City of West Palm Beach considers tax breaks for same-sex couples

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- On Monday, city commissioners will take the first of two votes to decide whether to approve a tax reimbursement for City of West Palm Beach employees in domestic partnerships.

Currently, the partners of 16 city employees receive health insurance benefits through the city's health insurance plan.

Since they are not legally married, the cost of the coverage is taxed as income.

Robert Telford, a producer and editor at West Palm TV, said he paid the equivalent of more than $8,000 of taxable income last year to cover his partner of 17 years, Jim Schramm.

"I do make a decent salary but it is a hardship for everybody." Telford said. "This is an incredible step forward. I think this is a natural progression."

The reimbursement, if approved, would be extended to same-sex and opposite-sex couples in domestic partnerships.

"Businesses are looking for cities that are progressive, for cities that take action and [for cities that] get things done," Mayor Jeri Muoio said. "I think that this is a good indication of what we think is important."

Timothy Gilbert, a professor at Northwood University, said the reimbursement made sense.

"The cities and the counties recognize that, increasingly, as benefits are a major portion of a negotiation for a job -- and attracting talent -- that they have to offer benefits that are equal," Gilbert said.

West Palm Beach would become the second city in Florida -- after Hallandale Beach -- to offer the benefit, if it is approved.

"It's not a gay issue, it's a pay issue," Rand Hoch, president and founder of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council said. "The tax code is unfair. So many federal laws are unfair. The City of West Palm Beach has found a way to equalize the tax burden."

A city spokesperson said the benefit would cost the City about $17,600 annually.

A second and final vote is expected in mid-May.

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