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Report calls for using tax to save beaches

A tax on real estate transactions is the best way to raise the $70-million needed annually to buy and restore Florida beaches, a task force established by Gov. Bob Martinez and the Cabinet recommended Tuesday. The panel's report suggests three ways to raise the money with the documentary stamp tax: raise the tax, now at 55 cents for each $100 value of real estate, by 5 cents over a three-year period; use $7-million of the money raised by the tax at its current levels to buy bonds; or a combination of the two plans.

"Beach-related businesses and the activity around the beachfront ultimately provides the single-largest revenue source to the state of Florida in the form of sales tax revenues," Allen G. Ten Broek, chairman of the panel, told the governor and Cabinet.

"As contrasted to many other natural resource programs, beaches truly have the capability of paying back to the state the investment that is made in them."

The Task Force for Beach Management Funding was established by Martinez and the Cabinet in October to find a way to pay for fully implementing a 1987 law that calls for comprehensive beach management.

Ten Broek told Martinez and the Cabinet that beaches are the state's most endangered environment, disappearing under development or erosion more quickly than wetlands. Some 217 miles of beachfront are in a state of critical erosion.

In other action Tuesday, the governor and Cabinet rejected bids from all four companies wanting to build the state's first privately run maximum security prison.

The Cabinet unanimously agreed to have the state Department of General Services start the whole bidding process over.

The action came after one of the two companies that didn't meet the requirements challenged the finding, maintaining that it met the specifications and the two companies left in the running did not. State officials who looked into the allegations agreed, and a hearing officer recommended that all four bids be thrown out.

The Cabinet also approved a detailed plan to help students _ especially blacks and Hispanics _ do better on the College Level Academic Skills Test (CLAST).

Last August, the governor and Cabinet called for the plan when they raised the scores needed to pass three of the four tests included in CLAST.

The number of students who passed CLAST in October, the first time the test was given since the standards were raised, dropped overall. The decrease was greater for blacks and Hispanics.

Students must pass CLAST, which tests reading, essay writing, English language and mathematics, before they can get an associate's degree in one of the state's 28 community colleges or begin taking upper-level classes in the state's nine public universities.

Under the plan approved Tuesday, the Department of Education will monitor and report regularly on student performance on CLAST; continue current passing standards through August 1991; conduct a two-year study of the students who took the CLAST in October; and require each community college and state university to produce an individual plan by June.

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