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Malchon accused of a "tax-a-thon'

Republican state Senate candidate Don Sullivan went on the offensive Tuesday, accusing incumbent Sen. Jeanne Malchon of supporting a statewide income tax. Sullivan, during a candidate forum at the Stetson University College of Law, criticized Malchon for proposing a state income tax during a special session of the state Legislature in 1987.

It was the latest in a series of Sullivan's attacks on Malchon's record. Malchon responded, as she did in another case last week, that Sullivan was distorting her record.

Malchon, a Democrat from St. Petersburg, is seeking re-election to the Senate in District 18, which includes Gulfport, most of St. Petersburg, part of Seminole and the beach communities from North Redington Beach south. If elected Nov. 6, she would be serving in her third term. Sullivan, a Republican from Seminole, is an orthopedic surgeon with an office in St. Petersburg. This is his first try at public office.

Malchon said her proposal was designed to make a point, not to begin a state income tax.

She made the proposal in 1987, when Gov. Bob Martinez had called a special session of the Legislature to repeal the sales tax on services. Malchon said she thought lawmakers were backing away from their responsibility to come up with adequate revenue for state government. So, she said, she introduced a bill that called for eliminating the provision of the Florida Constitution that prohibits the state from starting an income tax. The bill also would have prohibited the state from collecting a sales tax on services.

Malchon said she still thinks a sales tax on services would be better than the current system. She said she might support a state income tax in the future, but only if it is fair, adequate and supported by the voters.

Sullivan said, "I pledge to you that I am opposed to an income tax and that I will never vote for an income tax."

To underscore his point, Sullivan is sending out a mailing to the voters that says "Jeanne Malchon has a present for you . . . A new state income tax!"

The mailing reprints part of Malchon's bill, but does not show the portion that would have prohibited a tax on services. Malchon said that was misleading.

Sullivan also criticized Malchon for voting tax increases in each of her years in the Senate, and called her record the "Malchon tax-a-thon." But Malchon said that in most cases the increases were part of a bigger legislative package, and she did want to vote against the whole package.

Sullivan, however, acknowledged that he might vote for tax increases in some cases. He said he thinks the public will support tax increases if they are needed and if the money goes to a specific program that the public supports.

The candidates also discussed proposals for making affordable health care available to Floridians.

Malchon said she has helped assemble a panel that will consider whether the state could form a pool of people who need insurance coverage, so that the group would have more buying power than would the individual members. The pool would include government employees as well as Floridians currently unable to obtain health care.

Sullivan said he favors a program in which the government would give vouchers to people who cannot obtain health insurance. He said he was not sure how to finance the program.