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You call that tax reform? Seriously?

More tax breaks for a select few in Florida?

Making sure that the state can give its tax dollars to the church?

Those are the big ideas for fixing Florida's tax structure?

Well, at least they're among the final ideas of the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, which meets every 20 years to overhaul Florida's tax system.

Nuts. Phooey. Boo.

The "reform" commission, a term that now must be put in quotes, is made up of 25 political appointees. It finished meeting last week to decide what kinds of ideas we will vote on this November.

The commission ended up putting seven ideas on our November ballot. Only one of them is what you would call a significant "reform," and even that proposal is half-baked.

The one big idea is to kill off a big chunk of school property taxes in Florida — the portion that the state now requires each school district to levy.

The Legislature instead would have to raise other taxes to make up for the lost money, starting with the state sales tax.

But as for how exactly the Legislature will or should do the rest — well, who knows? The commission didn't specifically say.

That's the closest thing to "reform" that the "reform" commission put on the ballot. Most of the rest is a list of tax breaks and political agendas.

For example, two amendments aim to break down the church-state wall in Florida.

One proposal repeals Florida's ban on using state dollars to support religious institutions. The other makes it clear that a school voucher program would be constitutional, overturning past court rulings.

Making things worse, if not outright dishonest, is that the pro-voucher idea is hidden in a feel-good proposal that 65 percent of all school money be spent on "classroom instruction" — which usually happens anyway. So it's just a way to make sure vouchers pass.

As for tax breaks, let's see here …

• There's a proposed tax break for landowners who designate their land as "conservation" property.

• There's a proposed tax break for "working waterfront" businesses such as marinas and commercial fisheries.

• There's a property tax break proposed for homeowners who make energy and hurricane improvements.

• Finally, there's an amendment that would allow each county to create a new, local-option sales tax to support community colleges.

Look, I'm not dissing community colleges, or the idea of folks fixing up their homes.

But really, for an outfit that meets only once every 20 years, you would think this "reform" commission would be a little more … ambitious.

Instead, because its members were chosen by the governor and Legislature, they've largely reflected the limits of the state's political leadership, instead of surmounting them.

Come on. With all the inequities in the current tax system, all the fights we've had over Save Our Homes and jacked-up appraisals and such, the big reform we need in this state is a tax break for "working waterfronts"?

Really? Marinas and commercial fisheries? The proposal doesn't even help anybody else at all, especially not the mom-and-pop motels and family businesses that are getting hammered.

It is just as well the commission is finished now; I don't know how much more "reform" we could take.

You call that tax reform? Seriously? 04/28/08 [Last modified: Monday, May 5, 2008 2:28pm]
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