tampabay.com

Big ideas, each with potential downsides

By HOWARD TROXLER
Published February 25, 2007


We're talking about making three huge changes to how we pay taxes in Florida:

1 Getting rid of city and county property taxes on homes.

(2) Jacking up the state's sales tax to make up for it, going from 6 cents on the dollar to 8.5 cents. (Remember, local governments can add a half-cent or a cent after that.)

(3) Whacking the spending of Florida's cities and counties and limiting their property tax collections.

These three ideas, each one big by itself, were proposed last week by our state House. The Legislature will consider them this spring.

Are they good ideas?

The only honest answer this early is: Who the heck knows? But right off the bat, there seem to be good and bad angles to them.

Looks like we "homestead" folks (those living in owner-occupied houses) would save money. Sweet.

But just like everybody else, we'd have to pay more taxes at the cash register. We'd also lose a nice deduction off our federal income tax.

Also, and I hate to be unselfish here, but: Is it right? Is it right to say, "One class of property owner rides for free, and everybody else pays?"

Next comes the idea of jacking up sales taxes. Already, business interests are coming out against that, worried it might hurt sales and the economy.

Oh, and there's the "unfair" angle. Sales taxes are unfair, especially in Florida. There are hundreds of loopholes.

The less money you make, the more unfair sales tax is.

"How is that?" folks ask sometime. "Doesn't everybody pay exactly the same rate?"

Yep. But it's what we tax that's unfair. Bug spray? Taxed. Pest control? Not taxed. Laundry detergent? Taxed. Dry cleaning? Not taxed. All the way up the ladder.

Lastly, there's the idea of rolling back local taxes to earlier levels, and capping the allowed growth each year.

Again, it sounds appealing on the surface. Let's stick it to those crazy, free-spendng drunken sailors!

Except ...

Except that it can't be done without pain. We like to think there's all this waste. But not that much. Not as much as the cuts we're talking about.

No doubt there are a lot more angles. Give the House credit for thinking big.

But here's hoping that this spring we are guided not only by what is best for our own interests, but by what is fair, what is wise, and what is best overall for Florida's future.

* * *

Today is the start of "TroxBlog," a new space on our Web site where I'll post daily updates to columns, comments on fresh events, and lots of interaction with readers.

I enjoy getting comments from readers and I try to answer them, but the job has gotten too big. Besides, people say so many interesting things that it's always seemed a shame to me that everybody else didn't get to see them.

So, I have a new e-mail address: troxblog@tampabay.com I'll use the blog to sum up what folks are saying, and post the best (and worst) comments.

If there's enough interest, I also hope to use the blog for regular Q&A sessions. Check it out via our Web site, www.tampabay.com, and going to the blogs link. You also can type in the address directly: blogs.tampabay.com/troxler.

See you there. I'll still be here, too, as always.