There's a new twist this year in the annual push to make online retailers collect sales tax from Florida buyers. Supporters of the move are linking the prospect of new online taxes to other tax cuts for businesses and consumers in order to win over a skeptical Legislature.
The first step came Tuesday when a Senate panel approved a sweeping tax measure aimed at getting online sellers to collect the state's 6 percent sales tax from Florida residents.
"The world has changed and we need to recognize the change," said Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, one of the sponsors of the legislation.
Floridians are supposed to pay taxes for online purchases but there's really no way to enforce the law. Under current laws, the state can't force out-of-state retailers such as Seattle-based Amazon.com to collect the tax unless it has a physical presence such as a warehouse or store.
Detert has long favored forcing online retailers to collect the same tax now collected by "brick and mortar" stores but the effort hasn't gotten very far in the Capitol.
But this year Detert attached two other tax cuts to the online tax legislation (SB 316). One would eliminate the state's sales tax charged to manufacturers that purchase equipment. The $115 million tax cut is a top priority for Gov. Rick Scott, who says it will help create more jobs in the state.
Detert also wants to slash by 15 percent the state tax now charged on phones and cable television and cut the state tax charged on satellite television by 10 percent.
"This would have a big impact," Detert said.
It's not clear how Scott and other Republicans will respond. The bill faces several more hurdles before it would be considered by the full Legislature.
Scott has said in the past that he could support online taxes if they did not create extra money for the government. But he also refused to support a deal offered by Amazon that called for the online retailer to build two new distribution centers in the state in exchange for exempting the company from collecting sales taxes for two years.
Scott's budget director, Jerry McDaniel, told a legislative panel this week that the "governor has not tipped his hand one way or the other" on the issue.
Detert's legislation has already won the favor of business groups such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce. But some lawmakers fear that a vote in favor of the legislation could be seen as support for a tax hike.
Supporters of the measure contend that it's time to help Florida-based merchants.
"I'm tired of seeing empty shopping centers," said Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Aventura. "The money is walking away from Florida.