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Taxes are wedge to GOP unity in Capitol

Legislative leaders got together Thursday to clear the way for what they hope to be a smooth session in an election year. But they differed in their reactions to the tax cuts proposed this week by Gov. Jeb Bush.

In his budget recommendation, Bush called for a nine-day back-to-school "holiday" on sales taxes on clothing buys less than $50 and school supplies under $10. He also urged a month's tax holiday on book purchases. The state would lose an estimated $48-million if lawmakers do both.

Bush also proposed phasing out the intangibles tax on stocks and bonds, which would cost about $91-million the first year.

House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, R-Plant City, gave a thumbs-up. Senate President Jim King, R-Jacksonville, wasn't as supportive.

He said the Senate would support a sales tax holiday, "but not to the same extent." And he told reporters later that he would review Bush's idea on the intangibles tax.

Byrd, who is running for the U.S. Senate, said Florida had the strongest economy "in the nation if not the world" and attributed it to Republican fiscal policies.

"Tax relief stimulates the economy," Byrd told reporters.

King and Byrd run a Legislature where Republicans outnumber Democrats by nearly 2-1. Their chambers, however, have often disagreed, and last year lawmakers had to return to Tallahassee for several special sessions to write a budget and reach a deal on medical malpractice insurance.

With President Bush running for re-election, Republicans want to show a more unified face in this year's session.

Byrd's top budget writer, Rep. Bruce Kyle of Fort Myers, said he thought the $55.4-billion budget the governor recommended Tuesday was a good one. But his counterpart, Sen. Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, said he worried that the state would spend money it won't have in two years.

King and Byrd also left little doubt the two chambers will try to make it harder to change the state Constitution via petition drive.

Both said they'd like to wait for the other chamber to propose a repeal of the amendment that voters approved in 2000 requiring the state to build a high-speed train. Bush has urged lawmakers to ask voters to cancel the project.