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Tax Reform on the Way

June 14th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

The largest tax relief package in the history of the state is on its way to the governor. State lawmakers have approved a series of bills rolling back taxes to last years levels. But as Mike Vasilinda tells us, with the legislative work done, debate on the most controversial aspects of the tax change is just beginning.

Hear it here: Tax Reform Plan

Florida voters will have to decide if they like their current homestead exemption or want to switch to something different. After lengthy debate, lawmakers are offering the choices of a so called super-sized exemption, which is 75 percent of the first 200 thousand dollars of a homes value. Sen. Mike Haridopolus says the break is small on higher dollar homes And from 200 thousand dollars and above to 500 thousand dollars, 15 percent would be exempted the idea being that we want to help those people who have been hardest hit. says the Brevard County Senator.

But if homeowners decide they like the current save our homes capthey can keep it instead. Senate Democratic Leader Steve Geller called the idea the biggest cut to education, police and fire service in the states history. There have been too many politicians telling the voters they can have deep, deep tax cuts and that it will not in any way affect services. That is not an accurate statement.

Only lukewarm applause greeted the 25-12 vote.

These votesrather than being the end of the debate will be just the beginning. Before any change can take effect, voters will have to say okay. Alex Villalobos says everyone should check with their accountant before deciding how to vote. This is your home and your tax situation. And if this changes, is it gonna be better or worse? says the Miami Senator.

The plan doesnt help those who were screaming the loudest renters and the owners of second homes.

Posted in Amendments, Charlie Crist, Legislature, Politics, Property Taxes, State News | 1 Comment »

Firefighters Opposition to Tax Cuts Growing More Vocal

June 13th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

Hundreds of firefighters converged on the state Capitol today in opposition to pending tax cuts which they say will affect public safety. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the GOP lead legislature is turning a deaf ear to the firefighters concerns and is moving ahead without much debate.

The chorus of firefighters is growing louder each day.I say no. What do you say? NO!
Was the chant in the Capitol courtyard. Under the tax cut plan, some districts will lose scores of personnel. Harold Schaitberger from the International Association of Firefighters read a list of counties facing cuts This is about Broward County 50 members less to respond to the next disaster on the highway.

One jurisdiction says even the fear of pending cuts is already having an effect.
Bert Williams is from Pinellas Park. Weve lost an inspector, a district chief and three lines guys that arent out there protecting us or the citizens.

While theres plenty of noise being made outside the capitol, it doesnt appear as though anyone inside is listening.

Inside, the GOP led legislature told Democrats if they even offered an amendment to the tax cut plans, they would never have their idea heard. Steve Geller says he has never seen anything like it. This is it take it or leave it and if you offer and amendment and its defeated, we probably wont even consider it later. says Geller.

But the governor is holding strong, calling the firefighters bluff by saying services wont be cut. You know, the people of Florida want their money back and they deserve to have tax cuts. And were gonna give it to em. says Crist.

In the end, there may be enough votes to pass the tax cut plan, but not enough to have a special election on the tax cuts in January, which will delay some of the relief for another year. The House of Representatives is meeting tonight to begin debating the tax cut plan.

Posted in Charlie Crist, Legislature, Politics, State News | No Comments »

Another Bump in the Road for FCAT

June 8th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

Since its launch, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test has been a clashing point for students, educators, lawmakers, and parents. Now, As Mike Vasilinda reports, problems with scoring the test could affect what grades schools get later this month.

School grades from the state are going to be late this summer yet another bump in the state’s controversial standardized testing system known as the FCAT. Other problems include a new science test in which students did poorly and a problem grading some portions of the 3rd grade version of the test which inflated test scores for nearly 200-thousand students.

“I would have to give the grade F. says John Due, a member of the Florida Coalition for Assessment Reform. And with 4 grandchildren just starting in public school, he’s worried about problems that effect school grades and how student performance is measured. “Im concerned about them taking any kind of standardized test which really doesnt measure whether they are learning or not.

The Department of Education is hoping that school grades, which range from F to A, will be out by the end of June. Thats two weeks later than normal. DOE spokesman Tom Butler told us “We we stand by the FCAT. I think if you look through the long term gains that have been shown by the FCAT, the performance measures that have been in place and the accountability that the FCAT has brought to the education system here in Florida, I think you know we’re very happy with how the way the FCAT has performed.

Next week an advisory committee is scheduled to meet and examine the options for fixing the inflated test scores and possibly rescoring the portions of the 2006 3rd grade test. School grades are expected to drop this year because of the addition of the science test and lower grades could mean fewer dollars for those schools.

Posted in Children, Education, State News | No Comments »

Gas Stations Inspected for Generators

June 6th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

Initial reports are that many of the more than 1000 gas stations along evacuation routes which were supposed to be generator ready on June first are not. Inspectors are visiting the stations this week, issuing notices of non compliance where appropriate. Mike Vasilinda went along with inspectors and tells us some stations are just ignoring the law.

Leonard Wood and Roberta Johnsons job is to make sure gas stations along hurricane evacuation routes are generator ready. We werent allowed to take pictures at this Fast Track station, but the station was sited for non-compliance after the clerk told the inspector Johnson she didnt know anything. Tried to get a hold of the owner and we couldnt get an answer so we gave them a non-compliance because nobody could give us any information. Johnson told us. Johnson was also told nothing happens when the power goes off.

The clerk in this store was able to get a hold of the corporate owners to deny us permission to shoot inside, but when the state wanted to talk to those same owners about generators, they werent available.

Across the street, it was a completely different story. Owner Jerry Grubbs took the new law seriously. What did that cost you? we asked. 20 thousand dollars.
What do you think of that investment? Its a very poor investment. Ive been out of electricity two hours in 40 years. says Grubbs.

Jerrys 30 KW generator exceeds what the law requires says Inspector Leonard Wood
They dont have to have a generator on site. If they dont have it on site, they have to have a physical address where I can find it. It has to be within 250 miles. They have to be able to get it here within 24 hours.

The generators do guarantee the pumps will operate…but there is no way to make sure every station with a generator will have gas in the ground to pump.

Stations given a notice of non compliance have ten days to prove they are following the law. Failure to comply is a criminal violation.

Posted in Business, Hurricane Season, State News, Weather | 3 Comments »

Property Tax Hearing Void of Numbers

June 4th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

Today in Tallahassee, State lawmakers held their last public meeting before a special session on property taxes set for next week. They say there is substantial agreement on a course of action, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, some big decisions, like how much youll save, are still up in the air.

Hear it here: Property Tax Negotiations

Police and fire officials from around the state came in droves. Mike Brown of the North Naples Fire District says they are worried about cuts to local governments and to needed services Were funded strictly by property taxes and theres no place to cut other than fire protection. says Brown.

At a last hearing before a special session that begins next Tuesday, negotiator Dean Cannon of Winter Park painted a picture of agreement. The agreement has been reached that we will endeavor to get immediate relief to the taxpaying citizens of Florida this fall. Cannon told fellow lawmakers.

The certainties are that local governments will see cuts in revenue, homes will be assessed as a percentage of their value, there will be a cap on future tax increases, but when it comes to dollars and cents, there is only a big question mark.

Dont look to see how much youll save after this last pre-session hearing. No one really knows and the numbers are not set in stone. House negotiator Dean Cannon says it is a matter of deciding policy first, then plugging in the numbers. Were really doing what we said at the beginning which is building all of the architecture of the plan first, then well be able to calculate the numbers. That will be the last thing decided.

Expect to vote on whats approved here the same day you choose your favorite for President January 29th. The governor has said taxes must drop like a rock. But so far, the numbers are in limbo. The special session on property taxes begins next Tuesday and is scheduled to last 11 days.

Posted in Cabinet, State News, Voting, Weather | 1 Comment »

Property Tax Deal Close

June 1st, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

House Speaker Marco Rubio and Senate President Ken Pruitt have agreed on a plan to resolve the major issues involving property tax reform.
The plan calls for local governments to roll back their property taxes based on a formula of how much they have increased taxes in recent years. Tax growth will also be capped, but local governments could exceed the cap with an extraordinary vote. Future homestead exemptions will be based on a percent of the propertys value.
Local governments have the most to lose under this plan so Christopher Holley at the Florida Association of Counties says theyre still waiting for details.
The concepts that theyre working on are moving in a good direction, so I want to be positive about the work thats being done,” said Holley. “But the devil is in the details and there are none at this point.
The rollback would cover city and county governments, but public schools will not have to reduce taxes.
House Minority Leader Dan Gelber (D-Miami Beach) also has some concerns about the lack of specifics regarding “the deal.”
I am pleased that my colleagues have reached preliminary agreement on delivering property tax relief. However, I remain concerned that there are many other aspects of tax relief that are unaddressed. Unfortunately, there continues to be more questions than answers on the impacts of this tax relief agreement,” said Gelber.
Several issues remain to be discussed at a June 4th meeting of state lawmakers… including tax relief for low income seniors and affordable housing.
The special session on property tax reform is scheduled to begin on June 12th.

Full text of the letter outlining the deal: propertytax.pdf

Posted in State News | No Comments »

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