Gubernatorial hopefuls discuss taxes, schools


Published: Saturday, January 21, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 21, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
ORLANDO - Even the two Democrats and two Republicans running for governor can all agree on a few things: affordable housing is a major issue in Florida, sprawl needs to be controlled, there's no need for new taxes and improving schools has to be a priority.
But the sides split on some issues Friday as the four major candidates appeared together for the first time since announcing their campaigns during a forum hosted by the Florida Association of Realtors.
Republicans Charlie Crist and Tom Gallagher want to keep cutting taxes while Democrats Jim Davis and Rod Smith felt the money could be put to better use. Crist and Gallagher support school vouchers, while Smith and Davis said sending children to private schools with tax money based on how they score on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test is not the solution.
"If you want to fix the schools, pay the teachers better, recruit the best and the brightest back into the classroom, give them the authority to run the classes, educate them so that we're doing something besides becoming just an FCAT test center," Smith, a state senator from Alachua, said to rousing applause.
Gallagher, the state's chief financial officer, said that keeping schools accountable makes them better.
"We need to continue to see to it that we have a world class education. If we do that, that takes care of so many problems," he said.
Davis, a Tampa lawyer who has served in the U.S. House since 1997, agreed teachers need to be paid more, and said that's what the state should be doing instead of cutting taxes. He called a Republican proposal to halt the state's sales tax for a week an election-year gimmick.
"We should take those hard earned tax dollars and invest them in schools, in roads, in infrastructure," he said.
Smith said while the state is taking in much more money, it also has an obligation to schools and health care. "It's not the worst thing in the world to send back money to folks. I've never had a gripe about it. The worst thing to do is to send back money to folks when you didn't pay the bills you had and that's what I'm against," he said.
Crist, Florida's attorney general, cited former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack when talking about his position on taxes. "When he ran for the Senate in 1988, he had a great slogan during that campaign - less taxing, less spending, less government, and I think most importantly, more freedom. That's what I believe in to the core," Crist said. "The voice of the common man and common woman must be heard in this campaign. That's what I'm fighting for."

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