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Children's Services tax and the Buchanan factor

New Hampshire seems far, far away, but, by a strange twist in politics, that tiny New England state could have a profound impact on Pasco County.

It started in December, when Pasco County commissioners voted to put a simple proposition on the March 10 presidential primary ballot: Should voters tax their property up to 50 cents for every $100 in assessed value in order to provide money for a Children's Services Council?

The 10-member, unpaid council would divvy up the money among approved agencies that serve the needs of the county's children.

Voters here defeated a similar measure in November 1990, but backers wanted to give it another try. They thought the children's question was shot down by a wave of anti-tax sentiment that swept the 1990 elections. They reasoned that if the measure were on a short ballot, virtually all by itself and not lumped with other tax proposals, it would have a better chance to pass.

Some strategists said a light turnout of voters might help things, too. And some hinted that a light turnout of Republicans would help most of all. After all, the most vociferous opponent of the measure is Mike Fasano, the Pasco State Committeeman for the Republican Party.

So what does New Hampshire have to do with all this?

Until New Hampshire, the Republican primary was borr-iiing. George Bush was the nominee, case closed.

Then 10 weeks ago, Patrick Buchanan decided to run against Bush. Suddenly, conservative Republicans, who thought Bush had betrayed his "no-new-tax" pledge, had an alternative. They turned out in droves to vote for Buchanan.

Now Buchanan is courting Florida voters. He was scheduled for a Saturday night stop in Tampa.

How will this translate in Pasco?

It could mean that conservative, "no-new-taxes" Republicans will vote for Buchanan and vote down the Children's Services Tax at the same time.

On the other hand, a number of Democrats are going to be on the Florida ballot, and their supporters _ most notably the Jerry Brown enthusiasts _ may offset the effect of the anti-tax Republican voters.

This election is making strange bedfellows.

Fasano is ardently anti-tax, but he is still firmly in the Bush camp.

Commissioner Ed Collins is, arguably, Fasano's favorite local Republican, but Collins himself told me Friday he will probably vote for the Children's Services Council. "It's a Pasco problem that should be dealt with here," Collins said. He reasons that it's the one way Pasco people can be assured local needs will be addressed. As it stands now, Pasco "ends up on the short end of the stick with HRS," he added.

Strangest of all, Fasano's favorite political target, Commission Chairman Mike Wells, is voting with Fasano on this issue. And Fasano's second favorite target, Commissioner Ann Hildebrand, a Republican, is campaigning to get the tax approved.

Go figure.

Truth be told, this issue isn't going to be decided by these few people, because, frankly, I don't think any one of them can swing enough votes to make a difference.

The real key to this election is twofold: voter knowledge and voter turnout.

The anti-taxers are screaming to high heaven, but they're screaming about a relative pittance. The actual cost to most of us is going to be $1 or $2 a month, tops, and that's not much, considering how many children need serious personal help in Pasco County.

Me? I'll gladly give up a couple of cups of coffee a month if it means some dog-kicking adolescent can get the counseling he needs before he grows into a gun-wielding adult waiting by my car in the supermarket parking lot.