Holiday sales fall short, could hurt Florida's budget surplus - WFLA News Channel 8

Holiday sales fall short, could hurt Florida's budget surplus

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It looks like holiday sales will fall desperately short of the robust 5.2% increase predicted by Florida retailers.

According to a MasterCard Advisors Spending Pulse report, sales rose a meager .7% nationwide in the two months leading up to Christmas.

After four straight years of slow holiday sales, the federation expected a 5.2 percent increase. Florida should do slightly better, but we won't know for months.

"Holiday sales are an important part of retail, and retail is an important part of the state fiscal picture," says Rob Weissert of Florida TaxWatch, who points out that a slow holiday shopping season will impact the state budget.

"Florida relies heavily on sales tax for funding general revenue and the operations of the government."

That means everything, from teachers to the people fighting wildfires, depends on you shopping. About three quarters of every dollar in the state's general revenue fund comes from sales taxes.

"There is a predicted budget surplus, but again those predictions tend to change," says Weissert. The surplus was predicted at $400 million.

State economists will meet again before the 2013 legislative session in March and their estimates, including the holiday shopping figures, will have an impact on what lawmakers decide to fund.

The lackluster holiday shopping season could also affect the job market. Many stores use the holiday season to recruit new talent from the seasonal workforce. Sluggish sales will likely mean fewer of those workers will land full time jobs.

And there's another humbug feeding on state revenues. Online sales rose 16 percent this holiday shopping season, and most of those shoppers will pay NO state sales taxes. Online shops without locations in Florida are not required to collect sales taxes, although the buyers still owe it.

Weissert says few shoppers will voluntarily do the math and pay the state.

"They have to go and individually calculate and pay their Florida state sales and use tax, but when they don't, those collections drop because of tax evasion essentially."

Last year just 7,000 people statewide paid the tax. The form is called the DR-15MO. It's on the Florida Department of Revenue's Website.

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