Tax fliers target teachers

The union is urging members to vote "no" on the property tax plan.

By ALEX LEARY, Times Staff Writer
Published December 13, 2007

Gov. Charlie Crist is eager to use his bully pulpit to promote January's property tax measure. His opponents have their own weapon: a pipeline to Florida's public school teachers.

The Florida Education Association is mailing its 137,000 members a splashy color flier that ridicules the size of the tax cut while sounding alarms about the impact on school budgets.

"Amendment #1 - A bad deal for schools, students and YOU," the flier reads, next to a photograph of a teacher banging his head on a chalkboard.

The mailer includes postcards people can send to request absentee ballots to vote "from the comfort of your own home."

The four-page flier, which was coupled with a recorded message to teachers, represents the first push in an anticipated effort to defeat the plan, which will appear on the Jan. 29 ballot.

Next week, the teachers union will join forces with the Florida AFL-CIO, firefighters and others to announce further steps, which could include a Web site, radio ads and targeted mail.

For his part, Crist is gearing up for a high-profile campaign that will include stops around the state - on Friday, he goes to Orlando - and television ads, provided proponents can raise requisite millions.

The tax plan calls for increasing the $25,000 homestead exemption to about $40,000, allowing people to transfer their accrued Save Our Homes benefit when they move to a new home and providing a 10 percent annual assessment cap for businesses and second homes.

It would cut about $9.2-billion in taxes over five years, according to the latest estimate. (The previous total was $12.4-billion, but a worsening housing market is expected to translate into fewer people moving. That included about $2.8-billion in cuts to school budgets; the revised number is $1.5-billion.)

Either way, the aggregate cut is immense. But the teachers union notes that an average person who does not intend to move would save $240 from the higher homestead exemption.

"An average middle class Florida homeowner will get less than $20 a month while facing drastic cuts in our local fire services, law enforcement and our schools," the flier states.

It seeks to catch teachers, bus drivers, aides and secretaries where it hurts most - asserting that under the cuts, "raises will be wiped out ... school services eliminated ... jobs will be cut."

The union had previously announced its opposition to the property tax plan but had held off on doing anything in deference to Crist.

The governor had met with union president Andy Ford and said he would take steps to ensure that the money would be replaced. Crist, however, can only urge the Legislature to act; it is up to lawmakers to form the budget.

Republican leaders have pledged to hold schools "harmless," but the worsening economy has already forced them to cut $1.1-billion from the state budget, and they face an additional $1.4-billion shortfall.

"The governor believes this is a good idea and will spur the economy and we'll find money somewhere," union spokesman Mark Pudlow said in an interview Wednesday. "It's real hard for us to believe."