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Battle Lines Form Around Haridopolos Tax Proposal

Sen. Mike Haridopolos, R-Indialantic and the next Florida Senate president, will bring back in 2010 a proposed constitutional amendment to tie the growth of state and local government to the rates of population and inflation.

Opponents of the measure, a variation on Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR, are already preparing.

“It is a challenge within the legislative process,” Haridopolos said, “but I think when you talk to everyday working Floridians, they love the concept.”

A similar measure failed to pass the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission last year. This year, co-sponsored by Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, and Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, Haridopolos’ SJR 1906 called for a cap on state and local revenues by a formula based on population growth plus the rate of inflation – unless a majority of voters approve.

The measure was tabled in its second Senate committee this past year, but Haridopolos said there’s still time to put it on the November 2010 ballot.

“When we have done polling on this issue, over three out of four Floridians believe it is absolute common sense to make sure that government spending does not grow faster than family income,” said Haridopolos. “And they love the concept, especially in light of what’s happening in Washington, D.C., given all the money they’re spending.”

Colorado is the only state with a TABOR in its constitution. In Florida, its critics include cities, counties, health care advocacy groups, unions, the AARP and Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who say the measure would hobble government's ability to respond to crises from fires to hurricanes.

They acknowledge that voting on tax increases sounds good, but point to Colorado – which passed TABOR in 1992 and then, 13 years later and strapped for cash, passed Referendum C, a five-year hiatus from TABOR’s requirements – as a cautionary tale.

“It created such a damaging impact to the ability to fund services adequately that a bipartisan coalition of Republicans and Democrats and a number of business-interest groups and civic and faith-based groups all came together and put TABOR on suspension for five years to allow the economy to recover,” said Robb Gray of the Center for Policy and Budget Priorities in Washington, D.C., which opposes TABOR nationwide.

“Our real goal is to just talk to our communities and help them delve past that sound bite to the devastating effects TABOR would have on our counties and cities,” said Cragin Mosteller, spokeswoman for the Florida Association of Counties.

With a new law that Gov. Charlie Crist signed into effect this week, cities and counties won't be able to spend money to help voters delve past any sound bites. If the measure goes to the ballot in 2010, the new law will prevent local governments from spending money to try to influence voters from voting against it. Crist signed that measure into effect on Wednesday.

Brad Young, a former four-term Republican Colorado state representative and chair of the Joint Budget Committee in that state, has made it his mission to warn other states about TABOR. He is the author of “TABOR and Direct Democracy, an Essay on the End of the Republic,” in which he argues that the limit of population growth plus inflation does not allow government to keep pace with the economy – which, he said, grows 2-3 percent faster.

“In 2005, after we’d gone through the downturn [of 2001 and 2002], and we’ve done the tax cuts in the boom years, revenues went down 17 percent,” Young said. “I did an analysis when we were doing our second round of refunds, and it showed that had TABOR passed in 1976 in Colorado and not been amended, by the year 1993, funding for the state would have equaled K-12 plus Medicaid, and that’s it.”

Young said his main concern is cuts to higher education, “which have been pretty severe.”

Other states have considered variations of TABOR, but none has passed. Haridopolos, however, maintains that TABOR was a success in Colorado because it boosted economic development.

“Remember, this isn’t just about the government, this is about how successful people are in their individual lives,” he said. “If you look in the 1990’s, when they had an amendment like this in place, you saw that economic growth was among the highest in the nation right there in Colorado. And I think one of the reasons for it is that businesses knew that government would not be taking their resources from them to hire new people.”
To David Biddulph, a retired entrepreneur and co-founder of the Vote on Taxes Committee, based in New Smyrna Beach, Haridopolos is “our hero” and the fact that Colorado voters tabled TABOR is proof that it works.

“You know, it turns out that roughly half the time the voters will approve a tax increase on themselves to pay for something they want,” Biddulph said. “And I have no problem at all with that.”

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