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Legislature 2004

Poll: State tax cuts lose favor

Most voters surveyed also favor tighter rules for amending the state Constitution and support Gov. Jeb Bush.

By STEVE BOUSQUET
Published March 7, 2004


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TALLAHASSEE - Most Florida voters agree with Gov. Jeb Bush, many legislators and business leaders that it should be more difficult to change the state constitution, a new poll shows.

Most voters also agree with Democrats that they see no need for further tax cuts, the St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald poll found.

While Gov. Jeb Bush has proposed further cuts in the intangibles tax and restoring the popular sales tax holiday, a mere 16 percent of voters see the the need for more tax cuts. Thirty-nine percent said taxes have been cut enough and another 34 percent said taxes have been cut too much.

The poll also found Florida's second-term governor, the younger brother of President Bush, maintaining his popularity with voters, with 51 percent approving of his performance.

The public's view of the Legislature, meanwhile, improved from a year ago, though voters are evenly divided on its performance.

The statewide phone survey of 800 registered voters was done March 3-4 by Schroth & Associates, whose clients are Democrats, and the Polling Company, whose clients are Republicans.

The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Sixty-six percent of voters support requiring 60 percent approval for future constitutional amendments. A simple majority is now required. Twenty percent of voters oppose the change and 14 percent had no opinion.

"I feel like the Legislature is the place to create laws, although I don't think that can go unchecked. That's where the judicial system comes in," said John Jarvis, 46, a resident of Town 'N Country, near Tampa.

Support for new restrictions on the amendment process was highest among men, whites, young voters and residents of southwest Florida. Independent voters were least likely to favor new restrictions, the survey showed.

Some voters say that without the citizen initiative process, some problems would not be addressed. "I'm all for smaller class sizes," said Virginia Komar, 81, of St. Petersburg.

In the past four years, voters have passed citizen initiatives mandating smaller class sizes, a bullet train, pre-kindergarten education and protection for pregnant pigs, which effectively banned giant hog farms. Momentum has been building for new restrictions on the initiative process, and changes themselves will have to be approved in a statewide referendum.

At least 52 initiatives are being advocated by groups trying to gather enough signatures to get them on the ballot, though it's unclear how many proposals will make it. Supporters must collect nearly 500,000 valid signatures to win a spot on the ballot.

The Legislature is considering proposals to amend the constitution to require more than a simple majority to approve new amendments. It is one of the top priorities of the governor and Senate President Jim King, R-Jacksonville.

Bush and another prominent Republican officeholder, Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, last week joined an initiative that is asking voters to remove the bullet train from the constitution in November. They will raise money privately and pay professional signature-gatherers to put the rail repeal question on the ballot.

Voters approved the multibillion dollar train project in 2000, but Bush and Gallagher say the train is a luxury Florida cannot afford.

Bush and legislators have backed off their earlier demands for a repeal of the class size amendment, which requires school districts to gradually decrease the number of students in a class by 2009 or face the possible loss of state funds.

On tax cuts, 16 percent agreed with the statement that "Taxes in Florida should be cut even more to help ease the financial burden on most Floridians."

Leaders of the Republican-controlled House have endorsed Bush's new proposed tax cuts, but the Senate has balked at the plan.

Lawmakers say they hope to get through the 2004 session without the rancor and divisiveness that led to a series of special sessions in the past two years.

In a poll conducted last May, just after the Legislature adjourned having passed a controversial phone rate increase, just 16 percent of voters approved its performance. The new survey found 39 percent approving of the Legislature's job performance and 41 percent disapproving. The rest had no opinion.

Beth Duda, 44, of Sarasota, an actor and director in community theater, said her state representative, Republican Nancy Detert of Venice, "is doing a very good job." But she is unhappy with the way Florida awards bonuses to high-performing schools based on the FCAT results, and she was upset that lawmakers slashed money for cultural programs last year.

"There are some things that are happening in Florida that I'm not real wild about," said Duda, an independent voter. "Our lower schools, our Title I schools, receive the least amount of money and that doesn't make sense to me. It's like we're punishing them for being poor."

[Last modified March 6, 2004, 20:37:07]


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