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    Groups want tax measure off ballot

    The amendment doesn't clearly tell voters that it would delegate tax decisions to a committee, opponents say.

    By LUCY MORGAN, Times Tallahassee Bureau Chief

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published May 31, 2002

    TALLAHASSEE -- Opponents of a controversial tax reform measure have asked two different courts to remove the measure from the November ballot because, they say, it was hastily crafted by legislators who are trying to deceive Floridians.

    The Legislature approved the proposed constitutional amendment in the final 24 hours of its annual session without taking it before a committee or allowing public review. It was part of a compromise with Senate President John McKay, who had advanced a much broader tax measure opposed by most of the state's business community.

    Only after the House agreed to approve the watered-down proposal did McKay agree to approve a Congressional redistricting plan with a favorable new seat for House Speaker Tom Feeney.

    The legal challenges allege that the ballot language is deceptive and does not adequately inform voters that it would illegally delegate tax decisions to a 12-member joint legislative committee. Only a majority of both legislative chambers could overturn decisions by the committee.

    In a petition filed with the Florida Supreme Court, the Florida Farm Bureau and others compared the measure to a 1982 proposal floated by legislators who wanted to seriously weaken a Constitutional Amendment that prohibits legislators from lobbying for two years after they leave office. Under the proposal, the Sunshine Amendment, which passed in 1978 with the support of Gov. Reubin Askew, would have changed to allow any lawmaker who filed a full disclosure of financial interests to lobby immediately.

    The Supreme Court declared the 1982 amendment invalid because it misled voters into thinking they were doing something to guard against conflicts of interest.

    In a separate lawsuit filed in Leon County Circuit Court, Florida TaxWatch, the Florida Retail Federation and others sought to block the measure from the November ballot. The suit was filed by former Supreme Court Justice Stephen Grimes.

    TaxWatch president Dominic M. Calabro said the measure would circumvent checks and balances built into the way the state makes law.

    Rick McAllister, president of the Florida Retail Federation, said the proposal "creates a paralyzing climate of uncertainty" for businesses and would damage efforts to expand existing businesses or attract new ones.

    In a written statement released late Thursday, McKay said TaxWatch had repeatedly tried to kill any tax reform effort because "the businesses that fund TaxWatch are benefitting from lucrative tax exemptions they don't want to lose."

    -- Staff writer Alisa Ulferts contributed to this report.

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    From the Times state desk