ORLANDO – It should be easy, political consultant Doug Guetzloe said, to consider tough economic times as a safe environment to be free of tax hike proposals.
After all, when people are struggling economically, who wants to pay higher taxes when they’re barely making ends meet now?
And yet Guetzloe, the founder and chairman of the anti-tax grass roots organization Ax The Tax, thinks his group is going to have an especially busy 2012.
The reason: declining tax revenues may force Florida lawmakers to consider another $2-3 billion in budget cuts next year, and Guetzloe thinks supporters of Florida’s government agencies will push for higher taxes to cover that hole, rather than turn to the reductions in spending as the natural solution.
If that happens, Guetzloe said, Ax the Tax will be ready to counter strike.
“The pot is getting smaller,” he said of the state government and its funding sources. “If the pot gets smaller, more people are going to be wailing to get their fair share. So the state government is going to have to trim another $3 billion from the budget. You’re looking at government finally getting smaller and tightening its belt.”
That gives pro-tax advocates their strongest argument, he said: the state simply can’t afford any more budget cuts after three years of declining revenues and spending reductions that have taken the Florida budget down to the bone.
To which Guetzloe responds: nonsense.
“They said the entire society would collapse if they made those cuts, and look, it didn’t,” he said.
It isn’t even just tax hike proposals likely to be put in front of the state Legislature that has Guetzloe concerned about the political environment heading into 2012. He believes that the county commissioners in Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Volusia counties will be asking for local tax hikes next year. What they all share is SunRail, the 61-mile commuter rail project that will run through all four counties. While construction of the project is being partly funded by the state and federal governments, it will be left to the counties to come up with the long term maintenance costs for SunRail, a project that Guetzloe and Ax the Tax opposed as a costly, wasteful boondoggle that nobody would bother riding.
“I thought Axe the Tax would be one or two jobs and we’d be done, but we’ve been doing it since 1982,” said Guetzle, the host of The Guetzloe Report on The Phoenix Network radio station in Orlando. “Now they’re talking about a sales tax increase for commuter rail. We knew they would, there’s no dedicated funding source for it. Where are you going to get the money? You’re going to have to take it from the citizens.”
If they do, he said, Ax the Tax will be ready to fight the commissioners every step of the way.
“We may have to crank up for that, too,” he said.
Last year, commissioners in Hillsboro, Osceola and Polk counties proposed sales tax referendums, with the increased revenue to be used to pay for transportation improvement projects across their counties. Ax the Tax opposed all three, and so did a majority of voters in each county. The tax hike plans all went down in flames.
“Axe the Tax is opposed to unnecessary taxation,” Guetzloe said. “If the citizens want to tax themselves into the poor house, that’s fine with us.”
Commissioners, he said, now understand that asking voters to raise their own taxes in bad economy times is a losing proposition.
“They got the message, they got the message loud and clear, that people were tired of government that has a huge amount of waste and duplication of services coming out,” he said.
As a result, Guetzloe expects commissioners in the SunRail counties to take a different tactic, and instead ask the state Legislature to grant them the ability to raise sales taxes without first asking voters to approve it through a ballot referendum.
“They’re going to try to go around the referendum,” Guetzloe said. “They’re going to ask the Legislature to allow them, through a super majority of the county commissions, to pass a sales tax without going to the voters. Of course we’ll oppose that. Traditionally the Legislature has said no to that.”
If that fails, commissioners will have no choice but to ask voters to approve the sales tax hike – and if they do, Ax the Tax will be ready for battle, Guetzloe said. He predicted voters would agree, since Ax the Tax has won virtually every tax hike referendum vote that they’ve fought against.
“When they have the opportunity, the people say no,” Guetzloe said. “But they’re going to try. Government has an insatiable appetite. Ronald Reagan said the government was like a baby with an insatiable appetite on one end — and no control at the end. They will come back and back and back and keep asking for taxes.”
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