Tanner Andrews mug

Tanner Andrews

It used to be a sort of an ugly footrace. Competing interests would send their people to get to particular legislators. If your lobbyist got there first and had the right amount of persuasive power, your bill moved. Otherwise, we know how useless the Legislature is.

At least you could trust them, in their own way. If the other guy got there first and his check cleared, at least your legislator would tell you, “Sorry, I took his money.” They may have been for sale, but at least they stayed bought.

Modern legislative education has overcome that problem. Now, they will happily lie to you, making promises to be forgotten once you leave the room. This is especially true if your opponent has beaten you to the campaign contribution.

Some things will pass even without contributions. The second-grade-class proposal to designate an official state whatever generally goes through, because “think of the kids.”

Exemptions from Sunshine and Public Records whiz through, because “democracy dies in the dark” and the Legislature wants to be Florida’s own Dr. Kevorkian.

On the other hand, legislators tend to be deathly allergic to truth. This explains the sad fate of House Bill 535, a bill to prevent diversion of special-purpose taxes. Effectively, it would have barred CRAs from collecting taxes under the guise of providing health care for the poor.

It is not well-known that tax-increment districts (commonly called CRAs) collect taxes levied by other taxing entities. For instance, DeLand’s CRAs divert taxes levied for health care and use them for, well, whatever.

This is dishonest. Governments tell taxpayers that they are providing health care for the poor. Then they use the money for planters or sidewalks or undefined purposes to be decided five years hence and paid over the next two decades.

An honest plan would be to tell taxpayers they are buying planters, sidewalks or options to be determined later. The problem with honesty is that it can lead to public pushback. If you knew that you were funding undefined purposes to be decided five years hence, instead of health care, you might be sore.

Governments prefer quiet proles. No wonder, then, that Rep. David Santiago torpedoed HB-535, which would have required some honesty in tax collection. Why, you can almost see what he is thinking — if he runs for tax collector, honesty is the last thing he wants.

— Andrews is a DeLand-area attorney and a longtime government critic. For purposes of the column, he finds it convenient that there is so much government to criticize.