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The tax-cutting bona fides of former House Speaker Marco Rubio and Gov. Charlie Crist were center stage during their first U.S. Senate primary debate.
In front of a national television audience March 28, 2010, on FOX News Sunday, Crist and Rubio tried to one-up each other on their voting records and accomplishments. If you weren't watching, it went something like this:
I cut taxes. You raised taxes.
Nuh-uh. You raised taxes. I cut taxes. You're a liar.
Well, you're a bigger liar, you tax raiser.
Crist told Fox's Chris Wallace that he signed the largest tax cut in the state's history, (a claim we twice have rated False) while Rubio proposed the largest tax increase ever in Florida (a claim we plan to rate soon). Rubio claimed that Crist broke a no new taxes pledge (he signed a 2009 budget with $2.2 billion in increased fees) while Rubio kept the same pledge (a claim we also rated False). Rubio also said Crist is distorting Rubio's tax record. That prompted a comeback from Florida's sitting governor.
"Just let me say that (Rubio) voted for tax increases when he was on the West Miami City Commission, and he said on his Web site that he has never voted for a new tax," Crist said. "That's just not the truth, and he ought to be truthful to the people of Florida before he asks for their vote."
Rubio responded flatly: "Chris, that's also inaccurate."
Because both candidates seem hung up on if either ever supported a tax increase, we wanted to examine Rubio's time as a West Miami City commissioner.
Before he was elected to the state House, Rubio was a member of the West Miami City Commission from 1998-2000. Records show that in 1998 and 1999, he voted to increase the city's property tax collections.
Understanding the process can be a little tricky.
Cities and counties across Florida set a property tax rate. That rate, which essentially is a percentage, is then mulitplied by the value of a person's property. The result of the calculation is a person's property tax bill.
West Miami didn't raise its property tax rate in either 1998 or 1999, but because property values increased (the other half of the calculation). West Miami took in more money in 1998 and 1999, and West Miami residents paid more in property taxes.
West Miami published a "notice of proposed tax increase" in 1998 and 1999, according to the Palm Beach Post, and state law requires city leaders to announce the tax rate as a tax increase.
PolitiFact Florida tracked down the final budget resolutions for both years. They show that the city of West Miami, without raising tax rates, was increasing property taxes -- 1.402 percent in 1998 and 5.545 percent in 1999. The roll call has then-Commissioner Rubio as voting "Y" both years.
A Rubio spokesman, Alberto Martinez, told the Post that Rubio did not vote for tax increases because the tax rate did not change. It's an ironic argument because Rubio argued as a member of the Legislature that local governments were raising taxes while being able to claim they were keeping the tax rate the same. "One of the reasons the system is broken is because with the massive escalation of valuations, local governments have been able to brag about cutting your millage, yet you are still paying more in property taxes," Rubio wrote in a 2007 letter to supporters.
That's what happened in West Miami.
Responding to a claim from Crist, Rubio said it was "inaccurate" to say he voted to raise taxes while a member of the West Miami City Commission. But Crist got it right, records show. We rate Rubio's statement False.
Fox debate transcript, March 28, 2010
City of West Miami, interview with City Manager Yolanda Aguilar, Nov. 20, 2009
City of West Miami, budget resolutions 98-26 and 99-23
Palm Beach Post, "Republicans admit tax hikes," March 31, 2007, accessed via Nexis
Palm Beach Post, "West Miami records show Rubio voted for tax hikes despite his claim he never has," March 27, 2010
Marco Rubio, letter to supporters, June 4, 2007
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