Rubio's tax talk draws a crowd

Published May 31, 2007

SPRING HILL - Floridians find few laughs in their tax bills these days, but Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio fielded a one-liner Wednesday evening that drew a few grim chuckles from a crowd at the Palace Grand: "I never worry that government will go too far when it comes to tax cuts."

Rubio planted himself firmly on one side of the property tax debate now raging across the state.

On the one side, tax-cut advocates like Rubio say homeowners need substantial tax relief. On the other, local governments argue that deep cuts will cripple vital services provided by police officers and firefighters.

But what does it matter what government needs, Rubio asked, if the people can't afford to pay their tax bill?

Antitax advocates and Hernando County Republicans drummed up a crowd of more than 100 people in less than 24 hours when they heard Rubio was coming to town to talk taxes.

"We did pretty good, " said Ana Trinque, a real estate agent and chairwoman of Hernando County's Republican Executive Committee.

Rubio and other legislators need to know that people want substantial cuts, and not "watered-down" tax relief, she said. And local governments need to stop the "scare tactics."

Trinque criticized the talking points put out by the Florida Association of Counties. The association instructed local governments to focus on how tax cuts will cut the number of deputies, scale back fire protection, and shut down recreational programs for children.

But what about the cuts homeowners have already made in their family budgets? Rubio asked. As property values have risen, property taxes have ballooned, forcing families to sacrifice.

"How can you tax people more than they can afford to pay?" he asked.

The Legislature is slated to meet in a 10-day special session beginning June 12.

There are three plans on the table. The first provides a percentage discount for all primary homes statewide. Another would create tiers of percentages that diminish as values grow. The third would link tax cuts to the median value of all homes in a given county.

It's unclear how much those plans will cost. Rubio said that if he has his way, homeowners could see as much as a 50 percent cut in their tax bills.

Asjyln Loder can be reached at aloder@sptimes.com or 352 754-6127.