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Another tax ballot in works

In a bid to abolish property taxes, a Kissimmee Republican wants a vote in fall 2008.

By ALEX LEARY
Published August 1, 2007


TALLAHASSEE - A Republican lawmaker is planning a ballot proposal that could include higher sales tax and other fees in an effort to do away with property taxes.

Rep. Frank Attkisson, who played a key role in the Legislature's tax debate, is eyeing the November 2008 ballot and has already secured a prominent public relations firm to sell the idea to Floridians.

"I'm trying to play with ways we can abolish property taxes," Attkisson said Tuesday.

"I have real disdain for the way we tax people right now. People should be taxed on their ability to pay."

Voters already are scheduled to consider a tax cut proposal approved by the Legislature that would amend the state Constitution to greatly increase the $25,000 homestead exemption.

That plan will be put to voters on Jan. 29, but its complexity has experts suggesting it might not pass.

Attkisson, 51, was reluctant to discuss his effort or disclose who he was consulting with. "I've talked to a lot of people with a lot of ideas."

But he said he feels a consumption tax, such as a sales tax, is better than property taxes - a position in line with the thinking of House Speaker Marco Rubio, R-Miami.

"I think the speaker is right on the money on that one," Attkisson said.

A former mayor of Kissimmee, Attkisson was a leading proponent of Rubio's failed plan to swap property taxes for a 2.5 percent sales tax increase.

Rubio's plan, which benefited only homesteaded property, drew swift opposition from Democrats, who said it would hurt the poor disproportionately, and Republicans in the Senate squeamish about raising one tax to lower another.

Attkisson thinks taxes could be eliminated on all property by increasing the sales tax as well as imposing "transactional" fees, perhaps on the purchase or sale of property. He stressed the idea is not fully formed and could include other revenue sources.

Despite sharing a common goal with Rubio, Attkisson said he is not working with the speaker.

That point was emphasized by Sarah Bascom, who manages the Tallahassee office of the public relations firm Navigators.

"This has nothing to do with the speaker," Bascom said Tuesday evening. "This is a personal quest by the representative."

Bascom would work on the initiative along with Mike Murphy, a founder of Navigators who has worked with former Gov. Jeb Bush, Arnold Schwarzenegger and other high-profile GOP leaders.

At the moment, though, the firm is volunteering its services, Bascom said. In the next few days, a nonprofit "think tank" will be formed that will study the ballot idea.

If it is deemed viable, a committee would be formed to raise money for the effort, Bascom said.

Significant hurdles lie ahead.

Millions would be needed to get the required 600,000-plus signatures to put the item on the November 2008 ballot and then promote the idea.

Time is also an issue. Valid signatures must be in place by late January.

"Will it be difficult? Yes. Is it impossible? No," Attkisson said. He estimated the signature effort would have to begin by Labor Day.

Multiple attempts to reach Rubio on Tuesday were unsuccessful. Rubio spokeswoman Jill Chamberlin said he was taking time out of public view to be with his family.

But Chamberlin said Rubio is not focused on anything but the proposed constitutional amendment up for vote Jan. 29.

Rubio, however, has been vocal about the need for additional changes to Florida's tax structure and maintains his "tax swap" is still a good idea.

Attkisson said he will vote for the amendment in January, because it was the best plan that could have emerged from the legislative session.

"But," he quickly added, "I don't think it goes far enough."