Saying Florida’s tax system is ranked among the nation’s most regressive, Democrats and advocates for the poor on Monday called on state lawmakers to pass legislation that would give more working families tax breaks.
The families would have to already be receiving federal taxes back in the form of the earned Income tax credit. That federal program has been subsidizing low-income working families since 1975. It’s been called one of the best federal programs to lift families out of poverty. In 2017, 27 million eligible workers and families nationwide received about $65 billion in tax credits under the earned income tax credit. The federal government estimates that those credits lifted 9.4 million people out of poverty, including 5 million children.
“The earned income tax credit is something that has brought bipartisan support,” said state Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami-Dade Democrat. “These are working families that work every week of the year, and they deserve to have us – as legislators – try to figure out how we give back to them.”
Florida is among the minority of states that don’t have such a program in place. Twenty-nine states, including ones controlled by Republicans in Indiana, Kansas and Oklahoma have created such programs by matching a portion of the federal credit. So has New York City, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories Guam and Puerto Rico.
The proposed Florida legislation, sponsored by House Democratic Minority Leader Kionne McGhee and Palm Beach Democratic Senator Bobby Powell, calls for the Florida Department of Revenue to prepare a report by the end of the year to the Governor, Cabinet and other top elected officials to assess such a program.
Under the proposal, the Department of Revenue would issue a check to an individual (or household) equal to 10 percent of the amount of their federal earned income tax credit.
That’s far below California, which offers the biggest statewide earned income tax credit (45 percent), while Louisiana provides the lowest at 3.5 percent, according to the IRS.
A study conducted last year by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy listed Florida as the third-worst regressive state in the nation when it comes to tax fairness, behind only Washington state and Texas.
“We have a structural imbalance in Florida’s fiscal posture, and it will only worsen as we continue to irresponsibly erase Florida’s revenue base,” said state Rep. Anna Eskamani, a Democrat from Central Florida. “I’m talking about (tax) exemptions and different types of credits that the majority benefits our largest corporations in the state of Florida.”
Eskamani cited information from a 2016 report by the Florida Policy Institute showing that most of the nearly $18 billion in lost state revenue came from exemptions to sales and use taxes.
This is not the first time that state Democrats have proposed introducing a statewide version of the earned income tax credit, and with less than three weeks before the 2019 session’s scheduled end, it’s unlikely this proposal will go anywhere. Eskamani said it isn’t too early to put the idea in the minds of lawmakers when they begin looking at 2020.
“It’s critically important that we send a message to families like mine that we have fighters for you, and that your voice counts,” she said. “And my hope is that when we go into next session, we continue to be proactive in pushing forward new ideas to make Florida a state where every family has a voice in this chamber.”