FABA is attempting to do something big—something much greater than it has ever done before. With a successful track record in Tallahassee that includes over $25 million dollars in aviation maintenance and other tax exemptions benefiting general aviation since 2010, that is saying a lot.
Many of you may not know that FABA is a small— make that a very small association. With one part-time employee, a lobbyist in Tallahassee and a volunteer board of a dozen industry professionals, FABA is literally the “Little Engine That Could” trying to pass our biggest legislation to date in Tallahassee. In the 2016 Florida Legislative Session, FABA will be attempting once again to pass an Aircraft Sales and Use Tax Exemption. This bill proposes to eliminate not only the sales tax on aircraft sales in Florida, but also to abolish the current aviation use tax that prohibits newly purchased aircraft from spending more than 20 days within the first six months of ownership in-state without paying Florida sales tax.
Let’s begin with a little history. In 2014, Piper Aircraft, an FABA member and Florida based aircraft manufacturer, made the initial attempt at introducing this proposed legislation. While it was a solid bill with the support of FABA and others in the industry, it did not make it very far through the Tallahassee process. Unable to gain much footing, the bill eventually fizzled.
Fast forward to early 2015, when FABA decided to pick up where Piper left off. The FABA Board of Directors visited Tallahassee in January for the association’s annual Legislative Day. FABA Lobbyist, Eric Prutsman, had one goal for our group outing in the capitol: FIND CO-SPONSORS FOR OUR BILL! While sitting in a small conference room visiting with Representative Charles Van Zant, the FABA Board watched the magic of politics unfold before their very eyes. Just as Rep. Van Zant decided to sponsor our bill in the House, Senator Thad Altman called in and agreed to be our Senate co-sponsor. At that moment, we knew our attempt at this bill was a go for 2015.
Little did any of us understand that an unprecedented legislative session was about to unfold in Florida. The House and Senate found themselves at odds over just about every issue they encountered and were unable to close the gap on a nearly $4 billion difference over healthcare in their respective budget versions. On April 28th, 2015, the Florida House of Representatives surprised everyone by adjourning “sine die.” In layman terms this means they decided to just leave in the middle of session, with no plans to return. On that same day, FABA’s Aircraft Sales and Use Tax Exemption bill literally died with all of the rest of the bills still sitting in various committees.
The Florida House and Senate were called back by Governor Scott for a special session during the summer of 2015, but were unable to come to any resolution on their differences. Eric Prutsman says, “I’ve been in Tallahassee a long time, and I have never seen such a divisive relationship between the House and Senate. With both being led by Republicans and having a Republican Governor, one would think that they could find some common ground. Unfortunately that is not the case.” When asked what he sees as a possible fix to this strained relationship, Prutsman replies, “The 2016 elections.”
Given the tension in Tallahassee, one might wonder why FABA decided to make another attempt at our bill in 2016. FABA President Mike French says, “No one could foresee the issues ours and almost every other bill proposed in 2015 would face. FABA has been fortunate to retain both Senator Altman and Representative Van Zant as our bill co-sponsors again in 2016. While the legislative process is always a learning experience for us, one thing we know for sure is that when you have support from well-respected legislators, key members and other industry organizations, you forge ahead regardless of the political climate. This is exactly what FABA has done moving forward with preparations for the 2016 session.”
Among the chief measures FABA has taken in the political offseason is the formation of an industry coalition to help support our efforts. The National Business Aviation Association and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association both joined with FABA last spring to bring awareness to the efforts in Florida. Jared Esselman, Director of State Government Affairs for AOPA, explains why FABA’s efforts in Florida are important to their members, “By lowering or eliminating taxes, we hope to encourage more new aircraft sales as well as increase pilot’s ability to upgrade their aircraft or simply put within reach the dream of owning an aircraft. AOPA has over 25,000 members in Florida. We want to serve our member’s best interest at every turn.”
NBAA’s Senior Manager, Finance & Tax Policy, Scott O’Brien agrees that, “Florida is an important state for aviation, and