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Crist, Gallagher outline their goals

Saying Florida's cities and counties have grown too fat from taxes collected on exploding property values, Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Gallagher called for capping their revenue potential Tuesday as part of his campaign's economic plan.

Gallagher also embraced a version of a controversial idea gaining steam in the Legislature: to let Florida homeowners transfer their tax benefits from their current homesteaded property to a newer, more expensive home. However, Gallagher said he would prefer to limit that benefit only to those homeowners who sell and buy a home in the same county, rather than statewide.

"Local government spending has gone out of control," said Gallagher, who is currently the state's chief financial officer. He faces Attorney General Charlie Crist in the GOP primary Sept. 5.

If elected governor, Gallagher said, he wants to limit annual increases in local property tax collections to no more than increases in inflation and allowances for population growth. Such a cap would have lowered local property tax collections $8-billion in the past four years, he said.

But Gallagher declined to name any specific areas where local government spending is bloated. And he said he wouldn't apply the same limit to state property taxes collected for education. Those higher property tax collections have allowed the Republican-led Legislature to depend less on the state's sales tax to pay for schools.

Officials for Florida Association of Counties declined to comment specifically on Gallagher's proposal Tuesday, saying they needed to study it.

But Bob McKee, the group's fiscal policy director, said there's good reason local government budgets have grown so fast. Law enforcement remains the biggest cost for most counties, he said. Plus counties have also had to absorb higher property costs as they obtain rights-of-way for roads.

"I think it's also fair to say that local government's budget-setting process is more public than any other piece of government finances," McKee said. "We set our millage rates as the last step in the process and then we send first-class mail notice to every taxpayer."

Gallagher acknowledged that he had more research to do, including whether his plan would require an amendment to the state Constitution or just an act of the Legislature.

Gallagher also called for a repeal of the state's intangibles tax, now paid by Floridians with stocks, bonds or other investments above $310,000. And his economic plan also reiterated his support for business-friendly changes to the state's civil courts and private financing for mass transportation projects.

He also repeated his call to use part of the state's increased sales tax collections from hurricane repairs to offset nearly $1.8-billion in assessments on all state property insurance policyholders to shore up the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. Gov. Jeb Bush and legislative leaders have opposed that proposal.

Joni James can be reached at (850) 224-7263 or