AOPA makes progress on confusing Florida tax law

April 16, 2009

Bills to remove the use tax on visiting out-of-state aircraft in Florida cleared key legislative hurdles this month, but no change will come in time to allay the fears of owners of new aircraft headed to Sun ‘n Fun April 21 through 26.

Under current Florida law, pilots landing in the state with an aircraft purchased within the six months prior to their visit could be forced to pay up to a 6-percent tax on the aircraft’s sales price. Bills that would exempt pilots staying in Florida up to three weeks from the tax were reported favorably out of committees in the House and Senate by unanimous vote. The Senate Finance and Tax Committee approved S.B.300, and the House Finance and Tax Council approved Rep. Ralph Poppell’s H.B.51.

AOPA staff members have been a frequent presence in Tallahassee in the last few weeks, and personally visited with members of the committees and offered supportive testimony at the hearing.

“This was an important step for this legislation,” said Greg Pecoraro, AOPA vice president of airports and states advocacy. “Last year’s attempt at rejecting the tax passed the House but hit a roadblock in the Senate committee. We still have an uphill battle, with little time and a lot of work left to do in the legislature, but we will continue working hard to repeal this detrimental tax to re-open the state to all aircraft owners.”

Mark Kimberling, AOPA manager of state legislative affairs, traveled to Florida to support the bills with Regional Representative Nelson Rhodes.

The tax is not designed to apply to visitors who fly in for Sun ’n Fun in Lakeland, Fla., but the statute has enough gray areas to make pilots justifiably wary.

At AOPA’s request, the state provided written clarification on the use tax before Sun ’n Fun last year, asserting that it did not use fly-ins as “enforcement activities” and would not impose a use tax if an aircraft is purchased by “a non-resident of Florida with no nexus (connection) to the state (i.e., not a Florida resident, does not own Florida property, is not an officer of a Florida corporation or corporation doing business in Florida) and the aircraft travels to Florida on a pleasure trip temporarily within 6 months of purchase.”

Not sure if your aircraft qualifies? Any AOPA member with a concern can ask the Florida Department of Revenue directly: Contact Rebecca Burdick at 850/922-2650 to make sure you won’t get any unexpected Florida tax bills.

Pilots flying recently purchased airplanes into Florida aren’t the only ones who need to watch out for unexpected taxes. Those purchasing an aircraft at Sun ‘n Fun—or within the state of Florida at anytime—may get hit with the 6-percent tax. A fly-away sales tax exemption applies for purchases from Florida-licensed dealers, but private-seller-to-private-buyer transactions can still be taxed under the law.

Call the AOPA Pilot Information Center (800/USA-AOPA) for advice should this question arise.

AOPA has been working with state leaders, writing letters, and testifying before the legislature to communicate how the use tax deprives the state of revenue and economic activity.