Crist tries to bridge the tax relief divide separating House and Senate
By Mark Hollis
April 27, 2007
TALLAHASSEE · As property tax negotiations in the Legislature stalled, Gov. Charlie Crist on Thursday put his political skills to work to try to get lawmakers talking again .
At a news conference, Crist plugged his own proposals for reconciling differences between rival plans in the House and Senate. With parleys between the Republican-led chambers recessed for at least a day, Crist sought advice from some of his predecessors, including former Govs. Jeb Bush, a Republican, and Democrats Reubin Askew and Bob Graham.
Crist's aides say their boss didn't enlist the old political warriors' support, but was seeking their advice on how to contend with issues still to be resolved.
"He just wanted to talk to people who have sat in his shoes before," said Erin Isaac, a spokeswoman .
Senators, frustrated by sluggish progress on the No. 1 topic of the legislative session , were delighted to learn that political veterans were having their voices heard, saying that might lead to consensus.
"The more minds, the merrier," said Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie.
"If they all can agree, so can we," said Senate Majority Leader Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden.
Crist also attempted to bridge the political divide in Tallahassee by doing what he did in January, when the Legislature was struggling to reach consensus on another thorny issue: property insurance. He put a human face on the problem.
Crist stood alongside Eduardo Burkhart, of West Palm Beach, who expressed his opinion on why homeowners who move should be able to take the constitutionally protected cap on property assessment increases with them. A change in the law to make that possible is a goal shared by Crist and senators, but not House leaders.
Burkhart, who is deaf and mute and spoke through an interpreter, said property taxes are keeping him from achieving his dreams. Burkhart said he lives in a condominium where children are not allowed, and he would like to live where he and his fiancée can raise a family. But the higher property taxes he'd be clobbered with keep him from moving, he said.
"I am stuck," Burkhart said. "What can I do?"
Crist expressed sympathy and urged Floridians to rally behind proposed changes in the law that would allow people who move to keep the annual 3 percent cap on property assessment increases that residents are entitled to under the state's 1994 Save Our Homes amendment. "It's important for people to understand how significant this is," Crist said.
Meanwhile, House Republicans began tossing around the idea of launching a petition drive backing Speaker Marco Rubio's beleaguered proposal to pair the elimination of property taxes on primary residences with a sales tax increase. The idea, though the brainchild of a fellow Republican, is opposed by Crist and Senate leaders.
Rubio, of West Miami, told reporters that he is beginning to fear that the Legislature will not accomplish as much tax cutting as he thinks people are demanding.
"I believe if the Legislature passes a `Tallahassee special,' which is something called reform that isn't reform. ... [people] are going to do what they always do in Florida, and that's take it on themselves," Rubio said, referring to the power of citizens to amend the constitution by collecting petitions and forcing a referendum.
House Republicans are seeking a tax-cut package that guarantees a precise level of average statewide property tax savings for key groups of Floridians, including $1,200 yearly for current homeowners, and more than $3,300 for owners of commercial properties.
Senate Republicans and Democrats, following a different tack, prefer more modest tax reductions and want local governments to be able to absorb the cuts over several years rather than be faced with the sudden drop in revenue proposed by the House.
Legislative leaders in both chambers, meanwhile, expressed confidence that a tax-cut deal will come together before the session ends May 4.