In an attempt to make the business of bottled water a more mutually beneficial relationship between the corporations who withdraw millions of gallons of public water per day and the Floridians who currently see nothing in return beyond a $230 permitting fee, state Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, has proposed legislation that will place a 6 percent tax on the product.
Billed as an environmental surcharge that would be used to mitigate the impact of withdrawing vast amounts of water from Florida’s springs, Lynn will face the hurdle of convincing a legislature (led by a Senate President and House Speaker who are both ardently against any new taxes) that the measure is vital for protecting natural resources in the state.
“I think it’s very important that we protect the environment as much as we can and plastic bottles are creating all sorts of problems with our wildlife as well as just littering everywhere,” says Lynn. “And it just seemed an appropriate thing to do.”
Previous legislatures have unsuccessfully taken up the issue of taxing bottled water, with Gov. Charlie Crist pushing in 2009 for a severance fee on commercially withdrawn water that would have been paid by the bottlers themselves for the privilege of selling a product that costs thousands of times that of tap water. The proposal met stiff resistance from the industry, with Nestle Waters North America, currently seeking to expand its grip on public water in North Florida, leading the fight.
State Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, who drafted similar legislation in both 2009 and 2010 and will be sponsoring a House version of Sen. Lynn’s S.B. 78 in the spring, says that constituents have for years been seeking the removal of special interest tax exemptions, the revenue from which could be used to bolster Florida’s floundering economy.
“I would love to see all of those tax exemptions reviewed,” Rehwinkel Vasilinda tells The Florida Independent. “I chose the bottled water tax exemption because I felt like it really made absolutely no sense, and it could get a coalition of people to pay attention to it from an environmental standpoint. There’s a lot of industry push-back when you try to get rid of special interest tax exemptions, because it gives them a leg up on competition. That’s why I think it hasn’t worked.”
Rehwinkel Vasilinda says that she supports the idea of a tax that would be paid by consumers of bottled water, and the notion of a severance tax paid by those commercial entities that use large amounts of public water for private profit.
“It’s ridiculous, frankly, to take a natural resource that Floridians own,” she says. “I think the severance fee is appropriate, and I also think the tax on bottled water is appropriate. I’ve spoken to many groups about this, and most people don’t even know that they don’t pay the tax.”
Rehwinkel Vasilinda says one factor keeping legislation that would place a tax on bottled water from becoming law is the “domino effect” that could befall other special interest tax exemptions should lawmakers begin questioning their validity in this instance.
“I certainly don’t think taxing bottled water is going to keep anyone from buying it who’s buying it now, and I don’t think it’s going to keep Nestle, or any other water companies, from selling bottled water. We could certainly use the revenue to offset the environmental costs.”
Seeking comment on the viability of a bottled water tax, whether in the form of a surcharge passed onto consumer or industry, a representative for House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, issued a statement via email: ”Speaker Cannon does not support raising taxes on families and businesses during these tough economic times.”
Messages left for Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, who revealed today he will be making a run for the U.S. Senate in 2012, were not returned.