News Column

Tax Collector Offers Health Stipend to Gay Workers

March 28, 2013

David Damron, Orlando Sentinel

gay marriage

Orange County (Fla.) Tax Collector Scott Randolph said Thursday he would offer up to a $1,300 stipend to any of his employees with a same-sex partner who suffers a tax hit on health benefits because they can't legally marry.

"After listening to the arguments before the [U.S] Supreme Court this week, you just start to realize how many inequities there are in the tax code that discriminate against the LGBT community," Randolph said.

"We need to put some pressure on the federal government to change that," Randolph said. "Maybe we can build that pressure from the ground up."

Gay marriage has been at the center of two days of arguments before the nation's highest court. One case dealt with California's gay marriage ban, the other centered on parts of the Defense of Marriage Act that deny federal benefits to legally married couples. Gay couples are barred from marrying in Florida.

The stipend Randolph would offer aims to reduce the added federal tax bill that comes by adding an unmarried partner to a health benefit plan. Depending on whether children also are added, the amount of the stipend could be $350 to $1,300 a year for each employee, he said.

Randolph said he can't ask workers about their sexual orientation, but he estimated 10 to 15 workers might apply for it. When health care benefits were previously offered to domestic partners, only a few workers asked about it and none signed up likely because of the tax hit, he said.

Randolph said his office must withhold taxes on the added income those benefits would represent to a gay couple. The stipend would offset the additional tax, so the employee would see no actual increase in take home pay.

Under federal law, an employee who is married does not pay taxes on his opposite-sex spouse's health benefits.

Randolph said would tap his office budget to pay for the stipends. He has 232 employees.

Some other local governments around the country offer similar offsets to gay employees.

In Florida, according to the Palm Beach Human Rights Council, that county's Property Appraiser Gary Nikolits and Tax Collector Anne Gannon each offer a $500 stipend to their workers. Randolph said he plans to approach other Central Florida public officials about offering them here.

To qualify, Randolph's employees have to sign Orange County's new domestic partner registry, which means unmarried opposite-sex couples in his office on the register could also apply for the stipend.

The registry didn't exist here a year ago. But after an intense political battle, it was adopted countywide.

Leon County commissioners approved a similar registry this month, but Hillsborough County's elected leaders recently rejected one there. In Tallahassee, bills that would establish a statewide registry have not moved in the Republican-controlled Capitol.



Source: (c)2013 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) Distributed by MCT Information Services


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