ORLANDO — With Gov. Rick Scott in charge of state government, Florida is unlikely to experience any tax hikes in the foreseeable future, the chairman of the anti-tax organization Ax The Tax noted.
“At this point, Scott has not proposed any tax increases,” Doug Guetzloe said, adding that the 2012 state legislative session – when Florida lawmakers will almost certainly have to consider more budget cuts – will test that commitment.
“I don’t know how deep Scott’s cuts will go or how deep his intestinal fortitude is for the cuts that must occur until such time as they consider a tax increase,” Guetzloe said.
Until then, Guetzloe said supporters of tax hikes have nothing to fear: there are likely to be plenty of tax hike proposals raised in these tough economic times, only they will be coming out of the offices of the county commissioners, not the governor’s office.
And Ax the tax will be ready for each and every one, Guetzloe said, in anticipation that voters will heed their call to block those tax hikes.
“We are always in sync with the voters,” he said.
Ax the Tax is now touting a new poll showing that Osceola County Republicans overwhelmingly oppose a proposed property tax increase being considered by Osceola County commissioners to support library services, rather than contract it out to a private firm.
The Osceola County library board of advisors is urging commissioners to support a hike in the property tax rate for maintaining library services, but a poll Ax the Tax had taken by the national polling firm Cross Target indicated widespread opposition to the tax hike.
Guetzloe noted that Osceola County commissioners did the same thing in November 2010, when they put a referendum on the county ballot to raise taxes to support transportation improvements. The measure lost by a more than 2-1 margin.
Commissioners proceed with this latest tax hike plan at their own political peril, Guetzloe said.
“It is pretty much what it is,” he said. “The proposal as we understand it from the Osceola County Board of Advisors from the Library System is to recommend a doubling of the current tax rate from a quarter of a mil to half a mil, which starts to be serious stuff when you double the tax rate.”
But even with this tax hike, Guetzloe said, commissioners are still considering reductions in library hours and fewer days when the libraries would be open – which he said contradicts the notion of raising taxes to maintain current service levels.
“You would still have to have hours cut back and days off, and a hiring freeze,” he said.
Osceola County was hard hit by the collapse of the housing market in 2008. Although Osceola had one of the fastest growth rates in the nation during the past decade, the building boom that brought so many jobs to the county came to a quick halt when the bubble in the housing market burst. Since then, Osceola has maintained an 11 percent unemployment rate and a high home foreclosure rate, and the county has been struggling to find ways to maintain services with tax receipts declining.
Guetzloe noted that a national library management system, Library Ssystems and Services Inc., has submitted a proposal to take over Osceola County’s library system, and the plan calls for a reduction in library expenses by $200,000 a year — but without layoffs or service reductions.
Tony Ferentinos, chairman of Ax the Tax Osceola, said this plan “allows Osceola County to continue to provide the services necessary without a tax increase or a cutback in services. LSSI is a recognized national leader in outsourcing for new and existing libraries throughout the United States and provides library services for federal agencies. LSSI currently provides library management services for 86 public library systems and branch operations in the U.S. Osceola voters strongly support the outsourcing proposal and so should the Osceola County Commission.”
LSSI “says they’ll expand the hours, no cutbacks, no reduction in services, and they’ll do it for $200,000 less. Is this the quintessential no-brainer, or what,” Guetzloe said.
On Wednesday, Osceola commissioners held a community meeting at the Hart Memorial Central Library in Kissimmee on the proposed outsourcing of the library system’s operation, and there was a presentation by the Maryland-based LSSI, the only private firm to respond to the county’s request for letters of interest earlier this year. Commissioners are conisdering the outsourcing of library operations in the face of declining property tax revenue.
Guetzloe said commissioners should consider the LSSI plan, because if not, Ax the Tax plans to start up a grass roots effort to kill any property tax hike proposals.
“Ax the Tax has drawn the line in the sand for the taxpayers, and we conducted the poll the other day and it showed the public is pretty much behind our point of view,” he said. “There’s never a good time to raise taxes. Look at LSSI — these people are running the library system for the Smithsonian, the library system for Congress, and they say they can cut expenses, and put the money back in the taxpayers’ pockets, and keep the employees and expand the hours. So what’s the issue?”
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