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    House okays tax exemption review

    The Senate president snubs the idea, which would make it difficult to repeal existing tax breaks.

    By STEVE BOUSQUET, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 19, 2002

    TALLAHASSEE -- One by one, business lobbyists stepped forward Monday to endorse a new House plan to study all tax exemptions in hopes of meeting Senate President John McKay part way in his goal to overhaul state taxes.

    The House Fiscal Policy and Resource Committee, headed by Rep. Rob Wallace, R-Tampa, passed a bill creating the Sales Tax Exemption Study Commission. Its 18 members -- nine senators and nine House members -- would spend three years studying every exemption.

    The panel gave the business lobby more than it asked for by requiring a two-thirds vote by the study commission, instead of a majority, to recommend repealing a tax exemption. That would make it more difficult to end any existing tax breaks.

    House Speaker Tom Feeney described the legislation as a signal of continuing interest in tax reform. McKay dismissed it as a hollow gesture.

    That leaves the two chambers as far apart as ever on the tax issue that has dominated the Capitol for two months, largely because of the force of McKay's will and his willingness to expend most of his political capital.

    For months, McKay has argued that Florida has far too many tax exemptions, and that another fiscal crisis could force the 6 percent sales tax to be increased. Gov. Jeb Bush and Feeney disagree, but both have said they would support reviewing all exemptions.

    Business lobbyists prefer the House proposal because it would not automatically kill exemptions. A Senate plan requires legislators to vote to keep an exemption from expiring.

    "The speaker has put it on his radar screen as a way to go home," Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan said. "I hope that sends a message to the Senate, that the House has shown they are willing to take on something."

    Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan of Dania Beach made several attempts to remove the two-thirds vote provision, but he lost on voice votes that Wallace ruled were in favor of the Republican majority.

    The House defeated attempts to remove the requirement of a two-thirds vote to recommend eliminating an exemption. "We're trying to demand a consensus, greater consensus, that they should be repealed," Wallace said afterward.

    -- Times staff writer Lucy Morgan contributed to this report.

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