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Rubio tries to sell tax change

The state House speaker has to defend the sales tax proposal.

By Alex Leary
Published February 26, 2007


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House Speaker Marco Rubio embarked Monday morning on a two-day tour to spread the word about his plan to abolish property taxes.

But things went awry even before he left Miami.

Stuck in traffic, Rubio called a radio show and talked about the proposal to eliminate all property taxes on homestead property in favor of a 2.5 percent sales tax increase. Doing so would save taxpayers nearly $6-billion, but would take away that much from local governments.

Some argue the plan gives the greatest benefit to those who can most afford to pay: wealthy homeowners.
Rubio provided a different take. Speaking from his cell phone, the Miami Republican found himself explaining, and passionately defending, the trickle-down effect on the working class.

He offered himself as an expert, telling listeners that his father worked as a bartender and mother as a casino maid.

“I was raised on other people’s leftover money,” Rubio, 35, said on the Jim DeFede Show, whose station  WINZ-AM 940 identifies itself as the “resource for progressive talk radio.” “When people spent their money, they spent it in the places where my parents worked.”

He went on: “And I’m telling you that this property tax cut will create $6-billion in disposable income. And what that means in real terms is that people who now mow their lawns will hire someone to do it. … People who now maintain their own pools will hire someone to do it. … And that helps the working class. …

“The more disposable income there is, the faster the working class can join, can grow into the ranks of home ownership, can send their kids to college, etc. I know. I was raised on disposable income.”

Callers talk back on trickle down

For some, his remarks stung.

“The working people are what built this country,’’ said a caller named Cliff. “We didn’t live off handouts, which is what he’s suggesting. … It’s a typical Republican (attitude), looking down their noses at the average guy.”

Robert, another caller, took issue with increasing the sales tax.

“Most working-class people are just struggling to survive and their solution is the most regressive form of tax there is? This is unbelievable. Trickle-down economics was disproven. … I work my tail off every day just to make ends meet, and if they raise the sales tax, that’s going to be coming directly out of every little bit that I earn. It’s just going to make it even more expensive to live here, not less.”

Rubio was no longer on the phone at that point, but he called back. He was still in traffic, trying to get to the airport so he could meet with newspaper editorial boards in St. Petersburg and Tampa.

“I never said that people live off the handouts,” Rubio said. He said what he meant was the working class depends disproportionately on the disposable income of others.

“And there is no denying that.” A lawyer who reported earning $300,000 in 2005, Rubio said he still considered himself part of the working class.

But even as Rubio aimed to set the record straight, his comments were called into question. Opponents immediately pegged Rubio’s philosophy as supply-side economics, made famous by President Ronald Reagan, which argues that helping upper-income brackets and businesses increase their wealth ultimately helps lower-income workers.

“I always thought trickle-down economics was kind of like the trickle down that a dog does to a lamppost,” said state Sen. Steve Geller, D-Hallandale Beach.

“It’s also going to trickle down to Mercedes dealers,” said Jonathan Hamilton, chairman of the University of Florida’s economics department. “Maybe Mr. Rubio has a very well-calculated story about where people are going to spend their tax savings. But to say they’ll spent it on low-income workers is a stretch.”

Income tax fairer, he says, but he opposes

Rubio contends that the property tax is more regressive than the sales tax — a point he made before the St. Petersburg Times editorial board. A person can lose his job, he said, but the property taxes may keep increasing with higher property values.

“I’m not in favor of it, but an income tax is a fairer way to tax than a property tax,” Rubio said. “There’s a lot of working-class people that own homes and are being punished by the property taxes. There’s a lot of working-class people that could own homes, but for the property tax.”

Having experienced a bumpy day on the road, the speaker continues his meetings with editorial boards today.

[Last modified February 26, 2007, 22:43:29]


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