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Arlene DiBenigno is his deputy chief of staff.
By STEVE BOUSQUET and ALEX LEARY, Times Staff Writers
Published November 21, 2007
TALLAHASSEE - Gov. Charlie Crist will assign a trusted aide to run a statewide political campaign to shore up support for the property tax proposal on the Jan. 29 ballot.
Deputy chief of staff Arlene DiBenigno will join the "Yes on 1" campaign in December, organizers confirmed Tuesday night.
"Arlene will be a great addition to the Yes on 1 team," said spokeswoman Vivian Myrtetus, also a former Crist staffer. "Her experience managing grass roots campaigns will be invaluable as we educate Floridians about this very important tax cut."
Crist chief of staff George LeMieux said DiBenigno is a logical choice for the assignment, citing her success as political director of Crist's campaign for governor last year and her involvement in a March 2005 effort to block the approval of casino gambling in Miami-Dade County.
LeMieux also said he has had discussions with Republican Party chairman Jim Greer on how much money would need to be spent to capture the approval of the 60 percent of voters necessary to put the proposal in the state Constitution. He declined to discuss specifics. The Republican Party also said Tuesday it was too early to discuss details.
The tax cut plan includes doubling the $25,000 homestead exemption (though school taxes are not affected, so the effect is more like $15,000); allowing people to carry accrued Save Our Homes benefits when they leave and giving nonhomestead property a 10 percent cap on annual assessments.
A recent poll done for the St. Petersburg Times and Bay News 9 showed 53 percent of registered voters support the measure. However 20 percent of voters were undecided, meaning both sides have room to sway the outcome.
Crist, who campaigned on doubling the homestead exemption and Save Our Homes "portability," has a lot riding on the vote and is expected to crisscross the state to ensure passage.
LeMieux said the shaky support for the tax proposal in polls is a reflection of widespread confusion on the part of voters. Part of that is due to the number of plans. A previous proposal was on the ballot, but taken off due to a court ruling that it was misleading. "I'm not sure that we've done an effective job at communicating exactly what's going to be in front of the people, and that's our job over the next two and a half months."
The governor may have to contend with organized opposition from the state's largest labor unions, including the Florida Education Association, a teachers union. Crist said Tuesday he will meet again with union leaders to allay their concerns of losing up to $3-billion in funding over five years.
Asked how he could help secure money (the governor can make recommendations only to the Legislature) at a time when the state economy is worsening, Crist said, "In my way of looking at things, education is absolutely essential."
DiBenigno, 40, was political director of the Crist-Kottkamp campaign in 2006 and previously held two high-level posts in the Jeb Bush administration.
She also coordinated many of the logistics for Crist's two trade missions this year, to Israel and Brazil, and she has experience as an organizer working in presidential campaigns in Florida. Her husband, Leo DiBenigno, runs the Florida Lottery.
[Last modified November 20, 2007, 22:53:29]