By BRUCE SCHREINER
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) â¿¿ A bill touted as a way to boost Florida's manufacturing sector by extending a sales tax break passed its first test in a state House panel Wednesday, overcoming scattered objections that it amounts to a giveaway without guarantees it would stimulate job growth.
The measure seeks to exempt Florida manufacturers from paying the 6 percent sales tax on equipment purchases. The proposal reflects one of Republican Gov. Rick Scott's top legislative priorities this year.
Supporters said manufacturing has lagged in a state that relies on a vast services industry tied to its sunshine, beaches and theme parks to generate much of its economic activity.
As for manufacturing, "we are woefully behind compared to the rest of the nation in producing those jobs," said Rep. MaryLynn Magar, R-Tequesta.
Her measure (HB 391) was approved by the House Economic Development and Tourism Subcommittee. It was opposed by three of the panel's Democrats.
"I'm not against manufacturing, but I'm not for giving away everything to one industry," said Rep. Hazelle Rogers, D-Lauderdale Lakes. "They need to pay something, and there needs to be some accountability."
Rep. Bruce Antone, D-Orlando, questioned whether such tax breaks actually attract jobs and investment. Rep. Betty Reed, D-Tampa, said the revenue lost from the tax break could go to help Florida's neediest residents.
The tax break could cost the state more than $100 million in revenue by the second year, according to forecasts. A similar measure is being considered in the Senate.
But Magar and other supporters said the tax incentive would result in a net gain in revenues by encouraging manufacturers to hire more workers and boost investment in the Sunshine State. The result would be more workers paying taxes, they said.
Afterward, Magar sounded upbeat about the chances of eliminating the sales tax charged on equipment purchased by manufacturers.