In one of the biggest Republican primary battles in South Florida, two state legislators -- Ellyn Bogdanoff of Fort Lauderdale and Carl Domino of Jupiter -- will face off Aug. 24 to replace Sen. Jeff Atwater, who is running for CFO. To appeal to conservative primary voters, Bogdanoff tries to portray herself in a TV ad as protecting Floridians from higher taxes.
Her ad, set against the backdrop of orchestral music and showing images of people struggling to pay bills, emphasizes her role as chair of the Finance and Tax Council -- a position she held for the 2009 and 2010 sessions. Bogdanoff and her husband Steve are seated at what looks like a kitchen table in the ad (it's in a neighbor's home).
"The economic downturn has been tough on a lot of people. We've had record job losses and a budget shortfall for state government. As chair of the Finance and Tax Council, the insiders and special interests pushed me to raises taxes. But higher taxes would only make it harder for the people of Florida to sit around their kitchen table and figure out how to make ends meet. I don't represent special interests. I represent the people of Florida so I said no to higher taxes and fees and I will continue that fight in the state Senate."
In this Truth-O-Meter item, we explore whether Bogdanoff "said no to higher taxes and fees."
The ad is not the first time she has made a similar claim. On her website, Bogdanoff writes: "As Chair of Finance & Tax in the Florida House I have stood against every proposed tax increase. During these challenging economic times, increasing taxes on millions of hard-working Floridians is just simply wrong and is counter–productive to the positive steps we are taking to get the economic engine of Florida moving again."
The Truth-O-Meter previously ruled as True a claim by Sen. Charlie Justice, who is running for Congress, that the 2009 Legislature raised taxes and fees by almost $2 billion.
A handy spreadsheet from the state Office of Economic and Demographic Research details the laws passed in 2009 that affected state revenue. They include:
• $935 million from a $1-per-pack tax increase on cigarettes.
• $797 million from sharp fee increases to get a driver's license or new car tags.
• $304 million in higher business taxes to replenish Florida's bankrupt unemployment compensation trust fund.
• $195 million from fee increases for filing various types of court motions.
The bottom-line projection added up to about $2.2 billion in new taxes and fees. We looked at a few of those bills to determine how Bogdanoff voted.
• She voted in favor of the conference report for Senate Bill 1778 -- a transportation bill that increased fees for certain title certificates. A bill analysis listed several fees that would increase under the bill related to obtaining crash reports, driver licenses and registrations.
• She voted against Bill 1840, the cigarette surcharge tax.
• She voted in favor of bill 1718, which raised court fees.
• She voted in favor of Bill 810, which made employers subject to higher rates of taxation for unemployment compensation benefits. (The Legislature delayed the increase the next year.)
Bogdanoff also voted for the overall budget bill in 2009, which reflected the overall $2.2 billion in new taxes and fees.
We sent our findings to Bogdanoff's campaign and asked for an explanation. Bogdanoff called us back directly. She says we can't interpret her ad to mean she never voted for a tax or fee increase -- she doesn't use the word "vote" in her ad.
By "I said no," Bogdanoff said, "I mean advocate, said no, stated my position, tried to sway everybody. I'm the one who says no to higher taxes and fees. ... I did not win the battle in 2009. Ultimately I made the decision to vote for a responsible balanced budget."
Bogdanoff has made a name for herself as a legislator who fights tax increases, as several news articles show. It's clear that she resisted raising taxes early in the 2009 session. She also made moves to try to prohibit tax increases -- for example, refusing to move forward a bill that would have allowed Miami-Dade residents to vote on a sales tax for Miami-Dade College in 2009.
In a Feb. 25, 2009, Miami Herald article about House Republicans being against tax increases, Bogdanoff said:
"The average citizen is going to say, 'Don't take money from me, go find it in the budget,' " she said. "I don't care if it's a cigarette tax or a liquor tax, it's still a tax."
While the Senate was exploring a range of options including taxes on cigarettes and beer distributors and raising fees to resolve a $3 billion deficit, Bogdanoff resisted, according to a March 26, 2009, Miami Herald/St. Petersburg Times article.
"The quick thing to do is just simply raise revenue," Bogdanoff was quoted in that article -- and was paraphrased as saying she would resist as long as it takes, even if that led to an overtime session.
"If you come to me and say, 'Do you want to have a longer session or do you want to raise taxes?' I'll take the longer session, " she said.
In a May 3, 2009, Miami Herald article, she suggested eliminating property taxes altogether:
"What we need to do is . . . start all over again," she said. "If we could figure out how to get rid of property taxes altogether, our economy would be incredibly built." During that session, she repeatedly fought against a cigarette tax and then voted against it.
A Dec. 18, 2009, Sun-Sentinel Florida Politics blog stated that Bogdanoff said eliminating the corporate income tax was her top priority because it would make Florida attractive for corporations looking to relocate.
A May 2, 2010, profile of her in the Miami Herald stated that during this year's session she successfully negotiated more than $218 million in tax breaks and economic incentives designed to stimulate the Florida economy.
In response to the ad, the Sun-Sentinel Florida Politics blog wrote July 13 that Bogdanoff "did send public signals to House leadership in 2009 not to send any of the $2.2 billion in higher taxes and fees through her committee. But she did vote for them on the House floor."
That blog best sums up Bogdanoff's actions: She spoke loudly and clearly that she was against making Floridians pay more -- but ultimately she wanted to be a team player and voted for the budget. Bogdanoff defends her ad because she says it doesn't refer to her votes -- it refers to what she "said" in her role as chair of the Finance and Tax Council. We agree that she spoke against tax increases -- but ultimately politicians are judged by their votes. Many observers of her ad could interpret "I said no to higher taxes and fees" to mean that she she voted against them. That critical detail, that she voted for some of them, is left out and leaves a different impression. We rate this claim Barely True.
Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.