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Proposed Tax Would Create Revenue For Research

By Kevin Bouffard
THE LEDGER

 Published: Tuesday, August 12, 2008 at 11:40 p.m.

LAKELAND | Florida citrus leaders are considering a proposal for a federal tax on fresh fruit and citrus juices aimed solely at raising millions of dollars for scientific research.

If the U.S. Department of Agriculture adopts the proposal, all U.S. citrus producers and importers would be subject to the tax, said Kristin Gunter, executive director of the Florida Citrus Processors Association in Lakeland.

A 1-cent tax on the 420 million gallons of orange juice produced or imported to states outside Florida would raise about $700,000, said Bob Norberg, deputy executive director of research and operations at the Florida Department of Citrus in Lakeland.

If fresh citrus, grapefruit and other citrus juices are also taxed, a single penny would raise more than $1 million, he said.

Gunter said she developed the proposal at the request of the Processors Association board, which is scheduled to review her 44-page draft Aug. 20. The draft has also been sent to all other major Florida citrus organizations.

Fran Becker, president of Lakeland-based Florida Citrus Mutual, the state's largest growers representative, said Tuesday that Gunter has a serious proposal but he wanted more time to study it.

"Mrs. Gunter is a very talented and accomplished counsel. I don't take what she says lightly," said Becker, an executive at Peace River Citrus Products Inc., a Vero Beach-based citrus processor.

The Citrus Department has explored several options during the past year to tax orange juice imported to Florida and other states to support its marketing program. Some of those proposals would require federal cooperation and perhaps changes in federal law.

An advantage of her proposal is that it would not require Congress change the law, Gunter said. The USDA could set up the research tax under existing federal law, as it did for U.S. sorghum producers in May.

One of the stumbling blocks to past proposals was getting support from citrus organizations in California, Texas and other citrus-producing states for a marketing tax, she said. Her proposal is geared toward raising money for research to combat diseases such as the fatal citrus greening - a proposal that enjoys widespread support.

Earlier this year, USDA reported the discovery of Asian citrus psyllids, which carry the greening bacteria, in Tijuana, Mexico, just across the California border. The insect also been discovered in Louisiana, which borders the Texas citrus-growing area.

[ Kevin Bouffard can be reached at kevin.bouffard@theledger.com or 863-422-6800. ]


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