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By David DeCamp October 28, 2010

Jeff Brandes accuses incumbent state Rep. Bill Heller of supporting taxes

Republican Jeff Brandes wants voters to believe two-term state Rep. Bill Heller will be trouble for their pocketbooks and kids' future.

A 30-second Brandes television ad opens at a school, where two girls recognize Brandes from other ads before cutting to the candidate:

"My opponent Bill Heller thinks government is the answer to everything. So he raises taxes. Property taxes. Small business taxes. He even wants to tax the Internet. That's just wrong."

The ad, produced with help from the Republican Party of Florida, warns that Heller will drive up taxes and pile debt on children if the Democrat wins the Nov. 2, 2010, election for House District 52.

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"Mr. Heller said no to balancing the federal budget, that puts more debt on our kids.

Florida voters are in a foul mood over taxes and spending, so we decided to check Brandes' claims about Heller's support of tax increases.

Brandes cited an array of votes, including a referendum in Pinellas County and five votes in the Florida House:

On property taxes, Heller did support a 2004 referendum in Pinellas County to raise property taxes to increase teacher pay by providing $26 million at the time in additional revenue. Voters overwhelmingly passed it. Heller wasn't in the House then, but he chaired the campaign supporting the measure. The measure raised taxes 50 cents for every $1,000 of taxable value. At the time, the owner of a $150,000 home with a $25,000 homestead exemption would pay an extra $62.50 a year.

However, Heller also voted for a 2007 measure that voters later approved to cut property taxes by doubling the $25,000 homestead exemption. It was estimated to drop the average tax bill $240 at the time, though savings depended on individual property assessments. (Heller earlier had voted against an initial version of the bill, and a judge later threw it out.)

On businesses, Heller voted for Senate Bill 810 in 2009 that extended unemployment compensation for Floridians up to 20 weeks. It also raised the tax that businesses have to pay into the fund for unemployment assistance. After Republicans successfully turned back attempts to accept $444 million in stimulus money, the bill passed with a 117-0 vote.

Heller also has supported legislation imposing a state sales tax on Internet transactions. Brick and mortar businesses have to charge sales tax, but Florida does not collect it from online shops such as Amazon. It amounts to hundreds of millions in lost revenue. But the bills in the House and Senate died in committee in 2010 with little debate.

But the other claims that Brandes makes are less grounded in reality.

Heller voted against a federal balanced budget measure in 2010, but it was a non-binding resolution asking Congress to call a constitutional convention for an amendment requiring a balanced federal budget. The measure carried no weight, as the Florida House doesn't have any control over the federal budget, let alone did it add debt on children. The resolution passed the House, 70-42, and the Senate, 28-12. It did not require the governor's signature.

While Heller did vote in 2009 and 2010 against budget bills that included annual 7 percent pay cuts for lawmakers, he actually voted for the cut in 2010 when it was approved as an amendment. The amendment for the 2009 cut was approved without a roll call vote, meaning it had little controversy. The pay cuts were approved in the budget and were signed into law by Gov. Charlie Crist each year.

So while Heller has supported tax increases, Brandes inaccurately describes the gravity and actual effect of Heller's votes on the federal budget. We rate Brandes' claims on taxes Mostly True.

Our Sources

Jeff Brandes campaign ad, "Dad," Oct. 12, 2010, paid for by the Republican Party of Florida

Interviews, Jeff Brandes, Oct. 26 and Oct. 27, 2010

Interview, Bill Heller, Oct. 26, 2010

Florida House of Representatives, voting records for 2007, 2009 and 2010

"Voters approve higher tax to help teachers, schools," St. Petersburg Times, by Tom Tobin, Nov. 3, 2004.

"House rejects stimulus," St. Petersburg Times, by Alex Leary, April 30, 2009.

"Florida House District 52," St. Petersburg Times, Oct. 22, 2008.

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Jeff Brandes accuses incumbent state Rep. Bill Heller of supporting taxes

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