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Florida races to join the national tax revolt with Proposition 1

A tax revolt encompassing far more restrictions than California's Proposition 13 is under way in Florida - a state that has one of the lowest per capita spending rates in the nation.

Known as Proposition 1, or the Citizens Choice Amendment, the proposal, now scheduled to be on the ballot in November 1984, would limit revenue collected by all levels of state and local government.

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Proponents, who gathered more than the required 298,734 signatures to get the referendum on the ballot say it will bring runaway government spending under control and give voters a more direct say in how tax money would be collected and spent.

Opponents say Florida already is run more efficiently than most states. They add that the proposal would cripple all levels of government, which are faced with the task of providing services to match an unprecedented growth in population through the rest of this century.

The proposal would add a section to the Florida constitution that would limit revenue collected by state and local government to the amount they collected in the 1980-81 fiscal year plus two-thirds of the annual consumer price index changes since then and any increases in property taxes from new construction.

If any level of government believes it needs more money than allowed by that formula, it would have to get approval from voters.

While state officials point out that Florida ranked 44th among the states in per capita government spending, leaders of the tax revolt insist that Floridians are among the highest taxed.

''We think we are the highest taxed in the South, if you think of what taxes really are,'' said Y. Y. Phillips, one of the tax revolt leaders. ''Taxes aren't just what you pay on your house, but also all the fees you pay. Utility rates have gone up 300 percent in the past decade.''

State government spending has doubled in the past five years, he said, and property taxes are prejudiced against renters who pay through their rents for taxes that are not cushioned by the state's $25 homeowner's exemption.

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He said the proposal would revive the democratic process by forcing politicians to go to the voters when they want to increase spending beyond the prescribed limits.

''If they could prove they need the funds, they could go to the taxpayers and get their approval,'' Mr. Phillips says. ''If they play it straight with the public and tell them what they need for growth, they could get the public to approve it.''

But political leaders in the state say passage of such a proposal would devastate Florida. They look at public opinion polls that say the amendment has widespread support, and they know they will have to campaign hard to convince voters of the damage they believe the tax plan would inflict.

''At a time of tremendous growth for the state, to have this proposition even on the ballot, much less having the risk of having it passing, is catastrophic for Florida, particularly since Florida has one of the lowest tax rates in the nation and our government has ranked consistently as one of the best in the nation,'' says Florida House Speaker Lee Moffitt (D) of Tampa.

Florida has no personal income tax and one of the nation's lowest corporate profits taxes, he said. Much of the state's revenue is raised through a 5 percent sales tax as well as cigarette and gasoline taxes, which the state's annual invasion of 33 million tourists helps support.

A state economist said if the proposal passes, the state government alone would have to cut back by 23 percent. Most local governments would be hit as hard or harder.

Had this amendment been in effect since the 1970-71 fiscal year, the state government's budget would be 56 percent smaller than it is today, he said.

''We're looking at the equivalent of the entire population of North Carolina moving to Florida in the next 15 years,'' Mr. Moffitt said. ''And we're looking at all the water and sewers and schools and roads these people are going to require. This is no time to tie the hands of our government.''

Allowing the voters to approve additional spending to meet government needs, Mr. Moffitt said, would create widespread confusion at the ballot box and undermine the principles of representative government.

He said people were quick to sign petitions asking to get Proposition 1 on the ballot because everyone favors lower taxes. But many government officials say they hope that once voters realize what effect this proposal will have on government services, they will change their minds.

''We're going to put together a factual analysis of what the Citizens Choice Amendment means,'' Mr. Moffitt said. ''If we campaign without theatrics and hysteria, people will realize what damage it will do.''

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