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  1. Opinion

Column: Tax plan adds to the list of historically bad ideas

There are bad ideas. And then, there are really bad ideas. New Coke. The AMC Pacer. Picking Jose Molina as your starting catcher. Telling people that if they like their doctor they don't have to change physicians.

None of those panned out too well, did they?

Pasco County is seeking to add its own blunder to the list. Someone keeps trumpeting the (bad) idea of redirecting a portion of real estate transfer taxes from affordable housing to road and school construction. It keeps coming up even though it got torpedoed a year ago.

Commissioner Henry Wilson made it part of his recent campaign platform as an alternative to increasing the gasoline tax for roads. Then, sitting as a lame-duck commissioner after his primary election defeat, Wilson voted for the higher gas tax because the ordinance included a trigger to repeal the gas tax if the dedicated real estate tax came to fruition.

He's not the only true believer. A commission advisory committee — including engineers, developers and other advocates of new road construction — pitched the real estate tax idea, too, as another way to avoid raising transportation fees paid by new homes and businesses. The Pasco Economic Development Council likes the idea. And two weeks ago, the real estate transfer tax showed up again on a proposed list of Pasco County's priorities for the 2015 legislative session in Tallahassee. Of the list of 35 legislative plans, Wilson said the real estate tax needed to be in the top five.

Top five for bad ideas, maybe. A real estate transfer tax for road construction is Robin Hood in reserve. It takes from the poor and give to the rich.

This isn't found money. The current tax, also known as a documentary stamp tax that is collected at real estate closings, pays for affordable housing. But, proposed language for a change in the state law deletes the words "Housing Assistance Loan Trust Fund'' and adds "financing transportation and school capital facilities.''

Listen, I'm a fan of school construction. Portable classrooms are ridiculous as is the crowding at such schools as Wiregrass High and Oakstead Elementary. But, this isn't the way to address it.

Specifically, the current tax proceeds "assist in the financing of construction, rehabilitation or purchase of housing for low-income and moderate-income families. No less than 50 percent of the funds … shall be for the benefit of low-income families.'' Low-income, incidentally, means families making a maximum of 80 percent of an area's median income. The U.S. Census says Pasco County's median household income is $43,787. So, the key beneficiaries of this program are families with annual incomes of $35,029 or lower.

Worse, a revised real estate transfer tax would double as a subsidy for the county's transportation mobility fee charged on new construction. The supposed motivation is fairness; to make sure somebody doesn't pay twice for roads –- once when they buy the land and again when they build homes/commercial buildings to be marketed.

But what's really fair about taking money intended to put roofs over the heads of the economically disadvantaged and use it to help pad the bottom line of the development community?

This isn't a top five idea for the Legislature to tackle. Just ask Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, who wasn't shy about relaying that message to the Pasco Economic Development Council.

"I said under no circumstances would I ever vote to take affordable housing dollars and give it to counties to build roads with. That (money) has to stay with affordable housing,'' Simpson said recently.

You know this scheme is in trouble when the local advocates can't even persuade their own legislators of its merits.

Perhaps, Coca-Cola should have consulted with Simpson way back when.

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