The crowd was large and the passion intense as the 530 people, mostly from Miami-Dade, traveled to Tallahassee Tuesday to tell legislators to stay focused on giving them property tax relief. They came from Miami-Dade, Broward, Volusia, Orlando and Sarasota counties and they wore blue t-shirts that read: "Continue the fight for lower property taxes.''
House Speaker Marco Rubio of West Miami addressed the crowd in the House chamber, as did his deputies, Reps. David Rivera, Carlos Lopez-Cantera and Julio Robaina. "We need to do more, that's why we're here today,'' Rubio said. He urged them to keep pushing for the 2010 ballot initiative to cap the increase in all property tax assessments at 1.35 percent and to support the proposal by the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission to cut property taxes by $9.6 billion and replace them with increases in the sales tax and budget cuts.
"The Legislature has the power to put the 1.35 plan on the ballot,'' Rubio said. "It's not over; we're going to win.''
What he didn't tell them is that the bill to put the 1.35 percent constitutional amendment on the November ballot still hasn't had its first hearing in the House and, while it may get approval there, House leaders are not likely to spend any political capital demanding that the reluctant Senate take it up.
"It'll be fine in the House,'' Rubio told the media later. "I think we'll have the votes to pass it." But, he acknowledged, it's a long shot: "We need to come behind it as a movement.''
One traveler from Miami saw the irony. He told Rubio they visited several legislators offices on Tuesday and got no legislators. After "a 10-hour bus ride...and no one is here,'' he said. "We need help from everyone in this chamber,'' he reminded Rubio. "Because tomorrow you need our vote. If you don't give help us today, we don't give you our vote tomorrow.''
Rivera played to the crowd. "Don't give up. Sit in their offices,'' he prodded.
He didn't tell them that, as Rules chairman, he has the power to refuse to hear dozens of Senate bills until they take up the House's property tax plan, if the House really wanted to make a point.
Rubio acknowleged the long, 10-hour bus ride many people from Hialeah and his West Miami neighborhood made. "I understand what a sacrifice that is,'' he said. The group turned around later Tuesday and made the long trek back.
But unlike last year, when a similar crowd drew a visit from the governor, Gov. Charlie Crist didn't show up. He wasn't forgotten, however. "Where's the governor,'' someone shouted from the chamber balcony after Rubio spoke. "What about drop like a rock?'' the man jeered. It was a reference to the governor's promise that property taxes would decline dramatically after the legislature acted last year.