During a special session, policymakers adopted a 3 percent general sales tax, alongside exemptions like groceries purchased for human consumption and prescription drugs available to all consumers. Thus, Florida became the 27th state to adopt a sales tax. About 17 years earlier, Mississippi had established the first modern sales tax. The then-governor of Mississippi supported the tax because it would shift the tax base away from property owners (who were mostly white) to consumers (which included Black residents with little else to tax due to inequitable access to wealth-building opportunities). Although Florida’s then-Governor Fuller Warren did not cite the same logic, the impact was similar. With the enactment of a 3 percent general sales tax — as opposed to a personal income tax — policymakers effectively shifted the tax burden toward consumers and laid the foundation for one of the most regressive tax codes in the country. Since its passage, policymakers have increased the general sales tax rate three times: in 1968 (from 3 to 4 percent), in 1982 (from 4 to 5 percent), and in 1988 (from 5 to 6 percent).
Current research shows that Florida families with low to middle income spend between $3 and $3.50 for every $100 earned to pay sales taxes, because people with the lowest incomes spend a greater share of their money on taxable consumer goods. In contrast, wealthier Floridians spend between $1 to $1.60 for every $100 earned to pay sales taxes. Florida’s tax code plays an active role in exacerbating racial, ethnic, and income inequities. Driven in large part by Florida’s dependence on sales taxes — close to 80 percent of the state’s general tax revenue comes from sales taxes — Black and Latina/o households in Florida , on average, pay the highest effective tax rates (i.e., the percentage of personal income used to pay state and local taxes). These disproportionately high effective tax rates limit wealth among Black and Latina/o communities.
Image Source: Florida Memory
Image Description: State of Florida Archives. Bennie Rogers’ gas station and general merchandise store – Wakulla, Florida, circa 1949