Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

How to Tell If It's Really Reform

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

How to Tell If It's Really Reform

Article excerpt

Byline: Wayne Ezell

The late U.S. Sen. Russell Long of Louisiana cited a couple of truisms that may speak to the "tax reform" that is getting attention in Florida.

"Don't tax me. Don't tax thee. Tax that man behind the tree," was Long's response to questions about why tax issues were so difficult to resolve. Long also frequently reminded his colleagues that one person's reform can be another person's reversal of fortune.

Indeed, whether the debate over property taxes will result in "tax reform," as politicians would like for it to be viewed, is yet to be seen.

Webster's defines reform as, "1. To make better by removing faults and defects; 2. To make better by putting a stop to abuses or malpractices or by introducing better procedures, etc."

Unfortunately, this newspaper and some others routinely use the label "tax reform" to describe policies or proposals that may or may not make things better.

Such language accommodates politicians, including those working at the behest of special interests, who would like for people to think that what they are crafting could be described as reform.

Most indications are that what is being considered in Tallahassee could better be called tax shifting, as in shifting the burden from one group of taxpayers to another. A neutral word such as "change" might be more appropriate to describe proposals to reduce property taxes.

Consider, for example, a Friday story that said Mayor John Peyton was having second thoughts about taxes. According to the story, he earlier had been "considering five options to add revenue -- including a garbage tax, a franchise fee on JEA bills and extending the gasoline tax past 2016 -- to offset losses from property tax reform being considered by state lawmakers."

So who decided this would be reform?

The newspaper should answer some questions for readers before elevating proposed tax changes to the overused and politician-friendly status of reform.

First, will there be a significant overall reduction in spending? If not, then it may be difficult to describe the tax changes as anything other than a shift in burden. …

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