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'Tax swap' battle to hit mailbox, radio, TV near you

TALLAHASSEE — The next property tax fight is under way.

On Monday, a broad and powerful coalition will announce plans to oppose a November ballot that would greatly reduce property taxes for schools but increase the sales tax.

The coalition includes major business trade groups, school unions and the AARP. It will attack Amendment 5 with direct mail, radio and TV advertising, starting as early as a month from now.

"There's just no trust in this on every front," state Sen. Mike Haridopolos, R-Melbourne, said Thursday. He has spearheaded the coalition under the name Protect Florida's Future.

Proponents are also close to launching their campaign, tentatively called Vote Yes on 5 For Property Tax Relief. They say an average 25 percent property tax cut for all property owners is an easy sell, even if it leads to higher sales taxes.

Amendment 5 is commonly known as the "tax swap" and was put on the ballot by the state Taxation and Budget Reform Commission.

It calls for eliminating most school property taxes and replacing them with a 1 cent or more increase in the sales tax and an array of other revenue sources, including budget cutting or eliminating sales tax exemptions.

Critics say about $11-billion would be needed to replace lost education funding. And a 1 cent sales tax increase would generate less than $4-billion.

"This is a leap into the dark," said David Bruns, spokesman for AARP Florida.

The campaign will be managed by John Sowinski, an Orlando strategist who led the "eight is enough" legislative term limits campaign in 1992, the 1994 net ban amendment and a 2000 campaign in favor of high-speed rail.

His adversary will be David Johnson, former executive director of the state GOP and an experienced campaign hand. Helping that effort will be the Florida Association of Realtors, which has pledged to spend $1-million on the pro-Amendment 5 campaign.

Former state Sen. John McKay, R-Bradenton, cham-pioned the measure on the taxation commission and accuses opponents of trying to protect their own special interests (retail businesses, for example, abhor a higher sales tax) while sowing fear and misinformation.

Despite concern about making up lost revenue for schools, McKay said the plan includes a "hold harmless" provision requiring the Legislature to do so. "If they don't, we'll be in court immediately and getting the courts to force that," he said.

'Tax swap' battle to hit mailbox, radio, TV near you 06/19/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 24, 2008 12:59pm]
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