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As TBRC winds down, Rouson in position of rare power

On Tuesday, Darryl Rouson will become one of Florida's most politically powerful people. Read story here.

The St. Petersburg lawyer, who has never held public office, is expected to be elected to the Legislature in a write-in election Tuesday as he simultaneously holds a post as one of the 25 members of the powerful Taxation and Budget Reform Commission -- even though the state Constitution bans the appointment of sitting lawmakers to that panel.

Both the Legislature and the commission have the power to put constitutional amendments directly before voters. The tax commission, which meets once every 20 years, has voted to put six amendments on the ballot, including controversial plans to swap some property taxes with sales taxes and eliminate
the ban on state money going to religious institutions -- which education groups say will enable state-paid vouchers to go to private schools.

Rouson, 52, supported both of the hot-button issues and has been lobbied hard to reconsider his vote in support of the voucher plan. He will vote on six other proposed amendments at the commission's meeting on Monday and, in his new role as lawmaker, could also vote on two proposed amendments that come before the House of Representatives.

"He could be a powerful guy,'' said Allan Bense, chairman of the commission. But the panel will have no say over whether Rouson should stay or leave. "That's up to the governor,'' Bense said.

       

The state Constitution gives the governor, House speaker and Senate president the power to appoint the 25 members of the commission but says that none of those appointed "shall be a member of the Legislature at the time of appointment.''

Rouson was appointed to the tax panel last year by Gov. Charlie Crist, long before the St. Petersburg legislative seat opened up when Crist appointed Democratic Rep. Frank Peterman to head the Department of Juvenile Justice. With Peterman's resignation in January, Rouson switched his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat and announced a campaign to serve the remaining four
months of Peterman's term.

On Tuesday, Rouson is expected to defeat write-in candidate Calvester Benjamin-Anderson and be sworn in with two-and-a-half weeks left in the legislative session. He hopes to continue in both jobs.

"At this point, it is my full intention to complete the work I was constitutionally charged with,'' he said Friday. But, he added, "there is a spirit of the restriction that suggests that one should step down, but I'm in prayer over it. I have not made up my mind and I'm certainly open to guidance and suggestion.''

The tax commission will take a final vote on the word ing of the amendments and which ones will make to the November ballot, on April 24 and 25, and the House is expected to vote on at least two amendments for the ballot, one that limits yearly property tax increases to 1.35 percent and another that caps government revenue.

For the past month, Rouson has also been in the rare position of being able to raise money during the legislative session -- another advantage that sets him apart from other lawmakers, who are barred
from raising money during the 60-day session.

He raised $56,000 since January, not including a fundraiser last week in Tallahassee before the tax
commission meeting. He won a hard-fought Democratic primary election in March and spent all but $3,000 of what he had collected by March 30, according to his campaign finance reports.

The governor's legal staff is "still reviewing'' whether Rouson's serving in both positions meets the intent of the Constitution, Crist spokeswoman Erin Isaac said.

Rouson said he is awaiting their advice, as well as the advice of House Speaker Marco Rubio and others.

House Democratic Leader Dan Gelber, a nonvoting member of the tax commission, says Rouson's dual
duties are no problem.

"It doesn't bother me at all,'' he said. "I don't think there's an inherent conflict. He's one of 25 and one of 160. These are deliberative bodies and hopefully will reach consensus deliberatively.''

Isaac said the governor strongly supports Rouson and believes Rouson will make the right decision.  "The governor appointed him because of who he is,'' she said. "He is not going to make an appointment based on what he thinks he's going to get on a specific vote.''

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