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Bush's tax cut wins delay despite several GOP nays

By ALISA ULFERTS

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 6, 2001


TALLAHASSEE -- Lawmakers handed Gov. Jeb Bush the delay he sought in a controversial tax cut Wednesday, but it came without the support of some of the House's most conservative members.

TALLAHASSEE -- Lawmakers handed Gov. Jeb Bush the delay he sought in a controversial tax cut Wednesday, but it came without the support of some of the House's most conservative members.

Repeatedly, Bush has been asked whether he had the 61 Republican House votes he wanted to delay a cut in the state's intangibles tax. Repeatedly, he has answered "Absolutely" or "We have the votes."

In the end, Bush got 60 Republicans to vote for the delay. Seventeen other GOP lawmakers defected. Had all 43 Democrats joined the 17 Republican defectors in opposing the bill, it would have failed. Now, it will go to Bush for his signature.

Bush insisted he could have delivered more Republicans, if he needed them.

"We were up to about 68 votes -- 60 very solid and eight who would have joined us" had it not become clear that the Democrats were going to support the delay, Bush said.

"We had a lot of 61st votes," Bush said.

The House's 102-17 vote marks the first time Bush has lost more than a handful of Republican votes on any issue he wanted. The Senate earlier had approved Bush's bill 36-2.

Rep. Connie Mack was among the young conservatives, informally dubbed the Freedom Caucus, who opposed Bush's plan.

"There were some of us that had a philosophical belief that this was not the right thing to do or the right time to do it," said Mack, R-Fort Lauderdale. He doesn't think Bush's failure to get 61 Republican votes reflects on the governor's standing within his own party.

"He's been a leader on tax cuts. This shouldn't be made into "The governor's changed on the position of taxes,' " Mack said.

Democrats supported the tax delay, but not before rubbing Republicans' noses in that fact. Delaying the cut will free up $128-million so budget cuts in the special session won't be so deep.

House Democratic Leader Lois Frankel said the Democrats had considered voting against the tax delay as a strategy to pressure the Republicans who run the House to back off the budget cuts further. But the Democrats decided that wouldn't work.

"We thought all that would happen is one of the 17 (nay votes) would have the noose around his neck" by voting for the delay, Frankel said.

Bush stepped in to help broker a budget deal after the first special session he called to fix the budget collapsed when Senate President John McKay and Speaker of the House Tom Feeney failed to agree on the intangibles tax. Part of that agreement -- to be finalized today -- was to delay the latest round of the intangibles tax cut for 18 months to give the economy time to recover.

McKay had wanted to repeal the tax cut entirely, and Feeney wouldn't even consider a delay.

Feeney joined 16 other Republicans in voting against the compromise. But he asked his lieutenants to help round up votes for Bush's compromise plan.

"I candidly never knew whether we had 61 votes or not, but I worked closely with some of the Democratic members," Feeney said.

Rep. Mike Fasano, who has popularized the phrase "seniors and savers" during his speeches opposing the intangibles tax on stocks and bonds, said he was impressed by Bush's abilities to garner 102 votes, even though his wasn't among those.

"I'm convinced that if 61 Republican votes were needed on the floor, there would have been 61 votes. But it probably would not have been mine," said Fasano, R-New Port Richey.

It's a point Bush agrees with.

"We probably had six people who, if they were needed, would have helped, maybe more," Bush said. "It shows we can forge a consensus and deal with problems. It was a good day for Republican leadership ... and tomorrow will be an even better day."

- Times staff writers Lucy Morgan and Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.

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