The women’s clothing retailer Chico’s FAS, Inc., is expanding its national headquarters with a new facility at its Fort Myers campus and creating150 new jobs.
The company’s expansion is supported by $3.26 million dollars in financial incentives from Lee County and from the state of Florida. The financial support includes funds from Florida’s Qualified Target Industry Tax Refund Program, the state’s Quick Action Closing Fund, and more than $1 million in matching funds from Lee County. READ MORE
Reflecting a national trend, roll-your-own tobacco shops have been opening up all over Southwest Florida.
More than half the cost of a pack of cigarettes is in taxes. By rolling their own, smokers can beat the tax man. And, the roll-your-own tobacco emporiums help make it easy.
At CTC Tobacco in Port Charlotte the rolling machines are busy all day. Smokers are able to buy the equivalent of carton of cigarettes for about $14. The cheapest generic cigarettes sold at Wal-Mart cost $46 a carton. Blake Vantrees opened CTC Tobacco earlier this year.
"It's tough economic times and lot of people who smoke tend to be working class or poorer and so the price of cigarettes is a big impact on them and it seemed a situation where people needed inexpensive cigarettes and it seemed like a good time to do it," he said.
But, government officials are taking notice.
The federal government sharply increased the tax on cigarette tobacco and pipe tobacco in 2009 to help pay for the expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program. Both kinds of tobacco had been taxed at $1.09 a pound. The pipe tobacco tax jumped to nearly $3 and cigarette tobacco to almost $25.
Roll your own tobacco shops are selling their customers product labeled pipe tobacco – thus the lower price. So, what's the difference between pipe and cigarette tobacco?
Congressional liaison for the Alcohol, Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau Tom Hogue said the feds are looking for a way to clarify that.
"Our lab has been looking into that quite a bit we have not found at this point a single silver bullet test that will let us look at two products and say definitively that this is a pipe product and this is a roll your own product. It's very hard to draw a distinction," he said.
Hogue said the feds will continue to try to define a difference and implement the law.
Customers at roll-your-own shops don't pay state taxes either. But, that could soon change in New Hampshire where Assistant Attorney General David Rienzo argued before the state Supreme Court that roll-your-own shops are subject to provisions of the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement reached between the states and the tobacco industry in 1998.
"Among those obligations is that manufacturers who never joined the MSA have to pay into an escrow account a certain amount of money for every cigarette they manufacture in the state. We took the position that the tobacco shops that bought the machines and operate them constitute manufacturers," he said.
The New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed and the price of cigarettes produced in roll-your-own shops there could soon reflect that decision.
Meanwhile, a Federal Court in Ohio placed an injunction on enforcing a similar lower court decision there. The appeal resulting in the injunction was brought by RYO Machine Rental, which provides cigarette rolling machines to roll-your-own operations in many states. RYO's President Phil Accordino said the original decision was not fair.
"The judge agreed with us that these machines could hardly be deemed manufacturing machines – a manufacturing machine for Phillip Morris will produce 20,000 cigarettes a minute – it would take our machines two days to produce what their machine would produce in one minute," he said.
Accordino said a hearing on the appeal will be scheduled later this year. Officials in Florida declined to comment on the tax status of roll-your-own cigarettes in this state pending the decision in Ohio.
Florida retailers are counting on brisk sales this weekend – driven by a tax free shopping holiday for clothes and school supplies.
Florida’s first tax free shopping holiday was in 1998. It was aimed at giving parents shopping for back to school items a break. But President of the Florida Retail Federation Rick McCallister says there’s also a ripple effect.
“ People are out there shopping, the family is together and they buy refrigerators and they buy other things that are on sale on special because they’re out in the store’s they see things and they buy them, and so historically the Florida department of revenue has not experienced a reduction in revenue they experience an increase,” he said.
The state dropped the sales tax holiday for two years but it returned in 2010. Depending on what county shoppers live in they can save 6 to 7-1/2 percent in sales tax. The exemption applies to most school supplies with a value up to $15 dollars and clothing costing up to $75 dollars. The holiday begins Friday and runs through Sunday.
Jackson lab’s Vice President for Advancement Mike Hyde says significant community opposition in Collier shifted their focus to Sarasota. “You know our investigation over the last couple of months made it clear that that community would welcome the presence Jackson Laboratory and in particular with our partners from USF Health.”
The Jackson Laboratory Florida will partner with the University of South Florida, Sarasota Memorial Health Care System, Sarasota County and the Gulf Coast Community Foundation to create a bio-medical village developing genetics based treatments for heart disease, Alzheimer’s and diabetes. It has potential to create 22 hundred jobs by 2030.
Hyde says the next step is to convince Governor Rick Scott to help fund the project. Governor Charlie Crist had pledged 130 million dollars over the next three years.