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But opponents of his property tax cut plan are at every turn.
By ALEX LEARY and WILL VAN SANT, Times Staff Writers
Published January 17, 2008
[Daniel Wallace | Times]
ORLANDO - Gov. Charlie Crist got to Deborah Hinkle too late.
Just after Hinkle cast a no vote against a Crist-backed property tax cut plan, she stumbled upon the governor blasting critics of Amendment 1.
"I wish I had heard him before," she said Wednesday, her jacket bearing a sticker showing she took part in early voting.
Crist traveled across the state, trying to sell the plan on the Jan. 29 ballot as the key to freeing a stagnant housing market. But he's spending as much energy rebutting claims the $9.3-billion in cuts over five years would cripple police, fire and education budgets.
That was precisely what turned off Hinkle, a 56-year-old teacher. But standing in a cloud-covered courtyard in downtown Orlando, watching the energetic governor, she wondered if she did the right thing.
The scene underscores the challenge facing Crist. Up against a mountain of opposition, Crist is running out of time to salvage the proposal, which needs 60 percent approval.
The Vote Yes on 1 tour Wednesday, which took Crist from tiny Edgewater near Daytona to the Miami suburbs, was a well-financed, tightly scripted push that attracted modest crowds but plenty of TV news cameras that carried the message to millions of homes.
In other parts of the state, another kind of campaign was being waged. Opponents, who lack the money and an instantly recognizable figurehead like Crist, appealed to union workers in Clearwater and downtown Tampa.
The stops were part of the Florida AFL-CIO's Tell the Truth Tour. The weeklong tour is meant to rouse the labor coalition's 500,000 Florida members to vote no on Amendment 1.
Critics charge Crist with grossly inflating the benefits of the plan, which they say will worsen inequities and does little to aid businesses and owners of rentals and other holdings not covered by the homesteaded exemption, even though they bore the brunt of the recent runup in taxes.
The Amendment 1 plan includes a 10 percent cap on nonhomesteaded property, but critics say that's meaningless in a normal market. And making accrued savings from the Save Our Homes assessment cap portable is of little value when properties aren't selling, they say.
As for promises that passing the amendment will double the homestead exemption, opponents assert the claim is misleading because the additional $25,000 to be added to the exemption doesn't apply to school levies.
Speaking to crowds Wednesday, Crist said it "essentially" doubled the homestead exemption. But a new radio ad he played for reporters on his bus repeated the misleading "doubles."
It's estimated the increase to the exemption would leave an extra $240 in the pockets of taxpayers annually, an amount not worth the costs, opponents say. Savings under portability are substantially higher but harder to quantify and depend on people moving.
Those snatching fliers at the Tell the Truth tour events appeared mostly to be union members in need of little convincing that Crist's plan is flawed. Julie Wyckoff, a 52-year-old consumer sales consultant with Verizon and a International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers member, said she and everyone in her family would be voting no.
"As far as I'm concerned, it's a joke," Wyckoff said. "$240 is not going to help me out. I spend $240 at the grocery store in a week."
Dwayne Sealy, the AFL-CIO's secretary treasurer, was among a group of labor leaders who met around 5:30 a.m. at a union hall before heading to Clearwater's public works compound, where they stood in the chilly air handing out leaflets to city workers showing up for their shifts.
Sealy had been barnstorming across the state and was working on three hours of sleep. But that's the commitment needed, he said, when you are facing a governor with heavy financial backing and media reach.
"It's wrong," he said of Crist's plan. "They sell us a bottle of snake oil and tell us it's good for us."
Newspaper polls have shown Crist's plan falling short of the 60 percent approval it needs, though many people remain undecided.
Crist said the Vote Yes on 1 campaign's internal polls showed it at 60.3 percent and that it was taken about 10 days ago "before we started campaigning."
If the plan fails, it will be recorded as a substantial blemish in his tenure, weakening him politically. If Crist prevails, though, he will have overcome enormous odds, including countless news reports on the plan's shortcomings, editorials, and the opposition campaign.
Crist told reporters on his bus he was "cautiously optimistic."
At each stop, Crist tried to blunt attacks from the opposition, chiefly that the cuts would strip millions from police, fire and public service budgets.
"You've got to be kidding me. That's the most ridiculous argument ever heard," Crist said, reminding the crowd the runup has occurred over the past six years.
"How did they manage before, five or six years ago? You know what? A miracle happened. We had police officers. We had firefighters. We actually had fire stations before five or six years ago. How did that happen? Because they lived within their means."
He drew the biggest crowd in Tampa, where at least 60 people gathered in front of Evelio and Nancy Prieto's home. Again Crist pushed the virtues of portability, claiming the family could save $3,500 on their tax bill even if they moved to the smaller house they desire.
Keenly aware that even supporters feel it does not go far enough, Crist kept falling back on an old sports analogy Wednesday. He likened the plan as the second play (the first being a tax rollback that went into effect last year) in the playbook.
"We've got a way to go," he said. "Nothing is perfect, but this is awfully sweet."
What it would do
Major elements of the property tax plan:
1. Homestead exemption doubles, except on school taxes.
2. Save Our Homes benefit can be taken to a new home.
3. A $25,000 exemption on tangible personal property tax.
4. A 10 percent cap on nonhomestead assessments.
The vote takes place Jan. 29.
[Last modified January 17, 2008, 00:44:46]