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Advocates demand more revenue

3/4/3009 © Florida Health News 

A coalition of consumer advocacy groups rallied at the Capitol today to urge lawmakers to raise the cigarette tax, plug loopholes in sales-tax exemptions and find other ways to bridge the budget gap. 

They called Gov. Charlie Crist's request to the Legislature to rely on the federal stimulus a "shell game," while he said the money would create more than 200,000 jobs that "the people of Florida desperately need." He said he was grateful to get the money and pre 

Meanwhile, there were conflicting reports over how much money is in the stimulus package for Florida, as the Orlando Sentinel reports. Some reports pegged the total at more than the $12.2 billion over three years originally estimated, while others noted not all of it could be spent the way state agencies want.

On Tuesday night, in his State of the State speech, Crist urged lawmakers to use the federal cash to fill holes in state spending, rather than raise taxes or make cuts beyond the $7 billion already taken in the past two years. He wants to use $5 billion of the stimulus money for the coming fiscal year that begins July 1.

"These funds will serve as a bridge to better economic times," Crist said. His $66-billion budget includes more than $25 billion for health services.

But a coalition of advocacy groups -- including AARP, children's organizations and health-care providers -- said the federal aid will only provide a temporary respite in the state's economic pain because its revenue structure is distorted by its reliance on real estate growth and sales taxes, not to mention exemptions that some powerful groups have won.

Florida needs long-term, stable sources of revenue, said Dave Bundy, president and CEO of Children's Home Society of Florida. Some lawmakers have appeared open to reforming the system, he said, and the governor should follow through on it.

Lori Parham, AARP's Florida state director, warned of the temptation to redirect some of the $4.5 billion of the stimulus package that's earmarked for Medicaid. “Stimulus funds should be used for the purpose they were intended to serve,” she said.