Florida House speaker to continue fight for tax cuts

Nov 9, 2007

Aaron Deslatte, Tallahassee Bureau

November 9, 2007


With his property-tax agenda derailed in the Florida Legislature, House Speaker Marco Rubio is making plans for his political future that include throwing his fundraising clout behind a drive for bigger property-tax cuts.

The West Miami Republican has indicated he plans to raise money from lobbyists for two groups that will push his conservative policies — and keep him politically relevant after term limits force him from office next year.

One of the groups, Floridians for Property Tax Reform, was formed last spring and plans to push for deeper tax cuts than the $12 billion plan that Gov. Charlie Crist pushed lawmakers to put on the Jan. 29 ballot, its members said.

Brett Doster, a political consultant, said the group was likely to ask the state Taxation and Budget Reform Commission in coming weeks to place a more-sweeping tax cut before voters in November 2008.

Last month, lawmakers ignored Rubio’s call for bigger savings for seniors and newer homeowners and passed a bare-bones constitutional amendment that would save the average homeowner $240 a year.

"There’s a general sense of frustration that the Legislature didn’t do its job," Doster said.

Rubio, he added, "has graciously agreed to help out, and we’ll see what the next steps are."

In the minutes after the tax-cutting session ended Oct. 29, Rubio said he hadn’t "given a lot of thought" to his next steps.

But three weeks earlier, on Oct. 8, the speaker had already asked the House’s chief lawyer whether he could raise money for the group without violating Florida’s fundraising-disclosure law and lobbyist-gift ban, records show.

Because the speaker did not "create, control or maintain" the group, House General Counsel Jeremiah Hawkes wrote, he won’t have to adhere to a 2006 law that public officials disclose on a Web site the companies or lobbyists giving them checks.

That means Rubio could potentially raise tens of thousands of dollars from lobbyists whose clients have business before the Legislature — and never disclose their names.

Hawkes OK’d the fundraising Oct. 18, early in the two-week special session that bogged down after House Republicans demanded deeper cuts than a deal with the Senate had included.

Rubio didn’t respond Thursday to requests for comment, and his office wouldn’t elaborate other than to call the legal opinion "cautionary" and add that "he hasn’t finalized his plans."

A Rubio lieutenant, Rep. David Rivera of Miami, said the speaker has made clear he thinks that a signature-petition drive is the only way voters will get a deeper tax cut.

"Every constituent of mine has been asking me where they can find a petition," Rivera said.

Hawkes also cleared Rubio to raise money for a group called 100Ideas.org, created in August to push reforms from the book by the same name that Rubio published last year.

Rubio has long been seen as a likely future candidate for statewide office, and creating a nonprofit policy group is one way politicians who are between jobs keep their names and ideas in front of the public.

The 100Ideas group’s board of directors includes longtime Rubio supporters such as Miami real-estate executive William Holly and Orange County Republican consultants Ometrias Deon Long and Bertica Cabrera Morris.

Long, a Winter Park lawyer who also chairs the Florida Federation of Black Republican Clubs, is a co-chair of Floridians for Property Tax Reform and said members are finding it hard to stay positive about the amendment lawmakers passed.

"If this goes down in flames, it’ll show that the citizens want something more," he said. "Maybe we’ll have a fight over this after all."

Aaron Deslatte can be reached at adeslatte@orlandosentinel.com or 850-222-5564.

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