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Increasing cigarette tax, trimming exemptions favored in Florida poll

TALLAHASSEE — Florida voters strongly support an increase in the cigarette tax, the imposition of some taxes on services and a fee on off-brand cigarettes, according to a new poll released Wednesday by a bipartisan alliance of former state leaders and policy advocates.

The poll of the 625 registered voters surveyed last week found that 71 percent support a $1-per-pack increase in the cigarette tax, 56 percent support the elimination of some sales tax exemptions on services, and 78 support imposing a fee on cigarettemakers, such as Miami's Dosal Tobacco, that are not included in the state's tobacco settlement.

"Lawmakers need to change the mantra that they've had for years from 'no new taxes' to a new promise to get the highest value they can possibly get for every taxpayer dollar," said Virginia Wetherell, former secretary of the Department of Environmental Regulation and one of the founding members of the group the Florida Alliance for Concerned Taxpayers.

The poll also shows that 70 percent of those surveyed support legislative approval of the governor's compact with the Seminole Tribe and 69 percent want state government to steer contracts to Florida firms.

The group said they added their nine questions to a Mason-Dixon poll being conducted for another group from March 30 to April 1 to save money. The margin of error was 4 percentage points.

The group said it formed to convince lawmakers that it's time to raise some taxes, revise some policies, and shift the direction of Florida's economic free fall.

"After decades of tax cuts, of spending reductions and performance audits, Florida has succeeded in turning itself into probably the most efficient state government in the country in terms of per capita cost to the taxpayers," Wetherell said. "Yet we believe that our state now is at a tipping point," particularly as it relates to education and health care spending.

Wetherell is the wife of Florida State University president T.K. Wetherell who now serves as president of Wetherell Consulting. Joining Wetherell was Tom Herndon, former chief of staff to Govs. Lawton Chiles and Bob Graham and a head of the Department of Revenue; Lester Abberger, a longtime environmental advocate; and Lena Juarez, a Republican strategist.

Abberger and Herndon noted that despite Florida's bad economy, the public supports new revenues when it is linked specifically to spending priorities, such as health care, education and roads.

"We've been down this road before," Abberger said. "One of the mistakes we made was we were not clear with linking revenue with services."

The group said it is self-supported but it has a Web site, www.flaact.com, and is hoping to expand and accept contributions.

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com.

Increasing cigarette tax, trimming exemptions favored in Florida poll 04/08/09 [Last modified: Thursday, April 9, 2009 12:43pm]
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