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Aaron Sharockman
By Aaron Sharockman October 14, 2010

Loranne Ausley's tax record center stage in state CFO race

In her TV ad, Democratic chief financial officer candidate Loranne Ausley threw a series of three claims against her Republican opponent Jeff Atwater. We said False.

Now Atwater is firing back with a trio of claims against Ausley in an ad of his own.

The ad is called "Two Liberals," and liberally tries to tie Ausley to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Yes, they are both Democrats and women.

"This Washington liberal is raising taxes and wrecking our economy. Now, Pelosi has Loranne Ausley, the Tallahassee politician who wants total control ... of our money," a narrator says. "Watch out, because Ausley's a financial train wreck for taxpayers -- pushing gas taxes, property taxes, taxes on seniors.

"Pelosi and Ausley -- too liberal too costly."

Like Ausley's ad attacking Atwater, we're fact-checking the whole of the three specific claims -- that Ausley, a former member of the Florida House, pushed gas taxes, property taxes and taxes as seniors.

Our analysis reveals a political art -- clever wording.

Gas taxes

Ausley didn't push for increased gas taxes as a member of the state House. Instead, she voted against a one-month, eight-cent reduction of the gas tax back in 2004.

Here are the details. The bill, HB 237, reduced the state gas tax from 14.3 cents to 6.3 cents in August 2004, and also created a back-to-school sales tax holiday for school items $50 or less. The proposal passed with broad bipartisan support: 107-8 in the House and 34-4 in the Senate. Ausley was one of the eight no votes in the House. Atwater, a member of the state Senate, voted yes.

But that didn't mean the measure was completely popular. Newspaper editorials argued the loss in state revenue for temporarily lowering the gas tax -- about $60 million -- wasn't worth the small savings to drivers. The Sarasota Herald-Tribune editorial board calculated that the average driver would save a "whopping" $3.67. "Don't spend it all in one place," they wrote.

"Loranne voted to keep the existing tax structure in place, as well as against the entire budget that year because of the lack of funding for important issues like boosting teacher salaries and the critical funding of Florida KidCare," Ausley spokesman Kevin Cate said.

It's worth noting that the idea of a gas tax holiday resurfaced in 2008 and was being pushed by Gov. Charlie Crist. Crist asked state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, to file an amendment to a revenue bill (SB 1838) that would suspend 10 cents of the state's gas tax for a two-week period from July 1-14. But the amendment was never heard in the GOP-controlled Senate and Atwater, as a senator, didn't have to take a vote on the measure. Neither did Ausley, who was in the House.

Property taxes

Ausley didn't push for increased property taxes as a member of the state House. Instead, she voted against Republican proposals to cut property taxes.

Here are the details. During a special session in June 2007, Ausley voted against sending a proposed constitutional amendment to the ballot asking voters to replace Save Our Homes assessment caps with bigger homestead exemptions. Under the proposal, which passed without a Democratic vote, the first $200,000 of value would get a 75 percent exemption, then property values between $300,000 and $500,000 would get an additional 15 percent exemption. Homes valued at $500,000 and up would get a maximum exemption of $195,000.

Democrats argued that the tax cuts could harm funding for education and for police and fire protection. Ausley did vote to schedule the special election for the proposal on Jan. 29, 2008. She also voted for a proposal to roll back the tax bases for cities, counties and special taxing districts.

Ultimately, the Republican-led constitutional proposal was tossed off the ballot by a judge who ruled the amendment was confusing.

So legislators returned to deal with the constitutional proposal that October. Ausley was just one of two House members to vote against a House plan to raise the homestead exemption, create a cap on assessment increases for non-homesteaded property, provide additional exemptions for low-income seniors, and allow people to move and keep some of their homestead tax cap. According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Ausley complained that the "cuts would devastate poor and rural counties."

That proposal never became law or was put to voters either. Instead, the final tax reform product in 2007 -- what became known as Amendment 1 on January 2008 ballots -- passed the House 97-18 and the Senate 35-4. Ausley again voted against the measure.

Amendment 1 passed with 64 percent of the vote.

Taxes on seniors

Ausley didn't push for increased taxes on seniors. Instead, she opposed cutting and eliminating the state's intangible tax.

This is ground PolitiFact Florida already has covered in a claim against Ausley from the Republican Party of Florida. Here are the details. The intangible tax, which was repealed by the Legislature in 2006, was a state tax paid on the value of investments such as stocks, bonds, mutual funds, money market funds and unsecured notes. Savings accounts, pension funds, certificates of deposit and 401(k)s were not subject to the tax. The tax was paid mostly by middle- and upper-income Floridians who had those types of investments.

On several occasions, Ausley voted against repealing, or making cuts to the intangible tax. In 2001, she did vote for a more modest cut than Republicans were proposing.

Democrats argued that the benefit of the cut was largely to the wealthy and the loss of state revenue would hurt programs for the poor.

The tax, of course, didn't apply only to seniors. It applied to anyone who had those types of investments. And it didn't apply to things that would be traditionally considered retirement funds like a 401(k) or a pension.


This fact check centers on Atwater's claim that "Ausley's a financial train wreck for taxpayers -- pushing gas taxes, property taxes, taxes on seniors." First, we want to mention that Atwater's ad also claims that Ausley "wants total control of our money." That's incendiary and far-reaching rhetoric that cannot be supported by examining Ausley's statements or voting history. You should ignore the line.

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What is true, though, is that Ausley voted against measures to create a gas tax holiday for one month in 2004, voted against sweeping property tax cuts in 2007 and voted against eliminating a state tax on investments. That makes the "taxes on seniors" immediately deceptive because the intangible tax isn't a tax on seniors specifically.

Something else that has us scratching our heads more, though. Atwater says Ausley was "pushing" these taxes. But was she?

Time to take out the dictionary. There are several definitions of the word push, but in this context we find a couple that make sense - "To cause to increase," and "To press forward energetically against opposition." Ausley didn't vote to cause those taxes to increase, nor did she press forward energetically with the taxes. She voted against cutting them.

We find this claim False.

Our Sources

Jeff Atwater campaign, "Two liberals," Oct. 13, 2010

Jeff Atwater campaign, interview with Brian Hughes, Oct. 14, 2010

Loranne Ausley campaign, e-mail interview with Kevin Cate, Oct. 14, 2010

St. Petersburg Times, "Property tax cut emerges from fight," Oct. 30, 2007, accessed by Nexis

St. Petersburg Times, "On day 3, a tax deal," June 15, 2007, accessed by Nexis

Palm Beach Post, "Crist trumpets state's largest tax cut while plugging vote for more savings," June 22, 2007

Florida Today, "Property Tax reform passes," June 15, 2007, accessed via Nexis

Sarasota Herald-Tribune, "Pay a lot, get a little; state gas-tax cut isn't worth the cost," April 28, 2004, accessed via Nexis

Sun-Sentinel, "Tax cut offers relief from high gas prices," July 31, 2004, accessed via Nexis

St. Petersburg Times, "Crist pushes gas tax holiday," April 29, 2008, accessed via Nexis

Tallahassee Democrat, "House approves tax-relief proposal," Oct. 23, 2007, accessed via Nexis

Merriam Webster dictionary, definition of push

2004 gas tax bill, HB 237

2008 gas tax bill, SB 1838

2007 tax proposals, June, October

PolitiFact, 'Costly Ausley' website takes CFO candidate to task for supposed tax votes, Sept. 20, 2010

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Loranne Ausley's tax record center stage in state CFO race

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