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Crist's approval ratings may drop faster than taxes
SOURCE: Orlando Sentinel
John Kennedy
September 13 2007

Gov. Charlie Crist promised that property taxes in Florida would soon "drop like a rock."

But a poll released Tuesday shows the Republican governor's approval ratings may be dropping faster -- along with support among Floridians for a January ballot measure creating a new, supersized homestead exemption.

"I think a lot of people in Florida are really frustrated right now," said Celeste Jones, 58, a retired business administrator who put her three-bedroom home in Tavares up for sale Tuesday. She and her husband plan to move to South Carolina to get away from high housing costs.

"There's no 'drop like a rock' here. This is more like a bubble -- and it's burst," she added.

Jones' mood is reflected in a new Quinnipiac University poll that shows Crist's lofty job-performance ratings slipping a notch among Florida voters.

Although still drawing enviable marks, Crist got high ratings from 65 percent of Floridians -- down from 73 percent in a Quinnipiac survey in July.

Twenty-three percent of voters are unhappy with him now. Only 11 percent felt that way in the earlier poll.

"Sixty-five?" Crist said, when told about the latest findings. "If I'm depressed about that, there's something wrong with me."

47% like new exemption

But the proposed constitutional amendment may be in deeper trouble. It is supported by just 47 percent of Florida voters, compared with 22 percent opposed and the rest undecided. That's well short of the 60 percent approval needed for passage Jan. 29.

Even worse for supporters, the trend shows a 10-point drop since July, when 57 percent said they liked it and only 17 percent of voters were opposed. And almost two-thirds told Quinnipiac that the proposal needs "a lot more explanation."

"Obviously, it's not good news for those who want the tax proposal to pass," said Peter Brown, assistant director of Quinnipiac's Polling Institute. "But I wouldn't put a fork in it."

Noting the number of undecided voters, he added, "You split up the other 31 percent 50-50, it passes."

The survey of 1,141 Florida voters was conducted Sept. 3-9 and has a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points.

Brett Doster, a lobbyist and founder of Floridians for Property Tax Reform, said he hopes to pump up the amendment with a blitz of mailers, radio and television closer to the election, if business groups and Realtors supporting the measure come forward.

So far, voters are hearing only from local governments resisting the measure, he said.

"As people see there's a way for them to get more tangible relief, they're going to vote for it," he said. "It's really an informational challenge right now."

The amendment would create a homestead exemption for primary residences of as much as $195,000 on a home valued at $500,000. It would give voters a one-time choice between taking the big exemption or keeping the existing Save Our Homes cap, which keeps taxable values on owner-occupied homes from rising more than 3 percent a year.

The poll shows rising anger and resignation among Floridians over property taxes that may be spilling over onto the governor.

Property-tax bills arriving in homeowners' mailboxes in recent weeks have not been cut as deeply as expected.

Rollbacks sidestepped

In many cases, city and county governments sidestepped property-tax rollbacks ordered by the Legislature last spring.

Although Central Florida's largest governments complied, almost 40 percent of local governments statewide have voted to override -- keeping taxes flat or offering only partial reductions.

"For the governor, it's really a problem of having overpromised," said Darryl Paulson, a professor of government at the University of South Florida. "Instead of dropping like a rock, taxes are dropping like a pebble."

Forty-six percent of those in Tuesday's poll said they disapproved of Crist's handling of the property-tax issue -- although 53 percent said they think the governor actually believed taxes would drop further.

51% in Florida dissatisfied

Almost two-thirds said they didn't think property taxes would drop significantly during the governor's term. And more than half -- 51 percent -- said they were dissatisfied with the way things are going in Florida today.

Jones, the Tavares retiree, said she voted for Crist last year.

But now, she said, she and her husband have had enough.

"My tax bill is going to be $100 less than last year," Jones said. "But it's already $6,000 a year. You can't pay those kinds of bills when you're retired."

~end~