Florida House of Representatives Speaker Marco Rubio asked Gov. Charlie Crist to add auto insurance and property tax relief to the Legislature’s special session on budget-cutting next week after Senate President Ken Pruitt turned him down.
Crist, though, declined to take sides in the dispute between his two fellow Republicans. Leaders of both chambers must agree on what issues are taken up during a special session, but the governor has the constitutional power to add topics on his own.
“It’s up to the Legislature to make their decision on what they’re interested in doing,” Crist said. “And so I’m awaiting their lead on that and I think that’s the respectful thing to do.”
Rubio, of West Miami, and Pruitt, of Port St. Lucie, issued a formal call for the session late last week, but limited it to budget cutting and a local property tax relief measure for Miami. The 10-day session will begin Wednesday.
The speaker wants the Legislature to modify and restore the state’s no-fault auto insurance system, which expires Monday, and revise a proposed state constitutional amendment offering sweeping property tax cuts to homeowners across Florida.
A Tallahassee judge earlier this week knocked the Legislature’s amendment off the Jan. 19 presidential primary ballot. The state has appealed and that’s all Pruitt wants to do.
In a letter to Crist, Rubio wrote, “without your leadership, the urgent needs of Floridians will not be addressed” on both matters.
Pruitt issued a statement commending work lawmakers in both chambers have done on auto insurance, but he declined to add either issue to the call.
“It is in my judgment, given the current budget shortfalls and the serious fiscal challenges in the forecast, that the most prudent action on the part of this Senate would be to focus on our constitutional duty to have a balanced budget,” Pruitt said.
Lawmakers plan cuts in the $71 billion budget to offset a $1.1 billion shortfall in tax revenues.
Rubio noted in his letter to Crist there’s no guarantee the tax amendment appeal is going to succeed.
“If the ballot language is not corrected before October 31, 2007, there will be no legislative remedy to preserve the January 29 vote,” Rubio wrote. “I know you share my desire for providing immediate property tax relief to the people.”
Chief Circuit Judge Charles A. Francis ruled the amendment’s ballot summary is misleading because it says the measure would preserve existing homeowner tax breaks although it actually would phase them out.
Democrats had opposed the Republican-sponsored amendment, arguing it would harm schools and other local services while failing to provide relief for taxpayers who most need it, but they didn’t have enough votes to defeat it in the GOP-controlled Legislature.
Senate Democratic leader Steve Geller, of Cooper City, said after meeting Friday with Crist that it would be a mistake to revise the amendment before the appeal is decided.
“Do you realize what kind of chaos there would be if we had two conflicting amendments on the ballot and they both passed?” Geller asked.
That won’t happen, said House Majority Leader Adam Hasner, R-Delray Beach.
“If you fixed it, you would withdraw the appeal,” Hasner said. “It’s a quick statutory fix.”
Insurance companies have been lobbying lawmakers to let no-fault expire because it is rife with fraud while hospitals, afraid of getting stuck with unpaid medical expenses, have been pushing to have it reinstated.
The law requires motorists to buy personal injury protection, or PIP, that provides up to $10,000 in coverage for medical expenses regardless of who is at fault.
One group of legislators has developed a proposal to revive no-fault but with changes designed to cut fraud. A competing plan would require motorists to buy liability coverage for injuries they cause.
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