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St. Petersburg Rep. Jim Frishe got his start in the Florida House in the 1980s, when the Republican served six years and took a vote to raise taxes.
The widely unpopular "services tax" of 1987 was repealed months later amid a public uproar.
But a group supporting his GOP opponent in the Senate District 22 primary isn’t letting Frishe, or voters, forget that initial vote. A television commercial riffs Frishe’s own slogan -- "This Republican has walked the walk for over 40 years" -- by saying he’s trampled voters with new taxes.
Man: "Jim Frishe says he’s walked the walk in politics for 40 years. The truth is, he’s walked all over us with taxes."
Woman: "Yeah, Frishe voted to raise our taxes on everything from dry-cleaning to pest control. Forty years is enough."
Second woman: "Frishe voted to increase fees on car tags and fishing permits."
Second man: "Frishe even wanted to tax accountants."
Third woman: "You mean he wants to tax us for doing our taxes?"
Third man: "Forty years of this is enough."
Fourth woman: "More than enough."
The ad is sponsored by Accountability in Government, an electioneering group that supports St. Petersburg Republican Rep. Jeff Brandes for the seat. We tried to contact the group’s chairman but did not hear back. The group sponsors a website, 40yearsisenough.com, that contains a lengthy document of news clips summarizing the tax controversy and newspaper editorials against Frishe.
(As an aside, we want to first address the "Forty years is enough" rhetoric. It’s taken from Frishe’s own ads, where he talks about being active within the Republican Party and for Ronald Reagan. To be clear, he has served six terms in the Legislature. Six years from 1984 to 1990, and six more from 2006-2012.)
Of all the tax claims, we were most intrigued by the exchange about taxing accountant services. Did Frishe really want to "tax us for doing our taxes?"
The tone of the ad might suggest the taxes Frishe supported stuck. The truth is, some did and some didn’t, and some votes referenced in the ad happened more than 20 years apart.
This vote on taxing accountant services, among many other services, happened 25 years ago. Tampa Republican Bob Martinez was governor and Democrats controlled the Legislature. Frishe was in the Republican minority.
There was a push that year to broaden the state’s tax base, Frishe explained. There was no recession that year; rather, Florida’s economy was booming. Still, the state needed money to fix roads and pay for an influx of new public school students.
To do that, the Legislature passed a 5 percent sales tax on many personal and professional services, including accountants’ fees, agricultural services, house-building, architect and engineering fees, pest control, cleaning services, computer and data processing, advertising, legal fees, magazine and newspaper subscriptions and newspaper rack sales, pet-grooming and cleaning services.
The April vote on SB 777 was 83-31, with some Pinellas County Republicans, including Frishe, former Rep. and Sen. Dennis Jones, and current lobbyist Pete Dunbar, joining the Democrats to pass it despite the objections of many conservatives.
Lawmakers said it was the biggest tax increase in state history and expected it to raise $761.1 million for the state in its first year and $1.2 billion the year after that. Martinez swiftly signed it into law.
"There is no joy and glee in taxation, but there is a sense that this House and this Senate have taken the first step forward for protecting Florida's future," said House Speaker Jon Mills, D-Gainesville, according to a Tampa Bay Times account (then the St. Petersburg Times).
Someone had to be the "adult in the room," Frishe said in an interview with PolitiFact Florida, taking a jab against Brandes, 36, whom Frishe indirectly mocks in another commercial as "a young wannabe politician, beating his chest, claiming to be a Reagan Republican."
A lobbying fight to repeal the tax emerged that summer, with the Florida Association of Broadcasters railing against it loudly. Martinez summoned lawmakers for a special session on the issue, and lawmakers repealed the services sales tax on Dec. 10, 1987, and replaced it with a one percent increase on the state sales tax on goods.
Frishe voted against the measure. In the House Journal, which is an official record of the proceedings, Frishe explained his vote by saying that he supported repealing the tax on services, but he opposed raising the sales tax on goods.
"I favor repealing the sales tax on services as it passed in the 1987 Regular Session," Frishe wrote. "I have voted 'No' on CS/CS/SB 5-D and CS/SB 6-D because it raises the state sales tax from 5 cents to 6 cents. This merely continues to raise the needed revenue for our state from the same shrinking base and remains as regressive as it was at 5 cents. Florida has serious needs, but to continue 'business as usual' will not solve the long term needs of this state."
Would Florida’s economy be in a stronger place if the tax had remained? "I think it unquestionably would," Frishe told PolitiFact Florida.
We asked Brandes for his thoughts, even though he did not sponsor the ad.
"I think the question is, is it a fact that Jim Frishe voted to raise taxes?" Brandes said. "Not that he later changed his mind. And I think clearly it’s a fact that he did."
A third-party group says Frishe voted to tax people for "doing our taxes." In 1987, Frishe did vote for a plan to tax services in the state of Florida, including accountants' fees.
He later said he favored a proposal to repeal the services tax, but he could not support the repeal in the Legislature becuase it included a provision that raised the sales tax on goods.
While those caveats give a fuller picture of Frishe's position and his vote, they do not undermine the statement made by the group Accountability in Government. We rate the claim True.
St. Petersburg Times (now Tampa Bay Times), "Long into the night // Bleary-eyed lawmakers didn’t dispatch with services tax until 2 a.m.," Dec. 11, 1987
St. Petersburg Times (now Tampa Bay Times), "Legislature expands 5 percent sales tax to legal, other fees," April 24, 1987
St. Petersburg Times (now Tampa Bay Times), "Tax deal cut over pizza and beer at mystery town house," April 24, 1987
40yearsisenough.com, opposition research, accessed July 20, 2012
Interview with Jeff Brandes, July 18, 2012
Interview with Jim Frishe, July 20, 2012
Florida House Journal, vote on repealing the services tax (page 41)
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