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    Sales tax item is off ballot

    The state's high court upheld a lower court's ruling that the ballot language was misleading.

    ©Associated Press
    September 21, 2002

    TALLAHASSEE -- The issue that dominated the political landscape in Tallahassee all spring -- Senate President John McKay's determination to revamp Florida's sales tax by eliminating dozens of exemptions -- ended Friday in the state Supreme Court.

    In a 5-0 order, the high court refused to overturn a lower court's decision striking the issue from the Nov. 5 ballot.

    That means voters will not cast ballots on a proposed constitutional amendment that would have given a panel of 12 lawmakers the power to eliminate sales tax exemptions worth billions of dollars.

    "It's the end of the road for this election, but we're certainly not going to give up on this issue," said McKay, a Bradenton Republican who is leaving the Legislature.

    He said he was disappointed but that "tax reform is both necessary and inevitable."

    The Legislature last spring voted to put the measure before voters on Election Day as a compromise to McKay's campaign to revamp Florida's sales tax structure by reducing the current 6 percent rate and eliminating many of the exemptions now given to some 300 items.

    Gov. Jeb Bush and the state House were opposed to McKay's agenda, but the Senate leader held up redrawing congressional districts -- including one designed for House Speaker Tom Feeney of Oviedo -- until fellow Republican leaders agreed to compromise by asking voters to create the special committee to review and possibly eliminate exemptions.

    Several business groups went to court to strip the amendment off the ballot, arguing that the ballot summary was misleading and the amendment itself would upset the principles of government by concentrating so much power in the hands of so few people.

    A trial judge disagreed last month. But Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal agreed with the opponents and ordered the measure off the ballot.

    The president of Florida TaxWatch, one of the opponents, called Friday's order "a great victory for all Florida taxpayers as well as the rule of law."

    "The integrity of the Constitution is upheld," Dominic Calabro said.

    In a second ballot case Friday, the high court also refused to take an appeal over the fate of another proposed constitutional amendment put on the ballot by the Legislature. That measure, which would put the death penalty in the state Constitution and narrow Florida's protection against excessive punishments, thus will go before voters on Election Day.

    Fifteen elections supervisors had sued to remove it from the ballot, arguing that it is so long and confusing it will cause problems at the polls.

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    From the Times state desk