Old idea adds fuel to the race
By DAVID KARP and BILL VARIAN
TAMPA -- More than 12 years ago at a County Commission meeting, Pam Iorio threw out an idea.
She wondered if the commission might fund unpaid stormwater projects by adding a $1 charge based on property values to county tax bills. According to minutes of the meeting and news stories, it was a suggestion.
Iorio also asked the county administrator to examine all options, according to meeting minutes.
She never called for a vote to increase property taxes, records show. She later said the idea wasn't even seriously considered.
But now, as Iorio runs for mayor, her opponent is using her 1990 suggestion to try to paint the former county commissioner and elections supervisor as someone who reaches into taxpayers' wallets to fix every problem.
Candidate Frank Sanchez held a news conference Wednesday to suggest that Iorio's record means that she will raise property taxes.
"Every time she saw a problem, she turned to taxes," said Sanchez, a consultant and former Clinton White House aide. "As a business owner, I can't issue a tax every time my business needs money."
Iorio said Wednesday that Sanchez was twisting her record to score political points before the March 25 runoff.
"It's a negative tactic to take someone's record out of context and distort a record," Iorio said.
Sanchez denounced negative campaigning just before the March 4 mayoral election, when council member Bob Buckhorn mailed out a flier criticizing him.
"Just a couple of weeks ago, he seemed very upset when someone was distorting his record," Iorio said. "He is going to run a very negative campaign. I think that is very clear."
She said Sanchez's actions won't change how she campaigns. "The voters know my record, and the voters know me very well."
At his news conference Wednesday, Sanchez said he would support the same proposed $12-a-year tax to pay for stormwater projects that Iorio backs. Under the plan offered by Mayor Dick Greco, homeowners would pay $12 a year, apartment dwellers would pay $6 a year, and commercial property owners would pay a fee based on runoff caused by their buildings and parking lots. The tax would be tacked onto property tax bills.
But Sanchez said the tax he supports isn't the same as the tax Iorio suggested more than 12 years ago.
"It's absolutely different," Sanchez said.
In 1990, Iorio offered the suggestion about a charge based on property tax values after the commission repealed an unpopular stormwater utility tax. Small businesses and farmers had protested the tax, saying it placed an unfair burden on them.
By the time the commission rolled back the tax, County Administrator Larry Brown had already borrowed about $5-million against the anticipated money. Commissioners had to decide how to pay the bills.
That's when Iorio asked officials to examine all options, including a charge based on property values, according to records of that meeting.
Wednesday night at a debate at Plant High School, Sanchez continued the offensive. He reminded Iorio that she had promised to finish her term as elections supervisor but resigned in mid term to run for mayor.
As Iorio answered, Sanchez began to talk.
"Please don't interrupt me when I speak," Iorio said. "I really don't think it's polite."
Citing former President Clinton and other leaders, Iorio said elected officials sometimes leave office early if the public thinks their skills can be used elsewhere. The voters ultimately will decide if Iorio made the right decision, she said.
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