Florida Lawmakers Adjourn Without Resolving Services Tax Issue
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ After nearly a month of haggling, Florida’s $760 million services tax remains on the books.
Legislative leaders on Wednesday adjourned the second special legislative session called by Gov. Bob Martinez to address the issue, and said the Legislature would take up the matter in December.
″I’ve never seen a more difficult issue,″ said House Speaker Jon Mills, a Democrat. ″It’s probably time for us to return to our districts.″
The adjournment stifled Martinez’s efforts to rescind the landmark levy, which has been blamed for a steep drop in the first-term Republican governor’s popularity.
″I can understand the Democrats would rather almost die politically than repeal the tax,″ Martinez said. ″I think that’s going to be the message loud and clear.″
The 5 percent sales tax on services, pushed through last spring by Martinez and the Democratic leadership, became law in July. It was applied to previously untaxed services such as advertising, legal work, accounting, pest control, pet grooming and yard services.
The tax sparked a fight that cost Florida taxpayers an estimated $520,000 to keep lawmakers in session and was marked by an anti-tax advertising blitz, several changes in Martinez’ position and one of the strongest displays of partisan politics in the 20 years since Florida’s last Republican governor.
Once a champion of the tax, Martinez backed away from it two months ago, called for a referendum and then called for repeal.
Martinez called lawmakers into a three-day special session Sept. 21 but extended it when no solution was reached. He was forced to call a second session starting last Monday when lawmakers approached a 20-day constitutional limit for special sessions.
Martinez on Tuesday vetoed the only compromise the Legislature was able to pass. That measure would have repealed a revised services tax effective Jan. 31, barring a voter decision to retain the tax in a Jan. 12 referendum.
The governor still could recall lawmakers on the tax, but said he was ready to let the Legislature go its own way.
Many lawmakers were unhappy about leaving without taking action on the tax, while others were angry with Martinez for trying to dump political responsibility for the tax in their laps.
″We nationally now have become a joke,″ said Democratic Sen. Robert Crawford. ″My aunt comes from North Carolina and says, ’You all are really making the national news as a joke. What are you all doing?‴