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Tax vote proposal suffers setback

With the Republican-controlled Legislature vowing to shrink government this year, it might seem a popular idea to require voter approval for all new taxes.

But after its first hearing in a state House committee Monday, the idea was shot down, providing an unexpected setback to Florida's anti-tax crusade.

"That's a disappointment," said David Biddulph, head of the Tax Cap Committee, the New Smyrna Beach group pushing the concept.

With the matter still pending in the Senate, and Tax Cap working to get it on the 1998 ballot, it is not dead.

But Monday's 5-5 tie vote by the House Rules, Resolutions & Ethics Committee was a big setback, coming after lobbyists for local governments and businesses, namely the powerful Associated Industries of Florida, argued against it.

"If they raise taxes and people are unhappy about it, then people have the opportunity to vote those rascals out," said Paul Piller, a lobbyist for the Florida League of Cities.

The proposed constitutional amendment would require voter approval for all new or increased taxes and for the elimination of any tax exemptions. Governments could impose taxes that would last up to a year only if they can prove an "imminent" threat to public health and safety.

The Tax Cap Committee continues to solicit petition signatures to place the proposal on the 1998 ballot.

So far, the group has gathered about 120,000 signatures, far short of the 400,000 required to get an item on the ballot, Biddulph said. The committee is waiting for the state Supreme Court to rule on whether the ballot language is constitutional.

The ballot initiative process is nothing new to Tax Cap, which has successfully passed several constitutional amendments in recent years. In 1996, voters approved the group's amendment requiring two-thirds popular vote to put any new taxes or fees in the state constitution.

Tax Cap also is collecting signatures for a "property rights" amendment that would require the government to compensate property owners if zoning laws prohibit them from opening a business. The Legislature will consider the property rights issue, as well.