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Neil Combee takes on tough room in Polk County

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Republican State Rep. Neil Combee of Polk City faced a terse crowd largely of Republican county and city officials during a noon address Thursday to the Polk Tiger Bay Club.

Many legislators are facing folks back home upset with cuts to local governments and for an amendment to the state’s constitution, which if passed by the voters in 2018 would increase the residential Homestead property tax exemption from $50,000 to $75,000.

Sensing the mood of the overflow crowd, moderator S.L. Frisbie joked about the Polk County Commission building, which had been named for Combee when he left the commission after 16 years.

“I think I saw a county commissioner with a bucket of paint over there,” Frisbie said to one of the few moments of laughter.

Combee did not back down on his contention that the property tax to him is “the worst tax invented by man.”

He also mentioned several times that there were no Home Rule violations by the Legislature’s mandates made in the session and special session this year. The remark was aimed at Polk County Commissioner George Lindsey, who was the speaker for Tiger Bay last month and in the audience for Combee.

“I used that term because it has become synonymous with local control,” Lindsey said, later adding that the Florida Legislature was taking too much control away from local governments.

Combee continued that the ad valorem, or property tax, was unfair, especially to the poor noting that 19,249 tax certificates had been sold because people had not paid the taxes on their homes or business. If not repaid to the purchasers, often at interest, they could lose their homes.

“These are not homeowners who live in Massachusetts or Michigan. They are people who live and work in Polk County,” Combee said. “Property tax is the most inconsiderate and least fair tax of all.”

County commissioners present at the luncheon said that if the additional $25,000 Homestead Exemption is approved, it would add a burden to providing services that citizens need and want. Even in this year, the Legislature has cut revenue to the county and the city governments by $10.5 million, they said.

“Just because the state has the right to do something over that of the counties doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do,” Polk County Commissioner John Hall, a Republican from the unincorporated area of the county between Lakeland and Auburndale.

“The state government needs to look at its own spending, which has gone from $73.5 billion to the new budget of $83.5 billion. So, they can take their eyes off the necessary gains of local government and see to their own spending,” Hall said.

On the few audience questions not involving revenue cuts, Combee said he approved of open carry of guns on campus if the owners meet all requirements and registration.

“It allows folks to protect themselves and their friends,” he said.

And he stated approval for the amendment to the Stand Your Ground law.

“It puts the onus on prosecutors to prove the person was not in fear of their life,” said the Polk City legislator, who has fought for years against what he said were unfair convictions of some using a gun in self-defense.


Former Ledger of Lakeland columnist Bill Rufty is Central Florida political correspondent for SaintPetersBlog and Florida Politics. Rufty had been with the Ledger from 1985-2015, where, as political editor, he covered a wide range of beats, including local and state politics, the Lakeland City Commission, and the Florida Legislature. Ledger editor Lenore Devore said about Rufty’s 30-year career: “[He is] a man full of knowledge, a polling expert and a war history buff … who has a steel trap in his brain, remembering details most of us have long since forgotten.”

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