tampabay.com

Rubio ex-aide in tight spot on tax swap proposal

Involved in drafting the plan, he then joined a Senate race.

By ALEX LEARY
Published May 11, 2007


TALLAHASSEE -- As House Speaker Marco Rubio's top adviser, Richard Corcoran was immersed in crafting a bold but controversial plan to swap property taxes for higher sales taxes.

But as a candidate for the state Senate, Corcoran said Thursday he "opposes any new taxes whatsoever, and that includes the sales tax."

He was careful to say he was giving his general view on taxes, refusing to comment when asked directly about the House plan -- the only property tax proposal that includes a sales tax.

It's the same plan Corcoran's opponents in the Senate District 3 race, Reps. Dennis Baxley and Charlie Dean, voted for last month.

"I'm not going to be pitted against my former boss and friend," Corcoran said. He also refused to detail his involvement in developing the House proposal.

His statements, however, underscore the difficulty Rubio has had convincing other Republicans to support the tax swap idea.

The issue contributed greatly to the breakdown of negotiations between the House and Senate, which has rejected a higher sales tax even when paired with the elimination of property taxes. Now the sides are scheduled for a special session beginning June 12.

Corcoran, 42, from Crystal River, was Rubio's chief of staff for only a few months, but during the time the House property tax plan was conceived. While it would increase sales tax, the net effect is a multibillion-dollar drop in property taxes.

Corcoran resigned the $175,000 chief of staff job to run for Senate District 3 seat, vacated when Gov. Charlie Crist picked Nancy Argenziano to serve on the Public Service Commission.

While Corcoran said he did not plan to highlight his opponents' vote on the tax swap, he said if the issue came up in forums, "I'm going to state my position clearly."

Dean, a former Citrus County sheriff elected to the House in 2002, questioned Corcoran's stand on taxes. "If he has an issue about me and my vote, let's talk about him. Was (the tax swap) his idea? Or was he getting paid to do one thing and think another? Was he with Rubio or not?"

Baxley, who was elected from Ocala in 2000, pointed to a statement from national conservative voice Grover Norquist, who said the House plan does not violate a "no new taxes" pledge because the overall plan reduced taxes.

Still, both Dean and Baxley shaded their stance somewhat on the Rubio plan. They said they still stand by the speaker's taking hold of the issue, but think there are other ways to accomplish relief.

"It's not polling well and the Senate didn't like it, so we've had to go to something else," Baxley said. "I'm for anything that would give our property owners relief ."