tampabay.com

They really don't like taxes

By ALEX LEARY
Published February 15, 2007


The anger burned slow during a property tax hearing Thursday night at Hillsborough Community College. Few shouted or pounded their fists. No one taunted the lawmakers before them.

But speaker after speaker, dozens in all, delivered a central, unmistakable point: Government spending is out of control.

“Please don’t just patch the system,” implored Linda Hayward, 48, of Brooksville. “The real problem is local governments have become incredibly greedy and stolen our money.”

Her words brought applause from the more than 200 Tampa Bay area residents attending the hearing, put on by the Legislature to collect ideas to address soaring property taxes.

“We need to tell the local governments that are getting fat off our backs that they can’t have our money any more,” said David McKalip of St. Petersburg, organizer of the citizen group Cut Taxes Now, which advocates a spending cap on government.

In the past six years, property tax levies have doubled to $30-billion, far outpacing population and personal income growth.

“We all thank Gov. Crist for starting the debate,” McKalip said. “But it’s not enough.”

Crist recently proposed doubling the homestead exemption to $50,000, making the 3 percent Save Our Homes cap on annual assessments transferable to new homes; and extending the cap to businesses, second homes and other non-homesteaded property.

But each of Crist’s proposals has the downside of perpetuating inequities or creating new ones. Portability, for example, would still discriminate against new Florida residents.

Many view a cap on government spending or taxes as a fairer solution.

“The Legislature must act because local officials cannot do it and will not do it,” said Carl Mathews, 72, of South Tampa.

Earlier this month, Hillsborough County became the first government entity to agree to rein in spending with a cap.

Pierre Mathurin, 45, of Tampa was one of the few voices calling for caution. He said rushing to cut taxes could cause long-term problems, including cutbacks in essential local services. As he returned to his seat, a few people quietly booed him. “Pay my tax bill,” a woman called out.