|Sentinel Staff Writer

With top economists expected to announce grim budget news for Florida — possibly the worst for the state’s government in decades — an unlikely alliance of groups representing children, the elderly and taxpayers is demanding a solution.

The alliance, Florida’s People — Florida’s Promise, is bracing for an additional state revenue shortfall of perhaps more than $1 billion, its leaders said Thursday. The exact figures will be announced today.

But already the group has some 50 agencies across the state — including the Florida AARP, the Florida Coalition for Children and Florida TaxWatch — that have pledged to work together to resolve the funding crisis. And 750 individuals have signed the group’s petition seeking more creative solutions from state lawmakers than the slash-and-burn approach of the past legislative session.

“This is the largest back-to-back, year-to-year decrease in state funding. You have to go back to the Great Depression to find an impact like this,” said Florida AARP spokesman Dave Bruns. “These are historic times, and we need historic leadership.”

The group will hold the four “town hall” meetings across the state — the first on Saturday in Maitland. More than 25 elected officials and candidates have been invited.

“We’re saying to them, ‘We’re not going to just stand by and take another 5- or 10-percent reduction in our funding. It’s not going to work,” said Glen Casel, president of Community Based Care of Seminole, part of Florida’s privatized child-welfare system. “I recognize the difficult situation the legislators are in. But tearing out the safety net of our society is not the solution.”

This past legislative session, advocates found themselves battling one another trying to preserve their own programs. The situation grew so competitive that one legislator bluntly told an advocate: “I’m sick of hearing about who’s the most vulnerable.”

In the end, some programs were saved — Florida’s program for the medically needy, for instance — but cuts overall were dire.

Advocates with Florida’s Promise argue that streamlining some programs and closing tax loopholes could help raise money in a relatively painless way.

“If I take a charter fishing boat in the state of Florida, I don’t have to pay any taxes [on the trip],” Casel said by way of example. “Now, who’s chartering a fishing boat? Someone who can afford to pay 6 or 7 percent tax.”

Another possible answer is collecting state sales tax on remote commerce, such as via the Internet, mail order and catalogs, Bruns said. That could generate an estimated $2 billion a year.

Response from Staff and Wire Reports @ BassOnline.com

We are personally and professional offended that some would consider taxing the fishing charter industry in Florida. A industry this state has taken for granted, at the same time has enjoyed for years the fruits of the industry.

We would suggest our state lawmakers to step back and look at how bad this industry has already been impacted by fuel and other rising cost. With an estimate 40% of the charter business to go out of business over the next two years, an additional added tax to a already hurting tourism industry doesn’t seem to support the problem, but may simply increase the inevitable. Lawmakers have already effected the fishing industry in so many ways. One example that comes to mind is the budget cuts to FWC, it has left the industry with inadequate law enforcement and underpaid biologist trying to support the most lucrative industry in the state.

While Florida tourism has ridden the wave from the fishing industry, they have continued to look at it with blinders on. It may not be the fuel cost, drop in tourism or raising of taxes that kills the Florida fishing industry. But the diversion of our tourist to other states, which do understand and appreciate the economic impact of the industry.

We would suggest everyone start looking at ways to save it, other then ways of continuing to brake it down.