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  • Bush suspends four Escambia officials
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  • Each side adds twist to voting map fight
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    GOP senators seek corporate tax package

    The majority leader predicts the controversial measure will pass today. Democrats call it a $262-million giveaway.

    By ALISA ULFERTS, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published May 2, 2002


    TALLAHASSEE -- Senate Republicans on Wednesday claimed to hold a razor-thin majority to pass a controversial corporate tax break today.

    Senate Majority Leader Jim King predicted 22 votes for the measure, one more than needed. The House is expected to approve the plan with plenty of votes to spare.

    A rejection of the proposal would threaten the fragile deal to pass the state's $49-billion budget.

    "We would have a real challenge getting out of here if we didn't have some economic stimulus," warned House Speaker Tom Feeney, an ardent supporter of the tax break. Feeney, R-Oviedo, said lawmakers would have to "take a step back" if the Senate rejects the measure.

    The tax plan would mirror recent changes in federal tax laws designed to stimulate job creation but would cost the state $262-million next year.

    Republicans see the measure as an economic stimulus that would stabilize the state budget by encouraging companies to buy equipment. Democrats say the plan is a $262-million giveaway to corporations less than six months after the Legislature cut $1-billion from the budget, much of that from schools and social services.

    "We think the best way to advance our economy is to advance our childrens' education opportunities," said House Democratic Leader Lois Frankel.

    So much is riding on the issue that Gov. Jeb Bush has recruited corporate leaders to help spread the word among lawmakers that passing the tax break will help Florida's economy and its schools.

    "Public education and a healthy economy go hand in hand. Any budget plan that does not prioritize both efforts does a disservice to the people of Florida," Bush wrote in a letter sent Wednesday to business groups and education officials.

    Senate supporters of the plan say that, although close, this morning's vote will side with Bush.

    But several high-profile Republican senators, including Senate President John McKay and budget chief Lisa Carlton, are reported to be against the plan.

    "All the Senate has agreed to do is bring it to a vote," McKay said Tuesday.

    Ed Montanaro, the state's chief economist, has testified against the tax plan, saying a better economic shot-in-the-arm would be to spend the $262-million on government services rather than divert it to private companies.

    But Sen. Jim Sebesta, who called a meeting of Tampa Bay area lawmakers to talk about the issue, said investing in the private sector makes more sense.

    Bush said Tuesday he expects the measure to pass, although not by much.

    "Barely is good enough -- it's close, no doubt about that," Bush said.

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

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