1. Archive

Inherently flawed intangibles tax should be ended

Re: Tax sense, March 9.

The St. Petersburg Times recently assailed Republicans in the House of Representatives for continuing our commitment to phase out the intangibles tax in a year where we have less of a budget surplus than previous years. The fact is that Florida has more than a billion dollars more this year than the last. In addition, you neglected to highlight that it has been Republicans who have invested more money, in real dollars, into education (more than $2-billion over the last two years), health care and public safety than Democrats did in the 1990s. People should know these facts and you should report that.

The intangibles tax taxes saved money, including stocks, bonds, loans and accounts receivable. The problems with this tax are well documented. The barriers to economic development and the tax inequities it creates have led many of those affected to conclude that the tax is not right for Florida. In the last two years, the Florida Legislature, with overwhelming bipartisan support (14 current Democratic incumbents voted for this bill last year), has eliminated the tax on accounts receivables and has significantly reduced the overall tax.

This year, the House passed the bill that I am sponsoring, which further cuts the intangibles tax rate and increases the exemptions. More than 500,000 people will be immediately removed from the tax rolls if this bill becomes law. Republicans and Democrats made the promise to completely eliminate the intangibles tax by next year, not because we had budget surpluses and it was feasible, but rather because the tax is inherently flawed.

First, it is a tax on savings. The tax takes away from what, for many retirees, is their primary source of income _ their life's savings. As a matter of fact, among non-business taxpayers, senior citizens constitute 72 percent of those who pay this tax. Also, it taxes their savings not once, but every year they keep the same money in the same accounts.

Second, the tax in unevenly imposed. The wealthiest taxpayers often have the resources to legally avoid the tax by moving control of their assets out of state. This leaves the burden of paying the tax squarely on the shoulders of middle-class savers.

Third, the tax also suffers from a high administrative burden, especially for taxpayers with modest amounts of investments. As a matter of fact, middle-income taxpayers often pay more for accounting services than they pay in taxes.

Eliminating the intangibles tax goes straight to the heart of core Republican beliefs. It ends an unfair form of double taxation and encourages our seniors and savers to be responsible with their finances.

Reducing this insidious tax on our seniors and savers is the right thing to do.

Mike Fasano, state representative, District 45,

majority leader, Florida House of Representatives

No mandate from the voters

Re: Lawmakers doing what we want, letter, March 14.

Yes, voters elected this Legislature. Of course, it was a limited amount of voters, since turnout in our state is nothing to be proud of. In addition, the antiquated voting system in many counties causes a high percentage of ballots to be consistently thrown out, and statistically the well-off vote more consistently than "have-nots," who tend to feel disenfranchised.

Should Florida government actually encourage voters to exercise their rights as citizens of a free country? Yes! But does it? No! In fact, this Legislature is resisting voting system reform, supposedly because there's not enough money to do so, just as there's not enough money to build schools, provide books or extra-curricular activities, pay teachers properly, provide ongoing teacher training, aid needy families, provide health care to the indigent of any age, or protect the environment. There is enough money, however, to cut the intangibles tax for the rich without providing any alternative means of funding required governmental activities in a civilized society.

This Legislature has no mandate from the voters to destroy our court or university systems. These issues were not presented in any campaign, but, instead, have surfaced subsequent to the election. We need election reform, we need increased voter registration and real issue awareness. And most of all, we need legislators who recognize people's needs and utilize government to provide for those needs in an economical and efficient manner.

Martin L. Altner, Safety Harbor

If they like taxes, let them pay

I was not surprised, given the political slant of your paper and its editorial board, to read all the letters on March 14 whining about how unfair the tax cuts are and how these people are happy to pay taxes.

Let me guess: A vast majority of people who think that way do not pay any intangibles tax. Better yet, I wonder how many even pay any property taxes?

All these people want is for the state to continue to fund their favorite state program which, of course, is nothing more than a program to redistribute wealth.

It's time to rein in the rate of growth in many government programs, and it is way past time to return money to the people.

If these programs are so important to these people, they should consider making individual contributions to them out of their own pockets _ not mine.

Vilmar Tavares, Spring Hill

Teacher center deserves support

We at the Florida Humanities Council were gratified to see Sen. Jack Latvala credited in a recent story as a supporter of the $275,000 appropriation for the Florida Center for Teachers program, now located on the University of South Florida's St. Petersburg campus.

Every year, the program provides professional development in Florida history and culture for hundreds of teachers from every part of Florida. The teachers tell us it renews their commitment to teaching and keeps them in the classroom.

We think $275,000 is a small price to pay for a program with statewide impact that keeps veteran teachers in the classroom. We're glad that the senator, along with our local representatives _ Frank Farkas and Charlie Justice among them _ think so, too.

Fran Cary, executive director, Florida Humanities Council,

St. Petersburg

Sharing your tax return

Just think how happy you will be when you file your income tax return and find that the government withheld $100 more than it should have from your paychecks.

Just think how happy you will be when you get a tax refund check for $20 and learn that the remaining $80 of your money will be distributed among 20 other people. If you're a Democrat, that would be okay with you, right? After all, it will be the Democratic way of doing things and you'll make 20 other people happy.

When you receive your check for $20, "Have a happy day."

Bob Davolio, Spring Hill

NOW's not for this choice

Re: Foes of "Choose Life" plate ask court to recall 13,000.

I delayed sending this in as I hoped one of the St. Petersburg Times columnists would write an article on the National Organization for Women asking the court to recall "Choose Life" auto tags. How low can you go, NOW?

I think it is ironic that NOW, which stands for the right of a woman to "choose," is against citizens who want a choice of an auto tag. Why didn't any of the Times' columnists slam dunk this action? Too liberal?

I would suggest that NOW get an auto tag that indicates "Choose Death" _ that's not religious and fits the NOW organization to a tee.

Blair Algie, Palm Harbor

A world-class FBI lab

In response to the March 4 article, Good cop, bad cop, I would like to offer additional facts to help your readers better understand this important issue.

In response to Frederic W. Whitehurst's allegations, the Department of Justice inspector general in 1995 began an in-depth review of the work performed in three of 18 disciplines in the FBI laboratory. While none of the most serious allegations were substantiated _ allegations like evidence tampering _ the review was deservedly critical of some of the practices of 13 lab employees in these three disciplines. In fairness, the report was equally praiseworthy of the superb, often cutting-edge work done in our lab.

Three additional facts help put this in perspective. First, although the findings pertained to only three of 18 disciplines in the lab, the entire lab has been subjected to exhaustive review by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board and is now the only fully accredited federal crime laboratory. Second, FBI Director Louis J. Freeh hired nationally renowned scientist Donald M. Kerr to run the FBI lab, and a new state-of-the-art facility is under construction. Finally, as a direct result of the original review, substantial additional independent quality control processes are now in place to preclude future problems.

For nearly 70 years the FBI laboratory has been on the leading edge of forensic science, pioneering revolutionary techniques like the forensic use of DNA and forensic training. We cooperated fully with the 1995 review and on our own initiative subjected the lab to the outside expert accreditation process for one simple reason: Given the complexity of today's crimes and of today's science, nothing less than a world-class laboratory is acceptable.

Robert J. Chiaradio, special agent in charge, FBI, Tampa

YWCA measures its results

Re: Do charities work? Some try to find out,

March 3.

Unfortunately, the St. Petersburg Times chose to interview only one agency on its opinion of measurable results in the non-profit arena. Had reporters talked with others, one might have found many agencies are measuring results and have been for a significant time.

For example, the YWCA of Tampa Bay can tell you how many pregnant teens did not experience a subsequent pregnancy after receiving services from our program and how many completed school/job training. We have been measuring outcomes in all of our programs since I came to this agency in 1982 because it's simply good business to know that programs produced results.

Many organizations in this community, including the YWCA, hire staff with graduate-level degrees in business, public administration and social work, to name a few. My system analyst is now trained in the area of computer/technology, and it is my job as CEO to hire/train skilled people to do the job. All non-profit agencies should strive for excellence and not give in to simplistic excuses. In fact, the day I quit asking how to improve the YWCA and how to assure the services we provide make a measurable difference in the lives of people is the day I should get out of the business and go count widgets. I take great exception to any appearance that our field of work is made up of non-educated, technologically inept and whining individuals.

As human beings, we are "measured" in all aspects of our lives _ how the heck are we going to identify what works if we're content to not search?

Peggy Sanchez Mills, CEO, YWCA of Tampa Bay,

St. Petersburg

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