Florida’s 17th back-to-school holiday is now underway. As of 12:01 Friday morning, eligible items will be exempt from sales tax until 11:59 p.m. on Sunday.
“It’s probably one of the [bills] that passes 116-0 or 114-0; hard to imagine somebody voting against this bill, when these tax holidays come up, especially back to school. Anything that gives some broad relief to families is a big deal.” said outgoing state Rep. Clay Ingram, who’s also President and CEO of the Greater Pensacola Chamber of Commerce.
The measure passed 75-35 in the House and 33-3 in the Senate. Such tax breaks, he believes, promote local businesses over the outlet centers in Monroeville and Foley, Alabama.
“People will probably still do some of that, but to know that you can stay here,” Ingram said. “Anything we can do from an incentive standpoint with regard to tax policy to keep dollars here, I think is a big deal and pretty important.”
There are some major changes in this year’s back-to-school weekend. The limit on clothing and footwear has been reduced from $75-$60; the $15 limit on school supplies remains. And the holiday itself is shorter – spanning three days instead of ten.
The big topic of discussion is that electronics are not tax-free. James Miller with the Florida Retail Association says that exemption was in the original bill during this year’s legislative session
“Parkland happened, four or five hundred million dollars was diverted to strengthening schools,” said Miller. “And then Hurricane Irma and a lot of money went towards businesses, homeowners and insurance that needed it then. Those definitely played a role. So not having it in there was disappointing, and it’s something that we’ll definitely advocate for in next year’s session.”
The 2018 tax holiday is expected to save customers around $33 million. State coffers will take a $26 million hit, with a seven million dollar impact on local governments. Even without the gadgets, Miller sees no drop-off in popularity.
“Consumer confidence remains high, everybody has a job it seems like,” Miller said. “So things are really rolling right along. We expected it to be even more popular as a result [that] people have a little more money to spend.”
When heading out to the stores, Miller has a bit of advice to help you get through your shopping spree. First, make a plan and stick with it and above all – be patient.
“Try to find out exactly what you’re looking for, the stores you want to go hit, and it will make your time a lot easier,” Miller says. “Lines will be long; retailers do everything they can to stock up on merchandise and also get the extra employees lined up. But, sometimes you just can’t help the rush of people that [will] come in this weekend because it is so popular.”
As mentioned, the Florida Retail Federation plans to lobby for a return to giving tax breaks for computers and other electronics in 2019. Miller says that would provide a win-win for both consumers and lawmakers.
“It’s something they can take back to their constituents and say, ‘Hey, here’s what I voted for, here’s what passed,’” said Miller. “It’s something that our members always advocate for is sales tax holiday in general, but specifically technology; because it’s such a high-ticket item.”
Something that gets lost in all the hoopla over back-to-school, says Miller, is that the tax-free merchandise is open to everyone.
“You don’t need to have a child under your arm to appreciate the discounts,” said Miller.
Florida’s initial school tax holiday was held in 1998, and was discontinued in 2008 because of the Great Recession. After its revival in 2010, it’s been an annual event. There’s also one spinoff – a tax free holiday for hurricane supplies, which was held last March.