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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Rubio on the tax swap: 'I'm happy'



[Rubio on the House floor Friday. Times photo | Scott Keeler]

A few days ago, House Speaker Marco Rubio added criticism of the plan to trade school property taxes for higher sales tax and other revenue sources. His remarks seem to spell trouble for the proposal. But the “tax swap” passed the Taxation and Budget and Reform Commission on Thursday and is now headed for the November ballot.

"I'm happy the people of Florida are going to get a chance on changing the way we fund public schools,” Rubio said in an interview Thursday afternoon. "Most people agree that property taxes is a horrible way to fund education. The bigger argument is how do you replace the revenue. I continue to believe consumption taxes are superior.”

What gives? He's for the plan, then against it, and now for it again. (see the jump for the answer and more)

Rubio, who was the first to attempt a swap, said he was concerned because there was not a cap to prevent local governments from trying to raise additional revenue through fees and other means. (The TABOR-style measure died amid furious debate in several TBRC meetings.)

Then, Rubio said, he reminded himself of the statutory cap on property tax revenue the Legislature imposed last year. "I still prefer a constitutional revenue cap because it doesn’t just cover property taxes. It's all revenues and it’s in the constitution,” he said. “But I take some comfort from the knowledge that there is a statutory cap in place.”

In the interview, Rubio discounted fears about a services tax being used to offset the loss of school property taxes.

“It is an option, but it is no more an option than it is right now,” he said. “The Legislature can in any given year can come in an institute a services tax. We don’t, however, because we know it won’t work.”

He also disagreed with the “regressive” argument that that increasing the sales tax by a penny or more hurts lower income people.

"At least the sales tax, in a state like Florida that exempts food medicine and many other essentials, you have choices. The property tax, you have to pay it whether you have the money or you don’t have the money."

And Rubio gave some insight into his own dealings with the powerful Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, which wrapped up work today. Rubio appointed seven of the 25 members, so his thoughts carried weight throughout the process.

Rubio explained that some members were concerned that the revenue cap and a voucher proposal were killed off by others purposefully trying to clear the ballot for the tax swap.

John McKay, author of the swap, visited with with Rubio and expressed worry that his baby could be in danger.

“After TABOR went down and after vouchers were defeated, he had heard there were appointees of mine that were concerned (about the swap),” Rubio said. “I told him that they were. I told him that I was. It all most appeared at one point to be a concerted effort to keep everything off the ballot but the swap.”

If Rubio was trying to tell him something, McKay got the message. When vouchers came back up, the former Senate President reversed his vote and went for the proposal to reverse a Supreme Court decision striking down former Gov. Jeb Bush’s Opportunity Scholarships.

“You can’t take politics out of politics,” Rubio said.

“At the end of the day, I don’t care whether it’s a condominium board, whether it is an appointed board to run an expressway authority or whether it’s a taxation and budget reform commission, any time in a democratic society that you put people in a room and give them power to decide major issues, politics will find its way into that room.

“It’s just inevitable. And I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with that as long as the ultimate goal is good public policy. The ultimate reassurance should be that no matter what they put on the ballot, it has to be passed by voters, by 60 percent, in a general election. It will now have to withstand the test of a campaign."

[Last modified: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 10:54am]


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