Rep. Rubio veers off with another tax cut plan

His support of a citizen petition throws another gauntlet before a fellow Republican: Crist.

By ALEX LEARY, Times Staff Writer
Published November 21, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - House Speaker Marco Rubio, unsatisfied with the Legislature's proposed tax reform, has thrown his weight behind a citizen petition that boasts a 26 percent average property tax cut statewide.

The plan would restrict taxes to 1.35 percent of the taxable value of any parcel of property. On a property with a taxable value of $100,000 with no exemptions, the owner would pay $1,350 in taxes. Last year, the statewide average tax percentage was 1.84 percent.

"This plan is simple, it applies to all properties, it keeps Save Our Homes, and it cuts almost $8-billion in property taxes," Rubio said Tuesday in an e-mail to friends and associates.

The plan would also retain the $25,000 exemption on homesteaded property.

Rubio and other supporters face a monumental challenge in getting the petition on the November 2008 ballot. They need about 611,000 verified signatures by the end of January.

"It's a huge mountain," conceded David McKalip, an organizer of Cut Property Taxes Now and a neurosurgeon in St. Petersburg. "If we don't get it done now, we'll go for 2010, or ask the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission to push for this change."

The commission has the power to place proposed constitutional amendments on the November ballot.

To gain financial support - and all those signatures - Rubio plans to campaign statewide with the group in early December.

At the same time, Gov. Charlie Crist will be gearing up his own campaign for the Legislature's plan, which he helped craft.

Tension between Rubio and Crist, both Republicans, has been growing for months, with Rubio challenging the governor on various policy decisions. On Monday, Rubio made his most overt move by filing a lawsuit to block a gambling compact Crist fashioned with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Rubio insists the Legislature must ratify any deal; Crist disagrees.

McKalip said the petition's intent is not to compete with the Legislature's plan, which goes before voters on Jan. 29. But, he fears, "some people may listen to politicians claim the problem is solved. Their plan only kicks the can down the road a bit."

The group's Web site takes a direct swipe at Crist, invoking the "drop like a rock," promise he made during tax discussions earlier this year.

"Who did the politicians in Tallahassee think they were kidding when they told us that property taxes would “DROP LIKE A ROCK”? Despite their empty promises, property taxes in Florida have skyrocketed--unchecked for too long. Families and businesses are paying too much and it has to stop!"

The Legislature's proposal calls for doubling the homestead exemption, allowing people to carry Save Our Homes benefits when they move and creating a 10 percent assessment cap for businesses.

Rubio has been increasingly dismissive of that plan. In his e-mail he invoked his own attempt for more dramatic tax reform, including a "tax swap" that would have eliminated property taxes on homesteaded property for a higher statewide sales tax.

"The Florida House passed a number of measures that would have lowered property taxes and stimulated our economy," Rubio wrote in the e-mail. "However, none of them became law. Instead, on January 29th voters will have the chance to vote for a property tax amendment that falls short of what we so desperately needed. After our last special session, I reached the conclusion that only a citizen led petition drive will ever result in meaningful tax reform and relief."

Rubio, a 36-year-old Miami Republican who will have to leave office next year due to term limits, encouraged supporters to visit the group's Web site and sign the petition.

"They need over 600,000 signatures by January 31st in order to put this question on the November 2008 ballot," Rubio wrote.

"This is a true grass roots movement, led by citizen activists, not politicians," he continued. "As such, it will take real activism to get it done."

But even Rubio himself conceded earlier this month that any citizen petition would have to wait until 2010. The delay, politically speaking, may work to his advantage because it would keep him in the spotlight while he is out of elective politics. That is, until 2010, when he is expected to seek some sort of higher office.



Find out more

For more on the citizen petition, go to www.cutpropertytaxesnow.com/.