Florida House moves to save tax break for insurance companies
With insurance-industry lobbyists looking on in approval, the Florida House of Representatives moved Friday to save a $220 million-a-year tax break for the industry — and make Florida drivers wait a little longer to save money on their registration fees.
In a meeting that lasted only a matter of minutes, the House Appropriations Committee gutted SB 1832, which would have eliminated a decades-old tax subsidy for insurance companies and used the savings to reduce the fees drivers pay for car-tag registrations.
The original legislation, which passed the Florida Senate unanimously this week, would have immediately saved Florida motorists $12 a year per registration while wiping out a tax break that saves $32.5 million a year for Blue Cross Blue Shield and more than $25 million annually for State Farm.
Under the House's new version — sponsored by the incoming House speaker, Republican Rep. Steve Crisafulli of Merritt Island — insurance companies would get to keep their tax break, which subsidizes the salaries they pay to Florida employees. Motorists would still see their registration fees cut — but it would be phased in over five years, rather than enacted immediately.
As a result, Crisafulli said, drivers would save $2.40 per registration next year, rather than $12. They would not save the full amount until the 2018-19 fiscal year. The legislation would also no longer be revenue neutral; Crisafulli said the state will lose about $224 million a year once the full registration-fee cut is phased in.
A lineup of lobbyists — representing Blue Cross, the American Council of Life Insurance, and Associated Industries of Florida, among many others — gave the revised legislation their blessing shortly before the committee approved it.
Rep. Marti Coley, a Republican from Marianna — and, like Crisafulli, a member of House Speaker Will Weatherford's inner circle — said the House's version "helps us not raise taxes, enables us to support business like we all like to do, so that we have jobs for our citizens."
The incoming House Democratic Leader, Rep. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg, also expressed support for the House's approach.
The House's move is a testament to the influence of the insurance industry in the Florida Capitol.
Blue Cross, for instance, spent about $500,000 on contract lobbyists last year, according to state records. The health insurer also contributed $115,000 to the Republican Party of Florida during the first quarter of this year, plus $10,000 to the Florida Democratic Party and $237,500 to a political committee affiliated with Republican Gov. Rick Scott.
After the meeting, Crisafulli praised the insurance industry for employing many Floridians and said the House wants to keep its tax break in place.
"We feel that taxing job creators is not necessarily the answer to Florida's future," he told reporters.