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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Hatching a plan to defeat tax amendment



In a bustling Teamsters Union hall in Orlando this week, an unusual group of allies took the first step toward an all-out effort to defeat the proposed constitutional amendment on property taxes.

Teachers, firefighters, social service advocates and labor unions met privately on Thursday to begin discussing the effects of the Jan. 29  ballot proposal, which would take $10-billion to $15-billion from local government over four years.

Organizers planned on 50 people being there, but 80 turned up.

“There was an incredible amount of energy,” said Rich Templin of the Florida AFL-CIO. “There’s going to be an interesting, diverse group of allies who are going to be coming out in the strongest way possible against this.”

Exactly how is yet to be seen, as is the level of financial support the as-yet-unnamed coalition will have. A campaign against the proposal could cost millions for TV and other forms of advertising and will have to compete with a growing effort in favor of the plan.

The proposed amendment would replace the current $25,000 homestead exemption with an exemption based on the percentage of a home’s value — for a total of up to $195,000 on $500,000 of value. The plan also excludes the first $25,000 in taxes businesses pay on equipment.

School budgets, which were left out of earlier proposals, would be affected by up to $7-billion over four years. Lawmakers have pledged to replace the money but skeptics abound.

“It’s not just public schools. It’s services to kids, like after-school care, and transportation,” said Dawn Steward, legislative chair of the Florida Parent-Teachers Association, who attended the meeting.
Despite universal distaste for the plan, the gathering was more informational than a strategy session, organizers said.

“Our plan is that this will lead to the launching of a campaign, but we’re just not there yet,” said Karen Woodall, a Tallahassee lobbyist for social service organizations.

One of the difficulties the group faces is coming up with a convincing, easy-to-understand message explaining why voters should oppose the amendment.

Eventually the coalition will have to form a political organization and register with the state. Then it can begin to raise money to defeat the amendment.

Proponents have a head-start. Several business groups have already said they will spend money or tap networks in favor of the amendment. The Florida Association of Realtors said it will spend up to $1-million in support of the proposed constitutional amendment for “super” homestead exemptions.

And the Florida Chamber of Commerce announced this week that it would launch a “statewide grassroots campaign” to reach its 139,000 members and their 3 million employees “to make sure that they understand the importance of this amendment in reforming the property tax system.”

Gov. Charlie Crist also plans to promote the amendment. “I’ll be as active as possible,” he told the St. Petersburg Times editorial board Friday. “I think it’s not only important to Florida consumers but to Florida’s economy.” He predicted the measure would pass despite “all the naysayers in local government.”

[Last modified: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 12:58pm]


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