A recent article published by Soundings Trade Only Today, a news source for marine industry professionals, touted the success of Florida's $18,000 sales and use tax cap on boats purchased or brought into Florida. According to the article, Florida generated some $13.4 million in direct sales tax revenue from sales of tax-capped boats during 2011.
According to a joint study conducted by the Florida Yacht Brokers Association (FYBA) and the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, the marine sales tax cap, which was enacted in 2010, has impacted the maritime industry in two significant respects. First, the average sale price for post- sales tax cap transactions was about $907,000. This figure represents nearly twice the average pre- sales tax cap. Second, out-of-state closings (presumptively to avoid sales tax) dropped from 21.5 percent to 12.8 percent.
In light of the success of the marine sales tax cap, a spokesman for FYBA stated that "setting a reasonable tax basis for high dollar purchases provides an incentive for more boats to be purchased, provisioned and kept plying the waters of Florida." Of course, this is a basic principle of tax policy in general. Unfortunately, however, this fundamental principle seems to have been forgotten in this new "occupy Wall Street" era of proposed "millionaire's taxes."
Aside from the inherently unresolvable policy issues associated with a millionaire's tax (e.g., class warfare, enhancing the social gap while only minimally closing the economic gap between the rich and the poor), raising taxes leads to decreased spending. While this may be less true with respect to inelastic items such as food, housing, and transportation, it cannot be debated with respect to more elastic luxury items . By contrast, reducing taxes stimulates the economy by boosting spending.
On the surface, one might be unsympathetic to the plight of the white-collar tax payer who is required to reduce his or her discretionary spending on luxury items such as boats, traveling, dining out, etc. But in the end, it all comes back to the middle-class because it is the middle class who will inevitably bear the incidence of a millionaire's tax. It is the middle-class who work in the shipyards where the boats are manufactured and the boat dealerships and brokerage houses where the boats are sold. It is the middle class who work and operate the upscale restaurants in which the wealthy dine. It is the middle class who repair and sell the Bentleys, Mercedes, and Porsches which the wealthy drive. The list goes on and on.
Moral of the Story: Love them or hate them, the spending habits of the wealthy keep many Americans employed. So don't kill the goose that lays the golden egg.
The Florida maritime sales tax cap is compelling evidence of the longstanding and well-established principle that reasonable levels of taxation stimulate economic growth. With that being said, other areas of government - both local and federal - would be well-advised to follow the Florida maritime industry's lead.