Many in Destin know Bob Wagner, who serves as a Destin Fire Commissioner, but there is another crowd that knows him as the concessions man. Every fall, Wagner can be found serving up nachos and hotdogs at Fort Walton Beach High School football games in effort to raise funds for the band his children participate in.
“I’m the concession stand manager,” said Wagner. “I sell concessions during football games and all the proceeds go to help operate the band.”
However, Wagner said that after three years of running the stand, he noticed a large chunk of the funds raised were lost in taxes after the food stand sales.
“We were being taxed on everything coming in,” he said. “I thought it was strange because we were tax exempt when we bought the concessions, but had to pay taxes on everything after we sold them.”
Wagner estimated that last year the stand raised $60,000 for the band, but lost around $1,800 in taxes to the state.
“We use over 1,500 volunteer hours per year to raise money for busses to competitions, extra teachers, equipment repairs and other expenses,” said Wagner. “I started wondering why we have to pay taxes on that.”
So Wagner decided to take up the issue with Rep. Matt Gaetz, and asked him why the state had such taxes and if anything could be done to alleviate them.
“I contacted Representative Gaetz’s office, but it was during the session when the representatives walked out so that bill died,” said Wagner. “He could have easily let it die, but Gaetz brought it back up when the session reopened.”
Gaetz told The Log the timing of this tax-break proposal could not have come at a better time. This year, Gaetz was named Finance and Tax Chairman for the state of Florida and was tasked with finding ways to help alleviate $690 million dollars in taxes across the state.
“The House generally meets for 60 days out of the year, and each representative presents six bills,” said Gaetz. “This was going to be one of my bills, but that all changed when I became finance and tax chairman.”
Gaetz said that from the moment he presented the issue of school fundraisers being taxed, it became a personal passion for many representatives within the House.
“It became within the House of Representatives a very organic priority,” he said. “I don’t think many of the representatives knew we were collecting this tax, and even Governor (Rick)Scott had no idea we were collecting this tax.”
From start to finish, Gaetz said the bill met with little resistance passing with 119 votes for and only one vote against.
“This was an easy issue to build a constituency around,” said Gaetz. “Everyone that I worked with in the House of Representatives had an attachment to this issue; it’s good to have something that cuts through all the politics.”
As of July 1, House Bill 33A declares school fundraisers for grades K-12 to be tax exempt. This is no small thing, as Gaetz said it will save millions of dollars in the coming years.
“The cumulative outcome of this bill is $1.5 million dollars (per year) back into our extracurricular programs statewide,” said Gaetz. “The greatest ideas come from citizens who want to see government serve citizens more effectively.”
The full benefits of the new bill are yet to be seen however, Florida Association of School Administration Senior Consultant for Governmental Affairs Jessica Janasiewicz said the bill is definitely a plus for Florida schools.
“More money is always a positive thing, especially when trying to raise money for equipment and activities,” said Janasiewicz. “It’s nice that the money will be going back to the kids and their programs. Oftentimes, it is parents who are the volunteers and it can be very complicated. It (the bill) will definitely be helpful for those groups that are trying to raise money for the schools.”
For his part, Wagner said the quickness of this bill being passed has given him new hope in Florida government and confidence to bring other ideas up to Florida representatives in the future.
“It’s very unusual to get it passed this quickly,” Wagner said. “It’s a statewide bill and I’m excited that not only did it help our district, but the entire state. Now every school district in the state can give directly back into the kid’s funds.”