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Florida Legislature Unwilling To Revamp Tax System

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Despite an intensive campaign by state officials to garner public support for expanding the state's tax base, the Florida legislature has passed a budget for fiscal 1993 without substantially altering the tax system.

Gov. Lawton Chiles, who had vetoed two previous budgets, signed the $31.8-billion spending plan on July 1, the first day of the new fiscal year. Had he not done so, state-government operations probably would have been forced to halt due to a lack of funds.

The legislature, which had gone into a special session on the budget, did provide additional funding for education. Public schools will receive a $206-million increase over last year.

The Governor had sought an overall increase in state spending of $1.3 billion, about $650 million of which would have gone for education.

In an unprecedented effort, Mr. Chiles and the cabinet had been crisscrossing the state in recent months to persuade the public that repealing sales-tax exemptions on 99 goods and services and ending many exemptions to the corporate-income tax would be a more equitable way to pay for services. (See Education Week, May 27, 1992.)

Election-Year Worries

But lawmakers, including many of Mr. Chiles's fellow Democrats, were unwilling to go along with the controversial measure in an election year.

"There wasn't, frankly, a whole lot of energy on either side of the aisle to get to the number the Governor wanted,'' said John Ryor, the executive director of the Florida Teaching Profession-N.E.A.

Legislators did repeal five sales-tax exemptions, including those on security systems and cleaning and pest-control services for commercial establishments. They also increased taxes on corporate and upper-income owners of stocks and bonds.

Although public-school funding will be increased for the coming year, Mr. Ryor noted that schools actually will receive about $2 less per pupil than they did this past year because of an anticipated enrollment rise of up to 100,000 students.

Gov. Chiles has made clear that he still intends to pursue tax reform for Florida, a state that has no personal-income tax and relies on the same basic tax structure as it has for decades, long before it became the nation's fourth most populous state.

While Commissioner of Education Betty Castor and members of the cabinet support the Governor, a spokesman for Ms. Castor explained, they are uncertain about continuing their high-profile role in the cause.

"We're not sure that now is the right time to push for any kind of huge increase,'' said Mary Anne Havriluk. "What we're doing right now is regrouping.''

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