Alex Sink’s campaign for Pinellas County’s open U.S. House seat has been under attack by Republicans resurrecting her positions on Florida taxes over the years.
One such claim is rooted in Sink’s record as the state’s chief financial officer. A Republican Party of Florida campaign mailer that reached Pinellas County homes by Feb. 10 accused her of leaving out "some key facts" in one of her TV ads. The flier read, "Alex Sink supported higher taxes. She has a long record of supporting higher taxes -- higher property taxes, higher sales taxes, even higher taxes on water and TV."
Back on the homestead
The GOP said it was basing their accusation on a Jan. 23, 2008, story in the Tampa Bay Times in which then-CFO Sink voiced her opposition to Amendment 1, a ballot measure focusing on how the state’s homestead exemption would be applied to property taxes.
The amendment aimed to increase the exemption, saving homeowners an average of $240 on property taxes annually. It also allowed homeowners to transfer their tax benefits under the 1992 Save Our Homes Amendment, which capped assessment increases on homes, to a new residence. The amendment further created a new $25,000 exemption for some business properties and limited assessment increases for non-homesteaded properties to 10 percent annually.
In the story, Sink was briefly mentioned as not supporting the measure because she was afraid of the potential loss of services that might happen if tax revenues fell. Specifically, she mentioned firefighters losing jobs, because they are paid with property taxes. She said her constituents largely shared her opposition.
"They're really more concerned about the little amount of money (they would get back) and the possible broader implications for our quality of life," Sink said.
The GOP did not make any reference to a statement Sink made a day earlier, which clarified her stance on the measure.
"For 20 dollars a month, I'm not willing to take the risk that my fire service is going to be deteriorated, my schools aren't going to be supported, and I'm not going to get my potholes fixed," Sink told the Times Jan. 22, 2008, prior to the article Republicans cited.
The piece noted that as Florida’s fire marshal, a role the CFO assumes, she was hearing from fire chiefs statewide that they were worried about losing firefighters. Fire agencies relied solely on ad valorem taxes for their budgets.
She said in the piece that she shared the views of Florida TaxWatch, which opposed Amendment 1. She also noted she didn’t think tax policy should be a part of the state Constitution.
"If the policy's in the Constitution and it's not working right, how do you unwind it?" Sink added.
Her public position on the measure, which passed on Jan. 29, 2008, with 64 percent of the vote, came up in June 2009 when she spoke before the Latin Builders Association in Miami to ramp up her campaign for governor. She said then that she couldn’t recall how she voted on the amendment, drawing criticism from conservatives.
Combined with a plunging real estate market during the Great Recession, the amendment led to a precipitous drop in tax revenues statewide. The expanded homestead exemption alone, which was retroactive to Jan. 1, 2008, took $93 billion out of coffers statewide in the first year, according to state records. The resultant budget cuts did eventually force many fire agencies to institute hiring freezes or cut personnel, including first responders, and delay or kill equipment purchases and capital improvements.
The Republican Party of Florida says Sink supported "higher property taxes," referring to her somewhat lukewarm opposition to 2008’s Save Our Homes Amendment 1, which adjusted property taxes in a way that lowered them for most homeowners.
The claim is misleading in that it implies to voters she wanted to raise property taxes across the board. That wasn’t the case; Sink wanted to keep taxes at the same level, not raise them.
There’s an element of truth here, but it leaves out context that would give a different impression. We rate this claim Mostly False.