State Politics

Floridians favor higher taxes on cigs

TALLAHASSEE — Florida voters overwhelmingly support an increase in the cigarette tax, the imposition of some taxes on services and a fee on off-brand cigarettes, according to a new poll released Wednesday by a bipartisan alliance of former state leaders and policy advocates.

The poll of 625 registered voters surveyed last week shows that 71 percent support a $1 per pack increase in the cigarette tax, 56 percent support elimination of some sales tax exemptions on services and 78 percent support imposing a fee on cigarette makers, such as Miami’s Dosal, that are not included in the state’s tobacco settlement.

“Lawmakers need to change the mantra that they’ve had for years from no new taxes to a new promise to get the highest value they can possibly get for every taxpayer dollar,” said Virginia Wetherell, former secretary of the Department of Environmental Regulation and one of the founding members of the group, the Florida Alliance for Concerned Taxpayers.

The group formed to persuade lawmakers that it’s time to raise some taxes, revise some policies and shift the direction of Florida’s economic free fall.

“After decades of tax cuts, of spending reductions and performance audits, Florida has succeeded in turning itself into probably the most efficient state government in the country in terms of per capita cost to the taxpayers,” Wetherell said. “Yet we believe that our state now is at a tipping point,” particularly as it relates to education and health care spending.

Wetherell, wife of Florida State University president T.K. Wetherell, serves as president of Wetherell Consulting. Joining Wetherell was Tom Herndon, former chief of staff to Govs. Lawton Chiles and Bob Graham and a former revenue chief and head of the Department of Revenue; Lester Abberger, a longtime environmental advocate and Lena Juarez, a Republican strategist.

Abberger and Herndon noted that despite Florida’s bad economy, the public supports new revenues when linked to specific spending priorities, such as health care, education and roads.

“We’ve been down this road before,” Abberger said. “One of the mistakes we made was we were not clear with linking revenue with services.”

The group said it is self-supported but it has a Web site, www.flaact.com, and is hoping to expand and accept contributions. It commissioned the poll and recommended a seven-point plan for what it called smarter spending.

Among the points:

n Pass the $1 per pack increase in the tobacco tax and close the loophole that allows companies that don’t pay into the tobacco settlement to avoid payments to the state to offset the cost of state health care for sick smokers.

n Embrace the Seminole Indian gambling compact to pay for education.

n Eliminate some sales tax exemptions, such as those on bottled water, charter fishing boats and Super Bowl tickets, and impose new taxes on nonessential services such as valet parking, photo finishing, pet grooming, fitness club memberships and lawn and landscaping services.

n Direct more money into intervention programs.

n Direct state government spending to Florida firms rather than out-of-state firms.

n Stop requiring local governments to pay for state services, such as police pensions.

n Spend more money on programs that draw down more federal matching funds.

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com

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