The taxing politics of language

June 8, 2013 

The word “tax” has absorbed a variety of tortured associations as politicians vie for an advantage. Witness Gov. Rick Scott.

Once the Legislature passed the 2013-2014 state budget with 3 percent college and university tuition increases, he did just as he warned -- vetoing the hikes. After approving tuition increases his first two years in office, now the Republican governor's mantra is any hike is a "tax increase on Florida families."

Plus Scott insists the state colleges and universities, in line for an inflation rate increase of 1.7 percent, decrease tuition to offset this automatic annual cost-of-living adjustment. Now, though, it's a tax.

In 2009 when the GOP-controlled Legislature jacked up the bill for drivers licenses and vehicle tags -- to the tune of $797 million -- lawmakers went to great lengths to claim these were fees, not taxes.

Then Gov. Charlie Crist, who had repeatedly vowed not to boost taxes, clung to that fallacy -- claiming the state budget did not include "broad-based tax increases."

Well, OK then.

The 2009 bill gouged Floridians with a whopping 35 percent increase in registration fees while the bill for an original drivers license soared from $27 to $48. You can see why political cover -- that clinging to the fee notion -- was critical.

But at that time in 2009, the Democratic House leader called the fees "a tax on hard-working Floridians."

Sounds remarkably like Republican Scott talking circa 2013.

Our best guess is that under the rule of political expediency, words simply twist in the wind. And everything is a tax to be vilified. The word is so toxic, the label assures a strong political backlash.

Which is the point, right?

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