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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Burgin mailers cry fraud, then fumble on facts



Josh Burgin, who is challenging incumbent District 7 at-large Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe in the Republican primary, has been dashing off a lot of mail bashing his opponent.

Much of it is standard anti-tax fare for the party faithful generally depicting Sharpe as a tax-and-spender on the basis of his support of the penny sales tax transit referendum in November. It's the same playbook his biggest campaign backer, Sam Rashid, has used for years, with mixed results. If you believe asking voters if they support a tax increase is the same as actually raising taxes, the mail pieces may be persuasive.

A few of Burgin's other assertions deserve some calling out, particularly the latest. It quotes Sharpe saying he is fighting corruption and waste on all levels. Then it blames him for allowing waste as a member of the board of directors for the Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance Inc., whose employees were caught ringing up large bills on the tax dime for things like cheesecake and enjoying cozy ties with contractors.

Perhaps Sharpe deserves some blame for not keeping up on employee dining habits. Then again, most of the problems documented at the agency occurred when he was not serving on its board.

And the mailers overlook the fact that Sharpe was the first and initially only Workforce board member to acknowledge a problem and start calling for heads, including that of the agency's chief executive, which he eventually got when she stepped down.

Burgin uses one TV quote to suggest Sharpe was out to lunch on the whole affair when Sharpe was in fact the go-to guy for reporters looking for an outrage quote on the latest developments. The agency has experienced a wholesale shakeup, in part thanks to Sharpe.

At least four of Burgin's mail pieces have carried the greeting "voter fraud alert," and challenged some assertion by Sharpe. They include some other sketchy bits.

Burgin fairly questions Sharpe's assertion that he lowered property taxes by 17 percent. (See our review of that assertion at But then Burgin bungles his challenge by asserting Sharpe actually raised taxes by a comparable amount, a claim undermined by his own faulty math (Stay tuned to PolitiFact).

Other mail pieces from Burgin and Rashid claim the penny sales tax increase for transit, if approved, will raise taxes by $300 million. But the number is little more than speculation.

The county collects sales taxes now, with lengthy documentation of how much they have raised each year. A half-penny sales tax for indigent health care had its best year in 2006, at the height of the building boom when homeowners were cashing out the equity in the homes to buy boats and cars. The half-penny generated $107 million that year.

Double that and you're still a long way off from the $300 million Burgin says a full penny will cost taxpayers. Meanwhile times have changed considerably. Through 10 months this year, the tax has raised just shy of $65 million.

Those are all still big numbers. There was no reason to inflate them further.

-- Bill Varian, Times Staff Writer

[Last modified: Thursday, September 16, 2010 3:41pm]


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