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House offers to trade slots for taxes

In an apparent olive branch to the Senate on property taxes, the House Environment and Natural Resources Council on Monday voted 13-1 that would allow 9 of the 25 parimutuels in the state to now offer Class II video lottery terminals with the money going to reduce property taxes now levied to pay for schools. The savings would amout to about 10-20 percent reduction in the schools property taxes.

The parimutuels that offer the new games would have to be in counties with populations of over 800,000, or within 40 miles of an existing casino operated by an Indian tribes. The bill prohibits Broward County parimutuels from offering the machines, unless they give up the Class III gaming devices they now use.

The money generated is estimated to be $1 billion a year and the money would go to offset the so-called "required local effort'' now levied by school districts. It would be distributed to all counties, whether or not they have a parimutuel in their county.

"It's a tax cut,'' said Council Chairman Stan Mayfield, a Vero Beach Republican.

But the bill also serves as more than a tax cut. It shows the Senate that the House is willing to push through its priority bill -- VLTs -- and trade for a bill very important to the House -- a proposal to help Miami Dade County build a new stadium for the Marlins baseball team.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. David Rivera, said it was necessary to allow parimutuels to expand because they now face increasing competition from the Class III slots offered in Broward County and the Indian tribal gaming at places like the Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood.

The bill was the only one on the agenda for the committee, and obviously outside the committee's normal jurisdiction of dealing with environmental issues. A similar bill that allows the Class II slot machines, known as video lottery terminals, has already passed the Senate -- just without designating the money to replace property taxes.

Committee members complained that the issue was rushed through.

"We'll take another shot at this when it gets to the flor and I'm not even sure it's going ot make it that far,'' Mayfield said.