August 29, 2022

Florida’s Outdated Tax Code Drains State Coffers of Billions Each Year and Undergoes Little Evaluation, Think Tank Says

ORLANDO, Fla. - On the heels of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ remarks that he will be unveiling “the biggest tax relief package in the history of the state,” the nonpartisan Florida Policy Institute (FPI) is urging state lawmakers to rigorously evaluate spending through Florida’s tax code, which has ballooned to $23.6 billion.

According to FPI’s latest report, tax code spending, sometimes referred to as “silent spending” because most expenditures are not subject to the annual review process used for budget appropriations, has increased by $5 billion over the last decade.

The analysis notes that silent spending in fiscal year (FY) 2021-22 cost more than the respective annual budgets of 20 states and topped Florida lawmakers’ investment in environmental conservation and public safety.

“Some tax expenditures do serve a public good — however, the vast majority sit unabated in the tax code, free from analysis, while investment in things like public education and environmental conservation undergo rigorous, routine evaluation by lawmakers,” said Sadaf Knight, CEO of FPI. “It’s long past time for lawmakers to shore up silent spending and recapture this revenue to invest in families and communities.”

FPI also makes the case for closing costly corporate tax loopholes that drain the state of revenue. The analysis includes the example of a corporate income tax deduction enacted in 1981 to encourage international banking facilities to do business in Florida. The loophole, which cost Florida $22 million the year it was implemented, grew 34 times bigger over the next 41 years, to a total combined impact of $756 million. Further, by the 1990s, the tax expenditure had become obsolete: it was no longer a tool to attract international banking facilities since the federal government had allowed banks to start doing business across state lines.

In order to help fix the state’s broken tax code and improve equity, FPI recommends that the state adopt legislation incorporating tax expenditure evaluation into its annual budget review process. The legislation should:

  • require lawmakers to include in every future tax expenditure legislation a clear outline of the public policy goal and who it is meant to benefit;
  • stipulate that each tax expenditure have an expiration and re-evaluation date;
  • require the Office of Economic and Demographic Research (EDR) and Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) to regularly evaluate tax expenditures to determine how successful they have been in achieving their objectives and include any recommendations for reform;
  • include specific recommendations related to any tax expenditure that has been recently evaluated in the annual budget presentation for the governor, House, and Senate;
  • require the finance and tax committees of the Legislature to hold hearings on any tax expenditure that has been recently evaluated; and
  • allow for the reauthorization of only those expired tax expenditures that have demonstrated public benefits in excess of their costs.

“We look forward to working with legislators and our partner organizations to ensure that state dollars are being used toward programs and services that help people in our state thrive,” added Knight.

FPI is an independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing state policies and budgets that improve the economic mobility and quality of life for all Floridians.

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