Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Florida tax panel puts legislators in a corner

For once, legislators must look far into the future. What they see terrifies them.

They'll have to raise the sales tax. They'll have to repeal sales tax exemptions. The people will demand it. A read-my-lips moment in Tallahassee.

This explains the anguish over Monday's vote by the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission to ask voters to replace $9-billion a year in state-required property taxes for schools with a sales tax increase of up to a penny and a repeal of sales tax exemptions to ensure schools are not short-changed. This is way, way beyond the quick-fix patchwork of eliminating vacant jobs, and the howls of protest from the establishment shows that the tax panel has done its job by shaking up the status quo.

The ballot language voters would see, which must first survive a second vote by the 25-member panel, doesn't give lawmakers much maneuvering room. In listing revenue choices, the proposal uses "and," meaning the Legislature must consider all options listed.

Former Senate President Jim Scott, the panel's vice chairman, said he'll try to clarify that as a drafting committee tweaks the language. He said the idea was to give lawmakers a range of options "and how they do it is basically going to be up to them."

Either way, a future Legislature will have to find $9-billion in a single year to replace money now raised from property taxes. That's a lot of money.

If 60 percent of voters approve the swap, the magnitude of the task awaiting the 2010 Legislature becomes clearer once you realize that a 1-cent sales tax hike generates about $3.5-billion, about one-third of the replacement money needed. This raises the possibility of the unspeakable: putting a tax on services.

But this is neither a tax increase nor a tax cut. It's a tax replacement. The more property tax you pay, the better you will make out, and renters and tourists are among the losers.

In the wording of the ballot language, which by law cannot be misleading or ambiguous, it is "replacement of school property taxes" by "repealing sales tax exemptions, a one cent increase in the sales tax rate and other legislative spending reductions or revenue initiatives." (The proposal is at, under member proposal CP2E1).

Here's the hard part. To make up for that greatly reduced property tax bill, a future Legislature must affirmatively vote to impose a tax that does not now exist, and maybe in 2010, an election year.

Finding all that replacement money is especially irksome for the majority Republicans because it will force them to disavow their line-in-the-sand opposition to raising taxes, hence the read-my-lips moment.

Eliminating just one of the 250 or so exemptions looks like a broken Republican promise because they have locked themselves in a straitjacket. By their definition, repeal of an exemption is a tax increase because someone will pay a tax today that he didn't pay yesterday.

What's dancing through Republican lawmakers' heads, as Sen. Mike Fasano of New Port Richey described it, are images of direct mail pieces in the 2010 cycle. ("So-and-so lied. He raised your taxes. We can't trust him.")

In the Capitol, grumbling can be heard over House Speaker Marco Rubio's cheerleading for the tax swap. Easy for him to say, they said, because the term-limited Rubio won't be here to implement it.

It's not so hard. If the day comes that legislators have to carry out the will of the people, their escape hatch can be the same one they used when the class-size amendment passed: We don't want to do this, they can say, but voters demanded it, and we must obey the Constitution.

Pity not the politicians. They did it to themselves. They passed billions of dollars worth of tax cuts in the 1990s while refusing to review a single sacrosanct sales tax exemption.

Now the economy is tanking, the budget is bleeding and a Republican-led Taxation and Budget Reform Commission demands change. It's no coincidence that the panel is top-heavy with ex-legislators who now appear to see the errors of their ways.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at or (850) 224-7263.

Florida tax panel puts legislators in a corner 03/22/08 [Last modified: Monday, March 24, 2008 8:40pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. NFL commissioner, players' union angrily denounce Trump comments on national anthem


    SOMERSET, N.J. — The National Football League and its players' union on Saturday angrily denounced President Donald Trump for suggesting that owners fire players who kneel during the national anthem …

    President Donald Trump walks off the stage after he speaks at campaign rally in support of Sen. Luther Strange, Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, in Huntsville, Ala. [Associated Press]
  2. Forecast: Tampa Bay's first fall weekend brings scattered showers


    It may officially be fall, but Tampa Bay won't have any cooler temperatures this weekend.

    Tampa Bay's 7 day forecast. [WTSP]
  3. Romano: The choice does not have to be poverty or gentrification

    Local Government

    The memories must be protected. The music and the lore, too.

    The owner of Sylvia's Queen of Soul Food is refusing to give the city information on the restaurant's sales as required by his contract to occupy the city-owned Manhattan Casino. The information is needed to calculate whether the nonprofit Urban Development Solutions, headed by Larry Newsome, owes the city more than the $3,000 monthly base rent.
  4. Tests show North Korea earthquake not caused by nuclear test


    SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea's weather agency said a magnitude 3.2 earthquake was detected in North Korea on Saturday close to where the country recently conducted a nuclear test, but it assessed the quake as natural.

    People watch a TV news program reporting North Korea's earthquake, at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017. South Korea's weather agency said an earthquake was detected in North Korea on Saturday around where the country recently conducted a nuclear test, but it assessed the quake as natural. The signs read " The weather agency said a magnitude 3.0 earthquake was detected in North Korea." [Associated Press]
  5. New earthquake, magnitude 6.1, shakes jittery Mexico


    MEXICO CITY — A strong new earthquake shook Mexico on Saturday, causing new alarm in a country reeling from two still-more-powerful quakes this month that have killed nearly 400 people.

    Locals play pool at a venue in Mexico City's La Condesa neighborhood, Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, four days after the 7.1 earthquake. The upscale Mexico City neighborhood was one of the hardest hit, with more than a half-dozen collapsed buildings in the immediate vicinity. The few Condesa residents who ventured out Friday night said they were anxious for relief from an anguishing week. [Associated Press]