Rally aims at cutting taxes

Though the protest at St. Petersburg City Hall was organized by city residents, people from other cities are expected.

Published October 11, 2006

It is their way of sticking it to the man.

About 100 fed-up residents, including from communities across the county, said they plan to protest outside St. Petersburg City Hall this evening to show their solidarity and demand statewide tax reform.

The one-hour rally was scheduled for 6 p.m. today outside City Hall.

Participants said they would wave banners and posters in hopes of sending a message to state and county legislators.

The rally is symbolic of a larger tax revolt throughout Florida instigated by significant increases in local taxes and taxable property values. Residents have demanded city governments lower tax rates and are asking county governments to reappraise properties.

David McKalip, founder of Cut Taxes Now, a political action committee based in St. Petersburg, organized the rally late last month after he said St. Petersburg city officials passed a budget that did not consider taxpayers.

"We have seen property taxes far outpace inflation and population growth and we would like to see our elected officials start making real cuts in the property taxes," McKalip said.

Word quickly spread among residents angry at their rising tax bills, said McKalip, who soon began receiving e-mails and phone calls from people interested in attending the rally.

Most of the protesters will probably be St. Petersburg residents, but McKalip said he has been contacted by people from all over Tampa Bay area, including Clearwater and Tampa.

Rick Gilbert, owner of Gulfport Florist in downtown Gulfport, said tax increases have made him weary of local government. Though the rally is directed at St. Petersburg city officials, Gilbert said he hoped it would force his City Council to reconsider lowering taxes.

"Florida on the state level, county level, and local level has a very large problem," he said. "They spend every dollar they get and ask for even more. They need to change their spending habits."

But St. Petersburg city officials said they did not get enough credit for lowering the tax rate from 6.95 to 6.6 mills before the budget was passed this September. Lowering the mill rate even more would drastically affect the quality of social services, said council member Bill Foster.

"This budget is pretty tight in the fact that our cost of doing business has increased dramatically," he said. "The best way to kill a vibrant city is to make its existence miserable and that is with no quality of life programs."

Foster invited protesters to contact him in upcoming months as the city begins to prepare for the 2008 fiscal budget.

McKalip, a neurosurgeon who works and lives in St. Petersburg, said he was inspired to start Cut Taxes Now after hearing dozens of his patients and friends complain about tax increases each year.

"Their costs are going up, they're living on less and less, and the government, however, keeps taking more of their money and they just can't afford it anymore," he said. "Officials need to realize they have far outstripped responsible tax collection."

Gilbert also founded a political action committee last month to protest his city government's use of tax money. The group, Citizens for Responsible Growth, already has about a dozen members consisting of local business owners, who all planned on attending today's rally, he said.

"This is about educating people on how they are getting screwed," he said. "We are taking a stand."

Cristina Silva can be reached at csilva@sptimes.com or 893-8846.