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Tax break denied to rail industry

A $180-million tax break sought by the fledgling high-speed rail industry in Florida and several other states was omitted from the budget bill written last week by Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee.

"I was very disappointed at that and frankly very surprised," said U.S. Sen. Bob Graham. "This has been identified as the No. 1 item in terms of starting a serious movement toward high speed rail in the U.S."

Graham's proposal would help states increase the amount of tax exempt bonds they can sell for high speed rail projects, including the route designated to run from Tampa to Orlando to Miami.

Graham said the tax exemption encourages an industry that provides the sort of high-wage jobs President Clinton touted during his campaign. The projects are risky, however, so Graham argues that the government must entice private investors by offering bonds that are free from federal taxes. Other transportation projects, such as airports and ports, already enjoy the tax exemption.

"We must prove that were are not asking America's major corporations to get into the white elephant business," Graham said earlier this year.

Last year, the Senate voted 55-40 to include the exemption in the 1992 tax bill, but the bill was vetoed for other reasons by President Bush. This year, President Clinton included the proposal in his deficit-reduction bill and tax bill and so did the U.S House in its version of the bill.

However, Graham doesn't sit on the Senate Finance Committee so he was unable to protect his proposal during the closed-door negotiations on the tax bill. When the bill was made public Wednesday, the high speed rail tax break had been taken out by lawmakers trying to cut the deficit. Graham hopes the exemption will be restored in later negotiations.

Schroeder calls foul against Senate

Rep. Patricia Schroeder, D-Colo., this week took a few more jabs in an ongoing feud between House members and their colleagues in the Senate.

"It's like a peacock farm over there; everybody spreads their tail," Schroeder said. "Everybody's got one vote _ for their own plan."

The subject in this case was negotiations over President Clinton's deficit-cutting bill.

Many House members think they've been double-crossed because they voted for a version of the bill that imposes the unpopular tax on British Thermal Units of energy. As soon as the bill got to the Senate, oil-state lawmakers got rid of the BTU tax and replaced the lost revenue with deeper spending cuts and a 4.3-cent a gallon gasoline tax.

Schroeder suggested a new revenue source: "If we could tax the Senate on a word-for-word basis, we might be all right."

Schroeder knows of what she speaks. She made 66 paid speeches last year to a variety of interest groups who paid her a total of $72,850, which was given to charity, according to the Washington Post.

Money sought for refugees' care

A bill introduced Friday by Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park, would provide Florida, New York and Massachusetts with $1.83-million to help offset costs associated with the 142 HIV-positive Haitian refugees and their families immigrating to those states.

Co-sponsored by 23 House representatives, the bill would supply Florida with nearly $1.1-million to cover welfare, health care and educational costs normally paid for by the state. Mica said about $100,000 a year is needed to care for each Haitian refugee infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Florida co-sponsors include Reps. Karen Thurman, D-Dunnellon, Charles Canady, R-Lakeland, Porter Goss, R-Sanibel, and C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Rocks Beach.

Mica, citing an estimated $149-million Florida paid to help immigrants after the 1980 Mariel boatlift, said, "We've been hit with the tab before. The federal government has proved to be a deadbeat when it comes to paying these costs. (This time) we want the money up front."

The federal government already has made available $504,000 through contracts with social service organizations to help resettle the infected Haitian refugees and their families.

Thurman signed on to the bill thinking that it also included nearly $150-million to reimburse the state for the Mariel boatlift of 1980. When a Times reporter pointed out that the legislation didn't include the Mariel boatlift money, she quickly filed a second bill calling for the additional money.

_ Times staff writers David Dahl and Rebecca Patterson compiled this report.