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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

'Like a pinata,' support for tax plan spills




Campaign volunteer Hernan Santiesteban holds up a stack of signed petitions for the 1.35 percent tax cap plan. Organizers say they have collected more than 100,000 statewide, half of which come from Miami-Dade. On Friday, Santiesteban and others will drop off 22,000 at the elections office.

From a tiny office on 8th Street near West Miami, a band of volunteers struggles to keep up with the demand. The phone rings constantly. People drop by and ask, where can we get some?

Petitions for the 1.35 percent tax cap plan, modeled after California's Proposition 13, are rolling in and emboldening supporters who think the proposal on the Jan. 29 ballot is weak in comparison. "It's like jumping from an eight story building and someone gives you two aspirin," scoffed West Miami Mayor Cesar Carasa. "But this," he said, holding up a petition, "will make taxes drop like a rock."

The mayor stood in between a row of cubicles where volunteers, speaking in English and Spanish, handled phone calls. Stacks of stamped envelopes sat on desks and the front counter, petitions tucked inside.

It would take a miracle to get the 611,000 petitions (and they can't all come from Miami-Dade) by the end of the month. But the group is going to try. Volunteers will fan out across the state on primary day to gather more support.

The group has relied on word of mouth and local radio to spread the word. Gregorio Rodriguez, the owner of a printing business who is heading up the office, apologized to a visitor for running out early. He had to be on WQBA at 4 p.m. The message is also being transmitted by Reps. Marco Rubio, David Rivera, Anitere Flores, Julio Robaina, and Luis Garcia.

"We can't handle the volume of people who want to sign petitions," Rubio said in a telephone interview. "We just don't have the manpower. After any radio appearance, we get 100 calls. It’s almost like a pinata breaking and all this candy’s on the floor and you can’t get all of it."

The door opened and Dr. Andres Ferro walked in. He asked for a handful of petitions then quickly left. Ferro wanted to get a petition to a fellow doctor who was flying Thursday evening to Ecuador. Ferro says he owns an apartment in Miami Beach that he uses on the weekends. But he said the property tax bill has gone to $8,000 from about $3,000 in recent years.

"It's a necessity," he said before driving away, "to cut those taxes."

[Last modified: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 2:16pm]


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