hunter, a homeowner living on several acres in East Tallahassee. “I’ve heard of back to school tax holidays but not for hurricanes.”

Timed to coincide with the June 1 start of hurricane season, the sales tax holiday offered a 6-percent discount on certain moderately priced items such as flashlights, batteries, coolers, tarps and ice packs. Portable generators also were tax-exempt if sold under $750.

Brian Harding, a 28-year-old Orlando insurance adjuster, told Watchdog.org that he wasn’t aware of the nine-day tax-exempt period, either.

“Even if I knew, I’m not going to run out and buy a flashlight just to save a $1.20,” Harding said. “Maybe if they included more tax-free items than things I already have or don’t need until a hurricane comes I’d go out and buy some of this stuff.”

The conservative Tax Foundation says sales tax holidays do not promote economic growth, a major reason state lawmakers approved the hurricane prep week during this year’s legislative session.

“Evidence shows that (consumers) simply shift the timing of their purchases. Some retailers raise prices during the holiday, reducing consumer savings,” reads a key finding from a study dating back to last year’s hurricane season.

But that might apply more to the better-known back-to-school holidays.

The Florida Retail Federation, a statewide trade association representing retail businesses, which supports tax holidays, blamed the prospect of lackluster sales on complacency and the lack of recent notable hurricane damage.

“This is the first time since 2007 that Florida has hosted this tax holiday, and it has been several years since the state has been hit by a major hurricane,” John H. Fleming, FRF director of communications told Watchdog.org in an email.

“Unfortunately, it appears that many Floridians have again become complacent, and are delaying their purchases of preparedness supplies,” he said.

A weekend manager at a locally owned Ace Hardware store in Tallahassee told Watchdog.org that very few people bought items specifically to take advantage of the 6-percent tax exemption, but added additional savings could be applied if the items were combined with sale items.

The Tax Foundation study calls tax holidays distractions “from genuine, permanent tax relief.”

Greg Kennett, a Tallahassee mechanic and father of three, said that he only knew of the hurricane tax holiday because he heard about it on the radio in his truck.

“I’ve already got everything I need,” Kennett said. “If they want to cut my taxes then they should reduce the sales tax to 5 percent.

“If they did nothing next year, I don’t think anyone would miss it.”

Contact William Patrick at wpatrick@watchdog.org

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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