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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

How U.S. Senate candidate Carlos Beruff avoided $235,000 in taxes last year



TALLAHASSEE — Republican U.S. Senate candidate Carlos Beruff has been a land developer, jeweler and now a politician in his bid to defeat Sen. Marco Rubio for re-election.

But in at least two Florida counties he has the additional titles of farmer and lumberjack.

While the wealthy land developer has never worked a plow or chopped trees himself, he has been able to shield nearly 2,000 acres of future development land from taxes by claiming an exemption created a half-century ago for Florida's farming communities.

Beruff, who vows to cut taxes if elected, avoided paying $235,000 in 2015 taxes for his business holdings. He did it by claiming that 1,884 acres his companies bought to develop in the future are agricultural land because they are leased to cattle companies or have planted pine trees or other crops.

While Beruff is not a farmer, the exemptions are all legitimate, his campaign says.

"Carlos and his company acquired significant land holdings and now have decades-worth of forward inventory," Beruff spokesman Chris Hartline said. "The company leases out some of their land to farmers who don't have the resources to buy land or expand their farms. Other parcels of land are used for industrial agriculture."

Beruff, 58, is facing an uphill battle against Rubio in their Aug. 30 primary. Public polls show Beruff way behind, but he's spending nearly $1 million a week of his own money on television advertising.Florida's so called "Greenbelt Law" was created in 1959 to protect farmers from rising property values and increasing tax bills.

The state's farming industry would be in ruins if not for the agricultural land classification, said Adam Bassford, director of legislative affairs for the Florida Farm Bureau. Without it, farmland would be assessed at "the highest and best use" standard that would result in unaffordable taxes.

"It truly is what allows us to continue to farm in Florida," Bassford said.

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[Last modified: Friday, July 29, 2016 6:14pm]


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