TALLAHASSEE (AP) _ Gov. Charlie Crist gave more lip service Tuesday to a plan that would lower property taxes and boost sales taxes, but again said he hasn't decided whether to campaign for the ballot proposal as he did on behalf of another tax-cutting measure that voters approved in January.
For at least two months Crist has been saying he supports the proposed state constitutional amendment, which will be on the Nov. 4 ballot if it survives a legal challenge.
He spoke out again for Amendment 5 at one of his periodic “Tallahassee Tuesday'' meetings with constituent groups, this time business people, but he remained noncommittal on his role in the campaign.
“I'm evaluating it,'' Crist said. “I think the closer we get to November the better idea we'll have about our level of involvement.''
Crist was the face of Amendment 1, stumping the state for the measure that's expected to cut homeowners' property taxes by about $240 a month _ more if they move. The amendment passed Jan. 29.
Amendment 5 would cut property taxes about 25 percent for all property owners, not just homeowners, by eliminating most school taxes. It would also require the state to replace that money _ currently about $8 billion a year _ through various means including a sales tax increase and spending cuts.
Another provision would limit annual assessment increases on property.
The very group Crist invited to the Governor's Mansion to talk about the state's sagging economy is sharply split on Amendment 5.
The slumping real estate industry sees it as a vital economic stimulus and has pledged to spend at least $1 million to pass it. Many other business groups, though, oppose it because they're afraid of new taxes of other kinds, especially a tax on services, to replace the property tax cuts.
Various education groups also oppose Amendment 5 because they're worried the Legislature will not fully replace the lost tax money.
Chuck Bonfiglio, president of the Florida Association of Realtors, thanked Crist for being “the catalyst'' for Amendment 1 and said Amendment 5 would be the second part of tax relief he promised.
Crist reaffirmed his support but passed up a chance to commit to an active role. Instead, he noted that Florida Chamber of Commerce president Mark Wilson made it tougher to pass.
The chamber two years ago led a successful campaign to require 60 percent voter approval,instead of a simple majority, to amend the Florida Constitution.
Amendment 1 was the first to fall under the new requirement. It passed with 64 percent of the vote. Unlike Amendment 5, though, it had nearly unanimous support from the business community.
The chamber is one of Amendment 5's leading opponents. Wilson said nothing about it during the meeting but later said the chamber agrees property taxes should be cut.
“Our concern is where are we going to make it up?'' Wilson said. “The voters of Florida remember the lottery and they remember being told that we were going to put a lot of money into education.''
Lottery money has gone to education, but the state has reduced its overall share of public school funding, which has contributed to local property tax increases.
Robert Parrish, president of the Florida Home Builders Association, told Crist he expects his group to take a position on Amendment 5 in couple weeks.
Even more than Realtors, home builders need a stimulus. Parrish said his group expects to lose 25 percent of its membership this year and another 25 percent next year due to the state's housing bust.
“We're basically a very unhealthy patient right now,'' Parrish said. “We're not getting any better. We could be getting sicker between now and next year. We're looking for the doctor.''
Pictured above is Florida Gov. Charlie Crist.