Citrus growers' box tax threatened

A citrus promotion program in Florida, largely supported by a tax on each box of citrus products, is now being threatened with extinction.

The 2nd District Court of Appeals ruled Oct. 20 that growers can’t be forced to pay a tax to support a promotion program, saying the tax violated the growers’ free speech rights.

The ruling upheld an earlier ruling by a Polk County circuit court judge that said the tax that supports the Florida Department of Citrus is unconstitutional. Despite the appellate ruling, the department will appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.

The tax supports a promotion program that has featured celebrities like Anita Bryant and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach, Jon Gruden. The department’s budget is about $56 million, but it has been as high as $70 million.

A group of growers who sued to stop the tax contend that the promotion actually aids imports from Brazil, which has citrus production double that of Florida. Since Florida cannot produce enough oranges to meet juice consumption in the United States, an Orlando attorney for the growers contended that generic advertising that increases demand helps Brazil sell more juice. While the tax varies, it’s often about 16.5¢/box for oranges.

The Florida decisions may become moot as the U.S. Supreme Court is already reviewing a similar issue involving a beef industry group. —AO

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