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Ocala's Randy Fischer named grassroots director for Fair Tax

By Bill Thompson, Ocala Star-Banner, Fla.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

June 18--For 15 years proponents of the Fair Tax have labored to convince the public, and Congress, that a national sales tax was a better, fairer economic tonic than the current federal taxing structure.

Admittedly, it is a tall order substituting a sales tax for the federal taxes on personal and corporate incomes as well as the alternative minimum tax, estate tax, gift tax, capital gains tax and payroll levies that support Social Security, Medicare and unemployment insurance.

Foremost the effort would require a constitutional amendment that would need the support of at least 30 states that themselves rely on an income tax for revenue.

Yet Ocalan Randy Fischer believes he's up to the job of recruiting more Fair Tax followers, and thanks to a recent leadership change at the main force behind the movement, he's now positioned to do something about it.

Fischer, a retired lawyer, was one of 32 delegates from 17 states selected as grassroots directors of Americans for Fair Taxation, the nonprofit, nonpartisan group formed in 1995 to research, develop and promote a method to fund the government other than the existing tax system.

Following its launch, the group eventually came up with the Fair Tax, a 23 percent tax on retail sales that would replace all major federal taxes, particularly the 101-year-old income tax.

The idea has enlisted thousands of passionate followers, especially among opinion-makers within the conservative media and Republican politicians.

But since being introduced in Congress in 1999 by former Georgia Congressman John Linder, a Republican, the proposal has never gotten beyond the committee stage.

In January 2013, another Georgia Republican, Rep. Rob Woodall, re-introduced the Fair Tax Act for the current congressional session, which will expire at the end of the year.

To date the bill has 74 sponsors, all from the GOP. The roster includes 10 Floridians, with Rep. Rich Nugent of Brooksville, who represents the city of Ocala and most of Marion County, and Rep. Ted Yoho of Gainesville, whose district covers most of western Marion, among them.

In an interview Wednesday, Fischer noted that the Fair Tax took an important step at the end of Florida's legislative session.

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Following three lopsided votes by state Senate committees, two of which were unanimous, the Legislature adopted a bill, called a memorial, supporting the Fair Tax.

A memorial is a nonbinding measure directed at some other government body -- in this case President Barack Obama and Congress -- to take action to implement its purpose.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Alan Hays, a Umatilla Republican who represents southern Marion, asserts that the existing federal tax code holds many ills for taxpayers.

As the memorial puts it, the federal income tax, among other things, "retards" economic growth, "impedes" the international competitiveness of U.S. businesses, lowers productivity and is unfair and inadequately complied with, thus raising the tax burden on other citizens.

In contrast, a "broad-based" national sales tax, as is now utilized by almost all states, including Florida, would promote savings, investment, fairness, economic growth and improve "upward social mobility" and privacy.

Fischer credited Mark Gupton, state director of the Florida Fair Tax Educational Association, with getting that through. He described Gupton as a "one-man lobbying team," single-handedly responsible for building support for Hays' bill in Tallahassee.

That, Fischer added, is a critical step.

"The effect is that the Fair Tax is now the public policy of the state of Florida, and because it is the public policy of the state of Florida, we feel we have standing to go to Florida's congressional delegation" to whip up additional support.

Fischer said the memorial could be an "educational tool" to that end.

But that's just part of the future strategy.

Another initiative is to garner broader public support for the Fair Tax, and that, he said, is why the new path taken by Americans for Fair Taxation is key.

The Fair Tax was the brainchild of three Houston businessmen: Leo Linbeck, Robert McNair and Andrew Clark III.

According to Fischer, Linbeck had pushed for more decentralized control of the group, but the trio and their trusted staffers kept tight reins on advocacy through a "top-down management style" that emanated from Houston.

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Then, last year Linbeck died, and the others, out of respect for him, agreed to allow laymen a greater voice in the direction of the group, Fischer said.

Last week, at a convention in Houston, Americans for Fair Taxation, or AFT, created its first grassroots board of directors.

Fischer, a Fair Tax supporter since its inception who had a hand in starting local advocacy groups in Ocala, Gainesville and The Villages, has a seat. He serves as co-chairman of its communications committee.

He said he was nominated to serve by other AFT members in Florida. The state has three delegates in all, he noted.

So far, the new board has drafted a mission statement -- "Pass the Fair Tax," it says -- a vision statement and has written a strategic plan that is still under review, said Fischer.

Fischer noted that his role would be to generate a buzz for the Fair Tax through branding, messaging and by using social media.

"People learn from screens," he said. "We've got to get to them through other media."

Beyond the tactics, though, is the fact that the new directors offer the public a different look.

Rather than having three, middle-aged white billionaires from Houston as the faces of the group, the AFT's proponents now include women, minorities and young people. He also insisted the group is politically diverse, and includes some liberals.

Already that has had an impact, Fischer said.

For example, the group for the first time is publishing Fair Tax materials in Spanish to woo Hispanic supporters, he said.

"It puts a different face on it," Fischer said of the new board. "We think it will help quite a bit and give credibility to the effort because we can say, 'It's our organization. We run it,' and not some small cluster of people from Houston."

But the new board will carry the same message, Fischer added.

"We can't move back to better jobs and a normal wage until we take the foot off the throat of the economy," he said, "and that foot on the throat of the economy is the income tax."

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Contact Bill Thompson at 867-4117 or bill.thompson@ocala.com.

___

(c)2014 Ocala Star-Banner (Ocala, Fla.)

Visit the Ocala Star-Banner (Ocala, Fla.) at www.ocala.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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