Friday, April 27, 2018
News Roundup

Tallahassee political committee takes aim at Mariano

The flier is ripped from the headlines. "Pasco commissioners agree to higher property tax rates," it reads, under a Tampa Bay Times masthead.

Then, in even bigger type next to a picture of Commissioner Jack Mariano, it reads: "He did WHAT?!!" The mailer says Mariano "raised our taxes and turned his back on us. How can we ever trust him again?" The attacks are worse on the back, saying he "did what liberals do" and that he made a choice "that would make Barack Obama proud."

In tiny type, the mailer says it was paid for by a group called Nature Coast Conservatives, which has a Tallahassee address. What the mail piece really shows is that well-funded state power brokers are taking an interest in one of Pasco's commission races.

"I expected something negative to be coming from somewhere," said Mariano, a Republican seeking his third term on the commission. "I didn't really expect it to be coming from outside this county."

So who are these Nature Coast Conservatives, anyway? It's a Tallahassee campaign committee linked to the political consulting firm Southern Campaign Resources, owned by Rockie Pennington. The group's chairman is Mark Zubaly, who works with Pennington. Why does he care so much about Pasco politics?

"It was drawn to our attention by several folks in the area," Zubaly said. "All I was given was a newspaper article."

The group has a relatively thin campaign finance record. This year, it took $70,000 from a North Florida barrel racing facility that wants to add slot machines and $10,000 from a committee controlled by state Sen. Charlie Dean of Inverness. The group refunded half the gambling money and Dean denied involvement. Zubaly said that because the mailer went out last week, the funding source might not be on the latest campaign report that listed every transaction through July 6.

The group also has given to and accepted money from the Committee to Protect Florida. That committee is also run by Pennington's firm, and is used by state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and state Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity. Pennington also does consulting work for several other Pasco candidates, including state Sen. Mike Fasano, Sheriff Chris Nocco and commission hopefuls Bill Gunter and Ron Oakley.

So, who paid for the mailer?

"You've surprised me, first there was a hit piece and that it wasn't by his opponent," Fasano said. "I don't know who it would be."

Corcoran said he's heard about the mailer but hadn't seen it. He said he didn't want to speculate about who is behind it.

Gunter, Mariano's opponent in the Aug. 14 race, said he hadn't seen the ad. "I'll have to track that down and take a look at it," he said.

He added: "There are a lot of people out there that want to see a change in this seat."

But what about the substance of the attack? Is it fair to say Mariano — and the other four commissioners — raised taxes?

The mailer quotes a June 5 Times story that described the proposed "roll back" property tax rate, which is higher than the current rate. But it left off the article's next sentence: "The rate is designed to collect roughly the same amount of taxes as the current year."

So, the tax rate is higher, but property values dropped by nearly 6 percent. Property owners — on average — would pay the same in taxes as the year before. Whether individual property owners pay higher taxes, though, depends on their specific situation.

Gunter acknowledged the nuance that can sometimes surround property taxes. He said, "That, to me, is certainly not a tax decrease."

Said Mariano: "It's a distortion. I think it's a very inaccurate portrayal of what's going on."

Mariano is working on a rebuttal mail piece that will describe his record on taxes. From 2005-07 (while values were going up) Mariano and his fellow commissioners cut the tax rate. The board kept the rate level in 2008, while values dropped. When values dropped again in 2009, commissioners voted for the "roll back" rate. They kept the same rate in 2010 and 2011.

This year, commissioners said their hand was forced by a new Medicaid billing law passed by the state Legislature. Pasco's tab: $4.2 million.

Mariano also cited his role to squelch a proposed $50-per-home fee and a gas tax increase to subsidize the county's new mobility fees. Neither of those passed.

Times/Herald staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report. Lee Logan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.

Comments
Softball: Plant City perfect in district finals with Ashley Bullion on mound

Softball: Plant City perfect in district finals with Ashley Bullion on mound

PLANT CITY — Plant City softball coach Ashley Bullion is 4-for-4 after Thursday night.Four years at the helm, four district titles.The latest championship came in a 4-1 victory over East Bay in the Class 8A, District 6 final, a victory highligh...
Updated: 3 hours ago

Softball: Recent momentum carries Mitchell past Sunlake

LAND O' LAKES — Despite being on the wrong end of two lopsided outcomes to Sunlake during the regular season, recent events gave Mitchell hope in its Class 7A-10 district final rematch with the Seahawks.Just two days prior, the Mustangs be...
Updated: 3 hours ago

Softball: Robinson makes it 10 straight wins vs. Jefferson

TAMPA — For the Robinson softball team, the perfect 10 was complete.The top-seeded Knights defeated No. 2 Jefferson for the 10th consecutive time Thursday and claimed their fifth district championship in a row, a 12-2 five-inning victory in the...
Updated: 3 hours ago

Softball: Itís April, so Chamberlain is winning

TAMPA — Coach Bob Diez and his Chamberlain Chiefs have always believed in this motto: "Be good in April."This is their season.The Chiefs added another Class 7A-8 district title Thursday against Gaither with a 7-0 victory.With the win, the ...
Updated: 3 hours ago

Softball: East Lake is aggressive from the start

TARPON SPRINGS — If strong pitching and defense are the bellwethers of a deep playoff run, consider East Lake ready.Playing second seed Pinellas Park on Thursday night for the Class 8A-7 title, the host Eagles (22-3) used that philosophy to mak...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Another reason the Bucs took defensive tackle Vita Vea at No. 12

Another reason the Bucs took defensive tackle Vita Vea at No. 12

TAMPA — The selection of Vita Vea is a move the Bucs made for the present and the future. While Gerald McCoy remains a dominant defensive tackle, he turned 30 in February and is due to make $12.3 million this season and $13 million in...
Updated: 2 hours ago
NFL draft: Chargers take FSUís Derwin James with No. 17 pick

NFL draft: Chargers take FSUís Derwin James with No. 17 pick

Former Florida State safety Derwin James fell farther than expected Thursday in the first night of the NFL draft before being chosen by the Chargers with the No. 17 overall pick.James became the fifth former Seminoles defensive back ever drafted in t...
Updated: 3 hours ago
NFL draft: Patriots pick Lakewood alum Isaiah Wynn at No. 23

NFL draft: Patriots pick Lakewood alum Isaiah Wynn at No. 23

Lakewood High alumnus and former Georgia offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn was drafted No. 23 overall Thursday by the Patriots.Wynn becomes one of the highest drafted offensive linemen in Tampa Bay history and the first Pinellas County player to go in th...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Bucs trade down with Bills, take strongman DT Vita Vea No. 12

Bucs trade down with Bills, take strongman DT Vita Vea No. 12

TAMPA — Vita Vea loves to tell the story about the trip he took to French Polynesia with some University of Washington students and the group coming upon some enormous rocks."So over there, their strongman competition is they have a tradition w...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Bucs GM Jason Licht has assembled enough talent to win

Bucs GM Jason Licht has assembled enough talent to win

TAMPA — Another busy offseason. Another first round of the NFL draft. Another interesting night.And, through it all, Bucs general manager Jason Licht has looked pretty darn good.He spent the past couple of months patching his offensive line, sp...
Updated: 3 hours ago