Platt vs. Chillura: Who taxes more?
By DAVID KARP
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 4, 2000
TAMPA -- The television ad shows a fuzzy picture of County Commissioner Jan Platt. Then, a stack of money appears on the screen.
"The Platt Tax," a voice says. "Two-hundred million more every year."
"Who," the voice asks pleadingly, "will stop her?"
The ad's answer: Joe Chillura.
The architect of the "Community Investment" sales tax, the county's largest tax increase since 1991, has been running for the County Commission this year as a crusading opponent of taxes. Chillura's ad, which began airing eight days before Tuesday's election, depicts Platt as a backer of a sales tax, a gas tax and a utility tax.
The ad doesn't mention Chillura's votes for a sales tax for indigent health care in 1991, a sales tax referendum for public safety in 1995, and the "Community Investment" sales tax in 1996. When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wanted a new stadium, Chillura crafted the CIT and then campaigned for it.
"I think he is trying to draw attention away from the stadium tax," Platt said about the ad.
But Chillura said he didn't mention his work on the CIT because everyone already knows about it.
"I stand behind it. I never tried to run from it," Chillura said. "It was a very effective way and a very painless way to pay for many, many things."
Platt said the ad, besides ignoring Chillura's own record, distorts her votes on the utility tax and on a proposed tax referendum for transportation.
"I think his ads have been outrageous," Platt said.
Platt never voted for a utility tax as Chillura's ad suggests. But she voted in 1997 to hold a public hearing on the tax, which had been proposed by County Administrator Dan Kleman. Platt made it clear at the time that her vote for a public hearing did not mean she would vote for the tax.
"I was not for or against the tax," Platt said. "But I was willing to listen."
Platt, a Democrat who has served on the commission for 20 years, spoke favorably about a utility tax in 1991, but never voted on it. She actually voted against the utility tax in 1988. Today, Platt says the county does not need the tax on electric and natural gas use. It gets enough money from its growing property tax base, she said.
Chillura doesn't believe her. "Jan has never met a tax she didn't like," Chillura said.
Platt did support holding a voter referendum to increase the sales tax, gas tax and impact fees to spend about $1-billion on new roads, buses and bridges. She has made improving transportation one of her campaign platforms.
Like the "Community Investment" sales tax that Chillura backed, the public would have to vote in a referendum to tax themselves for transportation.
The commission voted 4-3 to kill the issue last spring, and Chillura said he would have opposed the referendum, too. But Chillura also has said he would revisit a transportation tax referendum after the county cuts spending.
Many Republicans who now back Chillura, a former Democrat, find themselves supporting an unlikely tax enemy. Many campaigned against the CIT four years ago.
"I think Joe recognizes that the tax was not sold to the people in an accurate manner by the officials who wanted the tax enacted," said Sam Rashid, an influential Republican who supports Chillura.
Platt was been "very consistent," Rashid added. "I think Jan Platt is someone who doesn't necessarily change who she is or what she is when she sits up there."
Platt, 64, said slick TV ads should play no role in local races. She said she can't imagine hiring a media consultant -- and even if she wanted to, she couldn't afford one.
Her campaign has raised about $60,000, far less than Chillura, but that's not unusual for Platt. Beginning in 1978, she has run as a watchdog for good government, relying on her high name recognition and ubiquitous volunteers.
"I'm running on my reputation," Platt said. "People know what kind of a person I am."
Chillura, a former commissioner who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1998, has raised more than $175,000, mostly from attorneys, real estate developers, contractors and consultants. His campaign plans to spend more than $100,000 to run his TV ad.
Political analysts said Chillura might be banking that voters see his ad -- and never hear Platt's response.
"Not responding is ignoring one of the tenants of the advertising community," said Susan McManus, a political analyst and professor at the University of South Florida. "When someone throws a negative, you better combat it ASAP."
Even so, McManus said Chillura's ad could get lost as the presidential and U.S. Senate candidates bombard the airwaves.
"A lot of these ads are just burning money, not burning minds," McManus said. Platt "is pretty well known, too," she added.
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