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Tax cuts show party differences

Both Republican candidates for governor vow to slice even deeper. But the two Democratic candidates have other priorities.

By ADAM C. SMITH
Published June 25, 2006


ORLANDO - Gov. Jeb Bush cut taxes by more than $15-billion over two terms in office, but you haven't seen anything yet, say Republicans vying to succeed him.

Not so fast, say the Democratic candidates for governor, who want to roll back tax cuts.

Republicans Tom Gallagher and Charlie Crist at a candidate forum in Orlando on Saturday promised to continue slashing taxes and suggested local governments and school boards should make do with less money.

"I don't think they need as much money as they have," Attorney General Crist said at the forum for the civic group Leadership Florida.

He and Chief Financial Officer Gallagher both want to let Floridians keep their "Save Our Homes" tax cap when they move. Crist also wants to double the homestead exemption to $50,000, while Gallagher proposes to extend the tax cap to commercial and nonresidential property.

"To me, growth plus inflation is the max that any property tax should go up ," Gallagher said. "My plan is the only one that covers across-the-board taxes for everyone. That's where my opponent and I differ."

But it was a far different story when the Democrats running for governor, U.S. Rep. Jim Davis and state Sen. Rod Smith of Alachua, had their forum immediately following. They argued that few Floridians have benefitted from or felt most of the tax cuts in recent years.

While Republicans regularly win elections by casting Democrats as chronic tax raisers, Smith and Davis contend Floridians would rather see investments in schools, roads and other needs.

Smith said he'd give a tax cut to the less than 1 percent who benefited from the investment tax cut "right after we move the schoolteachers to the top half of the nation" in salaries. He promised to push to reinstate the intangibles tax on the top bracket of people with investments and savings other than retirement accounts.

Davis agreed lawmakers this year should not have passed that tax cut, but dismissed Smith's plan to repeal it as unrealistic.

"The first thing I would do is veto the kinds of tax breaks this Legislature has been handing out," Davis said. "They've done about $15- to $20-billion. Very few people have benefited from those, mainly folks who could hire lobbyists."

Few of the 435 members of Congress have missed more votes than Davis has while running for governor, and the moderator Saturday - St. Petersburg Times chairman, chief executive and editor Paul Tash - asked if he had any second thoughts about those missed votes.

Davis said he didn't. "I am doing my best to balance both jobs. ... Every day is a judgment call," he said, noting that he has tried to miss only votes that were foregone conclusions.

Smith took a shot: "I don't miss votes, and I'll tell you why. Because they all count, because in the end folks expect you to do your job."

Smith's campaign has acknowledged he missed four votes during this year's legislative session.

The Republican forum was largely civil, though Gallagher suggested that as a husband and father he has an advantage over Crist, who is single and has no children.

"Certainly when one does many of the things that most Floridians do, which is get up in the morning, and make sure your child gets to school, kiss your wife goodbye, go to work, realizing the you have to make a living to make your mortgage payment for the house you own. ... all those issues are the same issues that the average Floridian goes through," he said. "I think it's important they know that you understand."

Crist responded that he prides himself on listening carefully to all Floridians so he fully understands their problems and concerns.

Adam C. Smith can be reached at 727 893-8241 or asmith@sptimes.com.