TALLAHASSEE — State Sen. Mike Haridopolos has crisscrossed Florida this summer, warning voters of the evils of a proposed tax swap that could be on the Nov. 4 ballot.
To the Republican lawmaker from Indialantic, who hopes to become Senate president in 2010, Amendment 5 is a hidden tax increase. That goes against the mantra he has preached during eight years in the Legislature: Government must shrink, not grow.
But what Haridopolos — the most visible opponent of Amendment 5 — doesn't mention on the road is that he is a longtime government employee, who in February got a big promotion to lecturer and internship coordinator at the University of Florida's Bob Graham Center for Public Service. He is paid $75,000 a year.
Before that, Haridopolos was a Brevard Community College instructor. And for the past four years, his $38,000 salary didn't require teaching, only that he write a book, still unpublished, about his political experiences and legislative history called Florida Legislative History and Processes. During those years he also collected his legislative salary, now $31,000.
Haridopolos sees no contradiction between multiple government salaries and his charges of runaway government spending.
"If I had changed jobs midstream, meaning if I was a real estate agent and then I became a college professor, I think that would be a valid argument," he said. "I was elected as a college professor. That's what I do."
Stumping for cuts
In his final forum Monday at Tallahassee Community College, Haridopolos made a single passing reference to his career as a teacher but did not describe how he earns his living. He got his latest job during a time of deep and painful budget cuts in the university system, prompting unwanted criticism in his hometown newspaper: "A sweetheart deal," Florida Today said in an editorial.
He has a bachelor's degree from Stetson University and a master's degree from the University of Arkansas, and said he has completed his coursework for a doctorate in history there.
Haridopolos said his real-world experience as a senator, committee chairman and political activist (he cited co-chairmanship of Mike Huckabee's presidential campaign in Florida) is an asset.
"You want to gain knowledge from a person who's been there and done it. My qualifications, I think, stack up pretty well there," Haridopolos said.
Next spring, he said, he will supervise UF political science students holding internships in Tallahassee while he is there attending to his Senate duties.
At Monday's forum, Haridopolos' teaching skills were on display, and he was well received by an audience of about 50. Most were residents of a retirement center represented by a trade group opposing Amendment 5.
His talk came just days after a judge stripped Amendment 5 from the ballot, calling its language confusing. The state filed an appeal, which the Florida Supreme Court will hear Sept. 8.
Haridopolos used colored sticks, one taller than the other, to drive home his point that the proposed cut in school property taxes — $11-billion a year by his estimate — cannot be recouped without major tax hikes or taxing services. To an audience of senior citizens, he raised the possibility that funerals might be taxed.
"The bottom line is, the numbers have never added up," Haridopolos said. "At a minimum, you'd have to have some kind of a massive tax increase."
A leader of the pro-Amendment 5 forces, Bradenton real estate broker and former Senate President John McKay, says Haridopolos conveniently ignores that Amendment 5 would allow lawmakers to count new revenue attributable to the property tax cut's stimulus toward school funding.
"I don't think you can forecast the amount of replacement revenue that will be required," he said, adding that lawmakers have broad leeway to eliminate sales tax exemptions, raise the sales tax, or increase taxes on items like cigarettes.
But McKay declined to discuss Haridopolos' income source: "I'm not going to say anything about him."
Times researcher Emily Rieman contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.