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State budget prioritizes Everglades restoration, provides tax relief to families

May 17, 2017
By SEN. LIZBETH BENACQUISTO , Lehigh Acres Citizen

Last week, the Florida Legislature passed the 2017-18 General Appropriations Act, along with conforming and implementing bills that will govern the state for the year.

Below are highlights of the budget and tax relief bills, as well as a plan to reduce the cost of higher education in Florida while making state universities world-class:

Everglades restoration, Lake Okeechobee

This year's Legislature took unprecedented action and funding for the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee and the harmful discharges that plague our Caloosahatchee Estuary.

Included in the budget was $167.7 million for Everglades Restoration with $35 million for Northern Everglades Restoration. The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan allocation was $135,664,122, including a monumental $106,664,122 for the C-43 Reservoir project that is incredibly important to Southwest Florida.

Also included is $64 million towards the Lake Okeechobee reservoir project that will bring relief to the areas devastated by harmful discharges, protect Floridians that live south of Lake Okeechobee and restore the flow of clean water to the Everglades and Florida Bay that is crucially needed.

Tax relief

Every person who owns and maintains a permanent residence, or homesteaded property, in Florida is eligible for a $25,000 tax exemption applicable to all ad valorem tax levies. In 2008, voters approved an additional $25,000.

The legislature this year passed a bill that proposes an amendment to the Florida Constitution to provide an additional homestead exemption of $25,000. The bill will provide significant tax savings for homeowners across Florida, putting millions of dollars back in the pockets of Florida's families.

Additionally, the Legislature passed $180 million in broad-based tax relief for Florida's families and businesses, including:

- Establishes the 2017 Back-To-School Sales Tax Holiday: The legislation creates a three-day "back-to-school" sales tax holiday from Aug. 4-6 for clothing and footwear costing $60 or less, school supplies costing less than $15 and up to $750 for a personal computer.

- Reduces business rent tax: The tax package permanently lowers the sales tax charged on commercial leases. The state currently levies a 6 percent tax on the total rent or license fee charged for renting any real property. Residences are exempt from this tax, and Florida is currently the only state in the country to impose this type of tax on businesses. The bill permanently lowers the rate from 6 percent to 5.8 percent.

- Establishes a 2017 Disaster Preparedness Tax Holiday: The legislation creates a "disaster preparedness" sales tax holiday from June 2-4. Essential disaster supplies include: flashlight selling for $20 or less, portable self-powered radio, two-way radio or weather band radio selling for $50 or less, first-aid kit selling for $30 or less, ground anchor system or tie-down kit selling for $50 60 or less, gas or diesel fuel tank selling for $25 or less, non-electric food storage cooler selling for $30 or less, portable generator selling for $750 or less and reusable ice selling for $10 or less.

- Creates a sales tax exemption for feminine hygiene products: The bill creates a permanent sales tax exemption for essential hygienic products for women. Currently, Florida law imposes a sales tax on luxury items such as cosmetics and toiletries, while providing tax exemptions for medical products used to prevent or treat illness. This legislation makes it clear that feminine hygiene products are not luxury items in the same category as toiletries, but rather a necessity for women's overall health, hygiene and well-being.

- Reducing the cost of higher education: Historic increases to need and merit based financial aid and tuition assistance programs:

- Ensures the Bright Futures Florida Academic Scholars award covers 100 percent of tuition and fees and a $300 per semester textbook stipend. This will keep Florida's top high school students in the state and help them to graduate will minimal student loans.

- Provides Bright Futures for summer term enrollment in order to help students graduate on time and enter the workforce earlier.

- Doubles the match for the First Generation Matching Grant Program so that no student's eligibility will go unfunded.

- Expands the Benacquisto Scholarship to out-of-state National Merit Scholars to attract the most talented student around the county to Florida's universities as they become national destinations for higher education.

- Creates the Florida Farmworker Student Scholarship Program to provide college opportunities to the state's dedicated agriculture industry.

- Updates university and college performance-based incentive programs and the preeminent state research universities program.

- Changes the six-year graduation rate metric to a four-year graduation rate metric to promote on time graduation as a university focus.

- Adjusts the preeminence metric to 60 percent four-year graduation rate.

- Removes the allowance for pre-eminent universities to require a six-credit set of unique courses in order to allow students to take classes on track with their degrees.

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto represents District 27 in the Florida Senate. Contact her at 239-338-2570. Her district office is at 2310 First St., Unit 305, Fort Myers.



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