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    Bush says tax reform might hurt business

    "We are not undertaxed in this state," he says, referring to the McKay tax proposals.

    By TAMARA LUSH, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published January 24, 2002


    "We are not undertaxed in this state," he says, referring to the McKay tax proposals.

    TAMPA -- Gov. Jeb Bush took his skepticism of a state sales tax overhaul on the road Wednesday night, speaking to more than 600 members of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

    "We are not undertaxed in this state," Bush said. "We have enough money to meet our needs if we prioritize. We need to be very, very, very careful going forward about tax reform."

    Speaking at the downtown Tampa Marriott Waterside hotel, Bush addressed Senate President John McKay's plan to give voters the option of reducing and changing the parameters of the sales tax.

    McKay has said Florida's tax system is antiquated, and he wants to give voters the option of reducing the sales tax rate from 6 percent to 4.5 percent. At the same time, McKay hopes to eliminate existing exemptions on some products and services. That way, according to McKay's plan, the long-term stability of the tax will be enhanced because it will be applied on services more than goods, and services are a faster growing segment of the economy.

    Bush told the audience Wednesday to closely watch the tax debate in Tallahassee.

    He cautioned that if there are any tax changes, Floridians "need to be careful that we don't change the business climate."

    He praised the efforts of local business owners and politicians to create jobs, noting that in 2001 the Tampa Bay area experienced the fastest job growth rate in the nation, according to U.S. Labor Department statistics.

    "Florida is in its ascendancy, not its decline," said Bush. "Tampa Bay is leading the way."

    Bush also spent part of his speech outlining his accomplishments and his goals, dryly informing the crowd that although he is running for re-election this year, he was not there "to talk about politics."

    The crowd laughed and applauded.

    Bush said his top priority is to improve children's reading skills, in a state where 47 percent of the state's fourth-graders are unable to read at grade level.

    "If we get it right early, you will see an investment in higher education," he said.

    -- Times Staff Writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this story.

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