Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Primary Day

Today is primary day here in Florida for the Republicans and the polls are all over the place: first Romney’s up, then he’s down, now he seems to be tipping over. McCain was behind, now he’s ahead. And Rudy Giuliani, who has been betting his entire race on winning here, is fading fast and making noises like he will withdraw after tonight’s results are known. (Best headline I’ve seen so far about his chances: “Goodbye, Rudy Tuesday.”)

For the Democrats, it’s basically a beauty contest since the DNC won’t seat the Florida delegation because the Republican-dominated state legislature moved the primary up to January. (Could it have been a plot to screw the Democrats, or is that giving the gang in Tallahassee too much credit?) But a lot of people will be going to the polls for the Democratic side just to send a message, and it should be interesting to see how it turns out, both in terms of the numbers and in terms of who gets the most votes.

Florida is by far the largest and most diverse state to vote so far, especially in terms of ethnicity. It has the largest Hispanic population yet to vote, and they are well-represented in both parties, owing to the fact that the Cuban population, especially the elderly, tends to vote Republican. As the Miami Herald notes,

The Hispanic vote is key, comprising 17 percent of the Republican primary electorate and about 12 percent of the Democratic. Historically, the Republican who wins their vote wins the primary.

For Clinton, it’s a key to her campaign in Florida and the nation. Without the outsized Hispanic support, she likely loses, said national pollster John Zogby. In Florida and national polls, Clinton wallops Obama in Hispanic support to a greater degree than he trounces her with the support of black voters.

As the Herald notes, the big issue here is the economy and property taxes. I had three messages on my phone machine yesterday urging me to vote No on Amendment 1, the property tax reform package put together by the legislature. It would change the homestead exemption and provide a little tax relief, but it looks like it’s not enough to justify the threat that it poses to funding the public schools, and, as this editorial notes, it’s basically a Band-Aid approach to a much larger problem.

Even so, some will argue, a tax cut is a tax cut. Agreed, but in exchange for a small measure of relief, residents are guaranteed deeper cuts in local services. Meanwhile, the state’s creaky, inefficient and archaic tax system will remain in place. They say that it is bad manners to look a gift horse in the mouth, but this is an exception to the rule. Give this nag back to the Legislature and tell lawmakers that voters want something better.

Calling the state’s tax system “creaky, inefficient and archaic” is being charitable. It relies on unpredictable sources — sales taxes, tourism, and property taxes — to generate the revenue, and all it takes is a couple of hurricanes and tourists go elsewhere and the houses all need to be rebuilt. Meanwhile the property taxes make buying a home, even for people with above-average incomes, a scary prospect. Florida is the only state I’ve ever lived in that did not have a state income tax — it’s prohibited by the state constitution — but now might be the time to at the least examine the pros and cons of swapping one old system for a new one.

The amendment will need a super-majority — 60% Yes — to pass, and according to this poll, it’s not going to pass. Let’s hope not.