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Tax flap may doom growth bill

Growth management legislation that Gov. Jeb Bush considers one of his top priorities may be doomed again this year because of a dispute over taxes.

A bill that cleared the House Thursday did not include a provision sought by the Senate that would give local governments new taxing power.

The House dropped that provision and sent the bill (CS SB 1906) back to the upper chamber on a 70-49 vote.

There is little disagreement over a provision that would require local governments to include schools in their comprehensive plans to remedy crowding.

The dispute centers on Senate President John McKay's insistence that the legislation let county governments and school boards levy local option sales taxes without referendums as required by existing law. The taxes pay for school construction and other infrastructure to keep with growth.

House Speaker Tom Feeney, R-Oviedo, was just as adamant that such taxes should be imposed only by voters.

The issue returned to the senators with only a day left in the regular legislative session and may be headed for a repeat of last year's failure.

"A lot of them feel deep in their hearts that they would like to see some kind of flexibility for local governments to provide that infrastructure so it's not just talking about schools, it's actually doing something," said Bill Jones, a lobbyist for the American Planning Association's Florida chapter, which supports the Senate position.

Last year's Senate bill would have required county commissions and school boards to vote by a majority plus one member to levy the sales taxes. The Senate modified its stance this year to make it a two-thirds vote.

Florida has been trying to get a handle on its rampant growth for decades. Lawmakers in 1985 passed the state's Growth Management Act, which requires communities to draw up state-approved comprehensive plans.

Bush and other critics say it has failed to prevent sprawl, traffic congestion, water shortages and school crowding.

A 23-member study commission last year proposed an overhaul of the law with an eye toward reducing the state's role and shifting more responsibility to local officials.

Neither Feeney nor McKay, R-Bradenton, has shown any signs of backing down this year, although both chambers have supported a third option to speed up school construction: special districts that combine the efforts of counties, school boards and developers.