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    Democrats tiptoe on tax plan

    Most candidates for governor decline to be specific about the McKay proposal.

    By WES ALLISON, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published February 25, 2002

    For the most part, the leading Democratic candidates for governor are saying little about Senate President John McKay's ambitious plan to overhaul the state's tax system.

    Except for state Sen. Daryl Jones of Miami, who voted for it, getting a straight answer about what the other candidates would do about taxes is as difficult as getting them to speak kindly about Gov. Jeb Bush.

    McKay's plan calls for asking voters to eliminate dozens of sales tax exemptions and to cut the rate from 6 percent to 4.5 percent.

    Janet Reno of Miami, the former U.S. attorney general and Democratic front-runner, offered this prepared statement: "As governor, I will take a hard look at each sales tax and service tax exemption and work across party lines to determine whether their removal would make the tax structure fairer for all Floridians."

    Tampa lawyer Bill McBride, a distant second in the polls, also issued a statement: "Whatever the Legislature passes as tax reform this session, it is very important that it be fair to all taxpayers."

    House Minority Leader Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, who is in the middle of the Tallahassee storm, offered this in an interview: "The current proposal is not one I particularly favor, but I do favor taking a serious look and seeing whether or not some of these exemptions . . . (are) fair for the average everyday citizen, and what is the economic impact."

    Jones said McKay erred by failing to build broad public and political support before introducing his plan in the Legislature.

    But Jones said he voted for it because the plan addresses many of the inequities in the state tax structure and generates needed revenue.

    Bush, who cannot veto the McKay proposal because it is a constitutional amendment, opposes it.

    House Speaker Tom Feeney, R-Oviedo, orchestrated a crushing defeat of the plan Wednesday. Now McKay is threatening to stall other legislative business, including the budget and redistricting, to force the House to embrace his proposal.

    Darryl Paulson, a professor of government at the University of South Florida, said it's no surprise the Democratic candidates are keeping mum. "I think what they're doing . . . is delighting in the disarray within the Republican Party," he said.

    But Paulson said their silence will be golden only briefly. Before too long, Paulson said, the candidates must offer their own solutions. The winner of the September Democratic primary meets Bush in November.

    "How are they going to pay for what they say are the deficiencies in the Bush policies, particularly education?" Paulson said. "As the (primary) gets closer, voters are going to demand, 'Well, what are you doing to do about this?' "

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