TALLAHASSEE -- In legislative lingo, it's referred to as the "I-word," and the mere mention of it can send shivers down a Florida politician's spine.
It's the personal income tax, a revenue source tapped by most state governments but outlawed by the Florida Constitution since 1924, when the Sunshine State was on the threshold of a land boom.
The idea behind the ban was to lure Northerners with income and wealth to Florida. It succeeded. It became a perennial given in state politics.
Today, Florida remains one of only nine states without a personal income tax, and it would take a statewide vote to alter that. With homeowners this year clamoring for tax relief, legislators are casting around for a way to cut taxes on homes and other types of real estate but are stumped on how to replace the revenue.
Some legislators privately say a personal income tax would be the fairest and best way because it would tax each Floridian according to his or her ability to pay. But most Republicans and Democrats agree there is neither the political will nor the requisite popular support for such a drastic change in the constitution and public life.
"I believe the citizens of the state of Florida will adopt a personal income tax shortly after we send out for the snow plows," said Senate Democratic Leader Steve Geller of Cooper City.
Added House Rules Chairman David Rivera, R-Miami, "If someone proposes it as a bill, I'm sure we will dispose of it appropriately."
Instead, House Republicans and Democrats have advocated an increase in the state's sales tax. A penny increase in the 6 percent sales tax would raise $3.9 billion a year. In comparison, a 1 percent tax on people's income would result in roughly the same revenue for state coffers: $3.1 billion, according to state economists.
Tax specialists and lobbyists for the poor contend that an increase in the sales tax hurts the poor, costing them a disproportionate amount of money.
"I think it will take a number of years before people understand the ultimate fairness of the income tax because if you implement that, you'd repeal a number of the bits and pieces of taxes that have been put on over the years to fund the state's needs," said Karen Woodall, who lobbies for the disadvantaged.