FL: A ‘sin tax’ for the Florida Keys? Booze sales could help health costs

Mark Willingham Uncategorized

FL: A ‘sin tax’ for the Florida Keys? Booze sales could help health costs

Miami Herald
By Kevin Wadlow
August 7, 2016
A Florida Keys “sin tax” — a proposed new sales tax on tobacco and bar-served booze — could fund worthy nonprofit groups and lighten Monroe County’s property-tax levy.

That’s the basis of a draft resolution reaching Monroe County commissioners at their Aug. 17 meeting in Key West. In short, it seeks a nonbinding referendum for the November general-election ballot that would signal whether Keys voters might favor a more specific sales-tax plan in a future vote.

“We’re asking voters about creating a dedicated funding source for human services [organizations] to offset the millions of dollars in property taxes we currently pay for this,” Mayor Heather Carruthers said in a written message.

“The tax would be only on cigarettes and on alcoholic drinks served in bars,” Carruthers said, “and tourists would pay well more than half of it.”

Such a tax could generate $10 million annually for a proposed Keys Human Services Trust, advocates told commissioners in May.

If approved by commissioners Aug. 17, the draft resolution would query Nov. 8 voters if they might “support a sales tax on tobacco and served alcohol throughout Monroe County” to fund local groups that help “veterans, seniors, children, disabled and other vulnerable residents….”

No tax would be created by the November vote. Results, if favorable at the ballot box, would be sent to the Florida Legislature showing “community support” for a change in state law that would allow a sales tax for human-services expenditures. If the proposed November resolution is approved by voters, a second referendum with specific details of the tax plan would return to Monroe voters at a later date.

“It’s to influence a Legislature inclined to say no to give us the answer we want,” Commissioner David Rice has said.

A state law allows such a sales tax for human services — but it is limited to Miami-Dade County.

“Unfortunately, staff could find no authorization under current state law which would meet the goals” of creating a similar fund for Monroe County, says a report to the board.

In the pending budget for fiscal year 2017, Monroe County may “spend $3,904,875 on such health and welfare programs,” an agenda summary says. Much of that money comes from property taxes.