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U.S. House candidate David Jolly is largely refraining from direct attacks against Alex Sink’s background as a banker, state chief financial officer and gubernatorial candidate. His supporters from the Republican Party of Florida, however, have had no such qualms.
In a slew of campaign fliers and TV commercials, the GOP have hammered at the former CFO’s record, particularly on taxes. In a mailer that showed up in Pinellas County mailboxes around Feb. 17, 2014, the party said Sink "supported higher sales taxes, property taxes, water taxes and taxes on cable TV."
We’ve already covered the claim about water and cable taxes, finding it Mostly True. But what about sales taxes? Give us a minute, and we’ll ring that one up, too.
A taxing claim
Republicans turned to Sink’s one term as Florida’s CFO, from 2007 to 2010, to find the basis for this attack. The mailer cites a Dec. 16, 2008, story from the Palm Beach Post about state lawmakers calling a special session to deal with an expected $2.3 billion budget shortfall as the Great Recession took hold of the state. The story said, "Democrats including Sink have asked GOP leaders to consider raising taxes, consider repealing sales tax exemptions and reinstitute the intangibles tax."
The Republican-led Legislature announced the two-week January session to deal with precipitously declining state revenues, which had already led to $7.4 billion in budget cuts from 2006. Even plugging the $2.3 billion hole during the special session would have left the state more than $5 billion in the hole the following year.
When announcing the session, GOP lawmakers refused to address the deficit with tax or fee increases or the ratification of the gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, and wanted to deal with the problem by cutting state services and transferring trust fund dollars. Sink, the state’s CFO, said the state’s tax system should be overhauled when legislators convened.
"Every sales tax exemption ought to be back on the table, ought to have to see the light of day," Sink said, according to the Tampa Bay Times. "Somebody ought to stand up and defend why an exemption is fair and legitimate or it's not."
Among the items that enjoyed sales tax exemptions at the time: fitness club memberships for hospitals, bottled water, magazines and newspapers ordered through the mail, charter boat fishing, high school and college sports team skyboxes, valet parking, photo finishing, pet grooming, lawn & landscaping services, racing dogs, Super Bowl tickets and ostrich feed. Ending exemptions on catalog and Internet orders were also part of the discussion.
Sink had suggested ending some exemptions since at least 2007, but we didn’t find any particular item she singled out. Instead, Sink simply wanted legislators to consider the potential revenue streams that ending exemptions could bring. One bipartisan poll showed the state could have raised some $560 million in new revenues by closing exemptions.
Legislators eschewed examining the tax system, opting instead to appropriate $700 million from a tobacco settlement endowment fund that paid for health care programs for children and the elderly. They also postponed $300 million in bonds for the Florida Forever land purchase program and cut about $600 million from public education and health care, among other actions, before the regular session dealt with an even larger deficit in March.
We should note that closing tax loopholes is not only a Democratic idea in Florida. Republican Gov. Rick Scott, the head of the Republican Party in Florida, has said he is willing to support a move to start collecting sales tax on online purchases, so long as it is accompanied by equal tax cuts.
The Republican Party of Florida accused Sink of having "supported higher sales taxes." They pointed specifically to her stance on discussing the repeal of some sales tax exemptions in the wake of falling tax revenues in 2008.
The way the GOP words it, however, makes it seem as if Sink were seeking to make a broad-based tax hike. Actually, Sink was supporting a review of sales tax exemptions.
While that is not exactly raising the sales tax, it does have the same repercussions as a higher tax on those groups and industries.
Overall, though, Sink was asking the Legislature to consider ending sales tax exemptions for a host of interest groups, not supporting raising sales taxes for everyone. Without that context, the claim ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.
Republican Party of Florida campaign mailer, "Compare the Candidates for Congress," Received Feb. 17, 2014
Tampa Bay Times, "Panel to take new look at sales tax exemptions," Nov. 16, 2007, accessed via Nexis on Feb. 19, 2014
Palm Beach Post, "Lawmakers call special session to tackle deficit," Dec. 16, 2008, accessed via Nexis on Feb. 19, 2014
Tampa Bay Times, "Tenacious tax break lays an egg, but lingers in Florida," March 27, 2008
Tampa Bay Buzz blog, "House takes aim at $388 million in sales tax breaks," Feb. 27, 2009
Tampa Bay Buzz blog, "Poll: Floridians support taxes on cigs and some services," April 8, 2009
Tampa Bay Times, "Budget session can’t wait," Dec. 16, 2008, accessed via Nexis on Feb. 19, 2014
Tampa Tribune, "Make special session special," Dec. 24, 2008, accessed via Nexis on Feb. 19, 2014
Tampa Tribune, "An easy-way-out budget," Jan. 13, 2009, accessed via Nexis on Feb. 19, 2014
Naples Daily News, "Goodlette: First cut may not be the deepest," Jan. 15, 2009, accessed via Nexis on Feb. 19, 2014
Florida Times-Union, "Floridians have given up influencing state leaders," Jan. 16, 2009, accessed via Nexis on Feb. 19, 2014
Daytona Beach News-Journal, "With state budget woes, what stays and what goes?," Jan. 18, 2009, accessed via Nexis on Feb. 19, 2014
Fort Myers News-Press, "Agencies tend to their cuts," Jan. 16, 2009, accessed via Nexis on Feb. 19, 2014
Tampa Bay Times, "Bottlers ready repeal sales tax exemption," March 5, 2009, accessed via Nexis on Feb. 19, 2014
Tampa Bay Buzz blog, "Flips and flops on property tax breaks and sales tax exemptions," April 14, 2009
Tampa Bay Times, "Jan. special session will try to fill budget hole," Dec. 15, 2008
Interview with Susan Hepworth, Republican Party of Florida spokeswoman, Feb. 19, 2014
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