JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson voiced his disagreements with the most recent GOP tax plan this week at his state office in Northeast Florida.
With wife Grace by his side, Nelson made a stop in Jacksonville on Friday to address local news outlets before attending a Democratic fundraiser held in support of his campaign for reelection. The surprise stop was touted as an opportunity to field questions regarding the recent rollout of a major GOP bill aimed at rewriting the current U.S. tax code, among other things.
Nelson immediately questioned the bill’s priorities after its much-anticipated release Thursday.
“It’s a start,” Nelson said of the ‘Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,’ introduced by U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX). “But it’s only a start because what it does, it triples the amount of cuts going to corporations that it does to individuals and I don’t like that.”
The proposed reduction in the corporate tax structure that Nelson references is listed in Sec. 3001 of H.R. 1. The bill would impose a “flat tax” rate of 20 percent on all taxable income of corporations, a fervent rewrite of the current four-tier system. The change has been estimated to reduce federal revenue by at least $1.5 trillion over the next decade.
“It’s way out of kilter right now,” Nelson said. “It’s too much increase in the national debt and it’s too many cuts to corporations and few cuts to hardworking families.”
Moreover, qualified personal service corporations, as defined in Title 26, Sec. 448(d)(2) of the Internal Revenue Code, would be taxed at a rate of 25 percent, a reduction from the 35 percent currently imposed on taxable income.
Regarding individuals, the GOP plan is aimed at further simplifying things by reducing the current seven-bracket system down to just four federal tax brackets – 12, 25, 35 and 39.6 percent – the latter of which remains unchanged and is reserved for those making more than $1 million.
“I want to see balance,” Nelson said. “I want to see most of the tax cuts going to the middle-income folks, just everyday hardworking families. So, there is going to have to be some tremendous revisions.”
The Republican plan does, however, provide moderate savings for middle-class families by increasing taxable income threshold amounts.
Married taxpayers filing jointly and surviving spouses are currently taxed at a rate of 25 percent on all income over $75,901 and 28 percent on all income over $152,101. Under the proposed plan, couples and widows making between $90,000 and $260,000 would be taxed at a rate of 25 percent, with those earning up to $1 million taxed at the 35 percent rate.
Furthermore, standard deductions would nearly double for both individuals and married couples under the GOP plan. Deductions for individuals would increase from $6,350 to $12,000 and from $12,700 to $24,000 for married couples.
The estimated trillion dollar cuts offered to corporations through this tax legislation have forced Republican lawmakers to find offsetting federal revenue streams elsewhere. Some business tax breaks and individual taxpayer incentives are now on the chopping block.
“We should be making revenue neutral so that the tax cuts that we have are offset by eliminating the tax loopholes so that it doesn’t increase the national debt,” said Nelson.
According to policy highlights released by House Republicans on Thursday, the GOP plan eliminates special-interest deductions that have increased tax rates in past years.
U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan championed the bill’s tax code overhauls as “pro-growth reforms“ during a news conference following the unveiling of the plan Thursday. According to Ryan, these reforms are closing preexisting loopholes, while helping America “compete with the rest of the world.”
“With this plan, we are getting rid of loopholes for special interests and we are leveling the playing field,” Ryan said. “We’re making things so simple – we’re making things so simple that you can do your taxes on a form the size of a postcard.”
Simpler isn’t necessary better, however, at least not from Nelson’s point of view. The Democratic senator from Florida vowed on Friday to offer amendments he believes will balance the tax bill out when it passes through the Senate Committee on Finance, assuming it makes it that far.
“So, this thing has got a long way to go, but this is the start," said Nelson.
When asked about U.S. Department of Transportation grant funding recently applied for by the City of Jacksonville to improve the Hart Bridge Expressway, Nelson offered a friendly reminder of the costs associated with such infrastructure repair.
“What the Hart Bridge illustrates is that we have so much infrastructure that needs repair and rehabbing and in some cases replacing and that’s going to cost a lot of money,” said Nelson.
A lot of money Nelson said he hoped would have been made available via legislation that closed tax loopholes, and in return, created federal revenue that could be used to fund projects.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio offered words of encouragement and support in a letter to Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry last month, referring to the project as an “important mission for North Florida.” Curry first sought funding last year for the project that would effectively demolish the expressway leading into downtown.
“Funds from this grant would be essential to the efficient movement of people and freight throughout the region and would serve as a catalyst for the City of Jacksonville to provide northeast (sic) Florida with opportunities for economic and job growth,” Rubio wrote.
When asked directly if he supported the project, Nelson did not provide a definitive answer, stating he was unaware of the specifics.
Nelson did however mention Jacksonville Port Authority’s expensive efforts to deepen the St. Johns River for the allowance of larger cargo vessels.
“That is about 13 miles of dredging,” Nelson said. “That’s three-quarters of a billion dollars. That’s infrastructure. That’s why we need more money for infrastructure.”
First Coat News also asked Nelson about a letter he penned this week to the U.S. Department of Agriculture requesting an extension of the deadline to apply for D-SNAP assistance in Florida.
In the letter addressed to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, long lines, inclement weather, understaffed sites and “confusing communication” from the Department of Children and Families has made it difficult for those affected by Hurricane Irma to apply for emergency food benefits, according to Nelson.
“It’s a reflection of somebody in the State of Florida that runs the program even though it’s funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and so, I’ll just leave it at that,” Nelson said when asked if these shortfalls were an indication of Gov. Rick Scott’s leadership.
DCF has processed more than one million D-SNAP applications, as of Oct. 31, totaling more than $1.3 billion in federal disaster food assistance. USDA approved D-SNAP benefits for a total 48 counties in the State of Florida. Remaining application periods in Pasco, Broward and Miami-Dade counties will conclude next week.
Sticking to the topic of natural disaster aftermath, Nelson was questioned about the influx of displaced Puerto Ricans coming into Florida and a recent outcry from several counties as to what the plan is for housing these U.S. citizens.
“After a hurricane and you get a displacement of people like those coming from Puerto Rico, there is housing assistance that’s available but it’s just for a short period of time,” said Nelson.
Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs joined commissioners from Osceola and Seminole counties in writing a letter to the Florida Division of Emergency Management this week asking for a plan to accommodate Hurricane Maria evacuees.
Since Oct. 3, more than 90,000 individuals have arrived in Fla. from Puerto Rico. That number is expected to increase as majority of the U.S. commonwealth remains without power. The governor’s press office said on Tuesday that the Division of Emergency Management is working to “explore and consider all available solutions” in regards to housing those displaced from Puerto Rico.
“Obviously in this case, they don’t have any electricity for 80 percent of the island now and it’s well over month,” Nelson said. “So, they’re not able to return to their homes. There has to be additional assistance for them to have housing here until they can return to their homes.”