Florida TaxWatch’s Deceptive Release of Its Pro-Charter School Study

The sponsor of SB 1852, Sen. Steve Wise, R- Jacksonville, was cleary ready for the bill’s February 7th public hearing. The Senate Pre K-12  committee he chairs would hear public comments on his bill which would force local school boards to give more of their county’s property tax millage levies to charter schools.  Among the first pro-charter advocates he scheduled was Florida TaxWatch (FTW), a group whom the Orlando Sentinel describes as “a business-funded think tank.” It came a no surprise that FTW was in favor of Wise’s bill. Nor are any of their conclusions:

Allowing charter schools to be their own LEAs Local Education Authority) would remove their dependency on their local district for federal and state funds. Additionally, statutes could ensure that any federal funding received by a district for the benefit of a charter school student is passed on to the charter school serving the student. Absent that, federal funds that are distributed should be allocated and distributed, charter contract language allowing, in a consistent manner across the state.

Mandating that charter schools receive equitable per student funding from all local millage levies would guarantee that charter school students receive the same amount of local taxpayer dollars.

– Adjusting FEFP funding, offsetting for lost locally-derived optional operational funding and capital outlay dollars, would provide funding parity for operations without requiring local districts to share funds directly.

Making charter schools their own local controlling entity (LEA) has received clarion calls from operators and their advocates for some time, and it speaks directly to the privatization agenda of the business and corporate groups whom fund FTW.  Not surprisingly, FTW makes no mention in the text of their report of the costs that public schools encure for the epensive services that charter schools don’t all provide. This would make the reason for the funding differences they’ve highlighted far too obvious. Luckily for Florida taxpayers, State Impact reporter John O’Connor does it for them.

Still, the most glaring omission of the story behind the  Florida TaxWatch report, is the timing. The text of the report wasn’t released until February 8th, the day after Steve Wise’s committee hearing on SB 1852.  Shrouded in perceived benevolence as some sort of taxpayer watchdog, FTW’s testimony went unchallenged for either accuracy or integrity.

One would think that a group whom desires actual taxpayers to see them as some sort of gaurdian of their money would be more above board. Perhaps this Orlando Sentinel story on Rick Scott’s tax break priorities:

Associations representing the state’s largest businesses are supporting the legislation, including the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries of Florida, the Manufacturers Association of Florida and Florida TaxWatch, a business-funded think tank that has produced research in support of the proposal. They view the legislation as a way to get at deeper tangible property-tax cuts in the future, without having to go through another statewide referendum.

“We feel that this bill would open the door to a discussion that we’ve not been allowed to have in the past,” said Nancy Stephens, the executive director of the manufacturers association.

Their goals are ambitious. A task force assembled by TaxWatch wants the Legislature to, in the near future, exempt manufacturers and businesses in selected industries from all tangible property taxes. And it wants lawmakers to “set a goal” of eventually eliminating the taxes for all businesses.

That could mean enormous savings for companies such as Progress Energy, which paid more than $32 million in tangible property taxes across Central Florida last year; Walt Disney World, which paid about $18 million; and Bright House Networks, which paid more than $8 million.

Progress was one of the large firms represented on the TaxWatch task force, alongside other companies such as Florida Power & Light, AT&T, Publix Super Markets and PepsiCo/Tropicana.

To be sure, each of the large businesses listed in the Sentinel piece employs a large number of Floridians. But each of those businesses benefits from the services the state and local counties provide. Like the morally bankrupt scheme for alcohol distributorships to choose where their excise taxes go, FTW’s call to eliminate both business and property taxes shifts tax burden onto individuals taxpayer families. FTW has no place lecturing Floridians on issues of tax fairness as they did in their appearance before Wise’s committee on SB 1852.

About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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