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McKay weighs vote on killing tax exemptions

©Associated Press
February 4, 2003

TALLAHASSEE -- Florida voters have approved a high-speed train, a class size reduction initiative and universal prekindergarten. Maybe they will back a ballot measure to get rid of dozens of sales tax exemptions.

John McKay, former president of the state Senate, thinks they might.

"I am researching a citizens initiative and at a proper time, if it looks like it would be successful, then we'll come out with a plan," McKay said Monday.

McKay, a Bradenton businessman, is a private citizen now. But last year he was one of Florida's top leaders as Senate president. And he set the agenda in the Legislature with his long-shot campaign to revamp Florida's tax structure.

Arguing that the state's sales tax system was outmoded and riddled with dozens of special-interest exemptions, McKay fought to get fellow Republicans to review and repeal some of the exemptions.

About 300 items now are exempt from the 6-cent sales tax. Examples range from things like satellites and space vehicles to services such as adult escorts and haircuts. Many agricultural items, such as seed, feed and fertilizer, are exempt.

The best McKay could get out of the state House was an agreement to ask voters to create a special legislative panel and give it the power to do away with exemptions. But voters never cast ballots on that measure because the courts agreed with business groups who challenged its constitutionality.

McKay said he expects to propose a petition drive to get the issue before voters. His plan would require a periodic review of sales tax exemptions. The measure couldn't go on the ballot until 2004.

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