Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Funding for Courts on Ballot

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Funding for Courts on Ballot

Article excerpt

Whether they know it or not, Northeast Florida taxpayers have

chosen sides on one of this year's election issues.

Officials in Duval, Clay, Nassau and St. Johns counties have

agreed to spend nearly $272,000 in public funds to support a

ballot proposal that would force the state to pay a larger chunk

of local court costs.

The money is going to a political action committee set up to

campaign for the November ballot issue. That committee,

Floridians for Fairness in Court Funding, is an offshoot of the

Florida Association of Counties.

John Ricco, deputy campaign manager, said 53 of the state's 67

counties have agreed to help pay for the campaign. The amounts

vary depending on the sizes of the counties: Duval's share is

$196,678; Clay's share is $33,866; St. Johns, $27,467; and

Nassau, $13,796.

Ricco said it's appropriate to use public funds to help pay for

the campaign because the proposal could lead to tens of millions

of dollars in savings for county property owners. Instead of

counties using property taxes to pay for courts, the state would

use sales taxes, which are drawn from a broader group of people.

"It'll benefit them [counties] and their citizens," Ricco said.

"This has been an issue for county governments for 25 years."

But House Speaker-designate John Thrasher, R-Orange Park,

questioned the use of tax dollars to support the political

issue.

"I don't think we ought to be spending taxpayer dollars doing

that," said Thrasher, who opposes the proposal. "I just think

that's fundamentally wrong."

Dominic Calabro, president of Florida TaxWatch, a taxpayer

watchdog group, said the state Supreme Court and the Attorney

General's Office have ruled that local governments can spend

money to inform residents about political issues.

Calabro said his group supports the ballot proposal because the

state has long passed to counties its responsibility for paying

for courts. He called the court system a "core" function of

state government.

"The state court system is just that -- the state's court

system," Calabro said. …

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