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Citrus growers ask for veto of changes driven by their own Sen. J.D. Alexander

TALLAHASSEE — Members of the citrus industry are begging Gov. Rick Scott to veto management shake-ups driven by one of their own, Sen. J.D. Alexander.

The Department of Citrus, founded in 1935 to promote the fruit, regulates the industry through a 12-member commission. Citrus growers fund the agency through a "box tax" on crops, so it runs without state dollars.

Some governance rules would change this year following a charge by Alexander, the Republican Senate budget chief and a citrus farmer from Lake Wales.

Bills would reduce members of the Citrus Commission from 12 to nine, and current commissioners' terms would end July 1. Scott would appoint nine new members for three districts, down from four.

The department's executive director would be subject to Senate confirmation. Also, limits would be imposed on the box tax. The tax on orange juice, for example, could not exceed 25 cents, which is its current rate. The current cap is 30 cents.

Florida Citrus Mutual chief executive Michael Sparks blasted members with e-mails urging them to contact the Governor's Office in opposition. He declined to comment for the story.

"SB 2122 sets a dangerous precedent," his e-mail says.

More than a hundred people obliged his request with phone calls and e-mails to Scott's office. Most echo Sparks' message: The changes were written with inadequate input from the industry the department serves.

Alexander, who did not respond to a call for this story, over recent months has expressed frustration with the department, including its experiment with a four-day work week and adding to the box tax.

Most of the changes are tucked inside two bills currently on Scott's desk. One, SB 2122, deals with agriculture policy. The other is SB 2002, this year's budget implementing bill. It is not uncommon for a powerful legislator to insert the same provision in more than one bill as an insurance policy against a veto.

Scott has until May 26 to decide on SB 2122. But Alexander told Florida Citrus Mutual board members last week that Scott assured him he will not veto the bill, according to the Ledger in Lakeland.

"If you want to try, go ahead. I'll just come back with more," Alexander said. "I am will­ing to come at odds with my fel­low cit­rus growers."

A few farmers wrote Scott supportive messages, saying the department hasn't done much for their business.

Scott has not said publicly how he feels about the citrus showdown. He is reviewing the bill with his policy team, spokesman Lane Wright said.

Katie Sanders may be reached at (850)224-7263 or ksanders@sptimes.com.

Citrus growers ask for veto of changes driven by their own Sen. J.D. Alexander 05/19/11 [Last modified: Thursday, May 19, 2011 9:52pm]
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