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Crist calls for limited government

In a rally at his alma mater, the gubernatorial candidate ignores his GOP rival to focus on the November election.

By STEVE BOUSQUET
Published June 9, 2006


ST. PETERSBURG - Charlie Crist brought his campaign for governor to friendly territory Thursday evening, riding a "Fighting for Florida" bus to an energetic rally at his alma mater.

The auditorium of St. Petersburg High attracted several hundred supporters, who heard Crist repeatedly invoke the names of three political heroes: Gov. Jeb Bush, former Sen. Connie Mack and Ronald Reagan.

"I'm a less government guy," Crist said, standing on stage as three dozen supporters stood behind him. "It needs to be limited and effective."

Surrounded by Pinellas politicians - including legislators, Sheriff Jim Coats and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker - Crist ignored Tom Gallagher, the Republican rival he leads in polls. Instead, he focused on the November general election.

"The Democrats want this office back," Crist said. "We can't let this happen."

The attorney general's three-day visit to 11 cities and five TV markets is his biggest effort yet to promote his candidacy.

Crist launched his tour with proposals to boost the economy and provide property tax relief. One of his ideas, recently rejected by the Legislature because of its unpredictable fiscal impact, would make Florida's 3 percent property tax cap portable and allow homeowners to transfer it to a new home.

Speaking to business leaders in Naples, Crist also supported a proposed constitutional amendment to allow counties to double the Florida homestead exemption to $50,000 subject to voter approval.

Any change in the homestead exemption could dramatically change how much money school districts have available, because property taxes make up a significant portion of public school expenditures.

Crist's suggestion brought criticism from Wayne Blanton of the Florida School Boards Association, who flatly predicted a lawsuit to block a change he said would jeopardize a constitutional requirement for a uniform funding formula for all 67 counties.

Gallagher's camp belittled Crist's ideas as shallow and mocked the bus tour as proof of Crist being all over the place on key issues. Gallagher spokesman Albert Martinez said Crist missed a chance to show substance as a leader by offering solutions to Florida's property insurance crisis.

Other Crist proposals include making the annual hurricane preparedness and back-to-school tax holidays permanent; cutting taxes on cell phones, cable TV and satellite service; and allowing school construction contractors to directly purchase building materials, which would provide a sales tax exemption to school districts.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or 850 224-7263.