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Governor's tax-cut crusade sidesteps hard facts on schools
By A TIMES EDITORIAL
Published September 20, 2007
Gov. Charlie Crist insists a bigger property tax break will help Veronica Greco sell her $239,000 Tampa bungalow, and whether he's right is not particularly relevant. As he takes his tax-cut campaign on the road, the governor doesn't really need to sell homeowners on lower taxes. The question he needs to answer is whether schoolchildren will pay the price.
Crist has claimed he can hold schools harmless from the tax cuts, but his hollow assurances won't cut it with many voters. They have heard politicians sing the education song before, only to discover that Florida's "Education" lottery was a ruse. Before they consider a "super homestead exemption" on Jan. 29, they'll want cold, hard numbers.
To date, the governor and Legislature have offered only wishful thinking. The harsh reality is that lawmakers were able to increase the public schools budget this year by $1.2-billion, or 6.6 percent per student, only because they charged roughly half the amount to local property taxpayers. Lawmakers are headed into special session next month to deal with a budgetary shortfall that could rob schools of a third of that increase.
That's only the beginning. The super exemption, according to legislative analysts, would blow a $7.2-billion hole in the education budget over the next four years at a time when other general state revenues are declining. Unless the governor is willing to identify a source of replacement money, schoolchildren indeed will pay the price.
At his campaign appearance in Tampa, Crist told reporters he intends to "work like crazy" to get the tax cut passed. "I think we have a duty," he said, "to talk more about what good this will do for the people of Florida."
So far, though, the governor is doing the easy part, singing to the homeowning choir. Really, who doesn't want their taxes lowered?
By contrast, when House Speaker Marco Rubio proposed to eliminate all homestead taxes, he had the fortitude to identify how he would replace the lost revenue (with an increased sales tax). The Rubio plan was appropriately rebuked as a regressive tax swap, but it at least acknowledged that property tax cuts wouldn't be free. As he begins his tax-cut tour, Crist is still playing make-believe.