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In 5th Congressional District race, jobs and economy are emphasized

BROOKSVILLE — Jim Piccillo doesn't put it quite this bluntly, but his message is the same: It's the economy, stupid.

Political strategist James Carville made the phrase famous in 1992 by using the words to keep Bill Clinton's ultimately successful presidential campaign on message.

Now Piccillo, the 36-year-old Republican-turned-Democrat in the race for the 5th Congressional District seat held by Brooksville Republican Ginny Brown-Waite, hopes voters in the largely conservative district will appreciate his plan to improve the economic picture.

Piccillo aims to make the district "the clean-energy manufacturing capital of the East Coast, if not the nation," as he puts it.

"Something new has to be done rather than continuing with these bumper sticker slogans," said Piccillo, a former financial auditor from Land O'Lakes who now owns a business consulting firm.

Hernando Sheriff Richard Nugent, the Republican whose race this is to lose because of the district's GOP-heavy demographics, has his own ideas about righting the economy and putting a dent in unemployment.

"The way you do that is by allowing small businesses to create jobs," Nugent said.

The main ingredients for that formula: tax cuts and government spending freezes.

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When Piccillo hits the stump in the sprawling district that extends across eight counties from Levy to Polk, he asks audiences to envision a triangle connecting the University of Florida in Gainesville, the University of Central Florida in Orlando and the University of South Florida in Tampa. Much of the district is within that triangle, Piccillo notes.

He ticks off the district's transportation advantages, such as Interstates 4 and 75, the Suncoast Parkway, rail lines, and quick access to Tampa International Airport and the port of Tampa. And he cites the number of unemployed workers here, many from the construction industry, who could be retrained into burgeoning fields.

These assets, Piccillo contends, could attract firms to manufacture the next generation of clean energy equipment, such as wind turbines and solar panels. Research universities and private investors could create "small business incubators" where fledgling businesses would cluster, pooling resources to pay for rent, equipment and other expenses.

Piccillo said he would work as an ambassador to bring businesses here and as a liaison between investors, local and state officials and other stakeholders. The goal is to reduce unemployment by 2 percentage points by the end of the second year and by 3.5 percentage points in five years, he said.

"Rather than reinvent the wheel, we tried to figure out a way to connect the spokes," he said.

Piccillo supports making the Bush tax cuts permanent for households earning up to $250,000 and extending the cuts for the wealthier for a few years or until the economy improves. He would seek to defer corporate taxes for first three years for any start-up small business.

Piccillo's clean-energy plan has plenty of merit, said Robert Pollin, a professor of economics and a co-director at the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Pollin co-authored a paper in June 2009 that concluded a $308 million federal investment in a clean energy retrofit program in the 5th District — that is, making homes more efficient by adding new technology — would create more than 2,700 jobs and lower the unemployment rate by nearly 1 percentage point.

"Over the next generation, creating a clean energy economy is the project," Pollin said. "Everybody should be tuned into that fact to the extent he is, but whether it happens in Florida or not is a much more challenging question."

Other countries are already far ahead of the United States in this regard, and other regions in this country will be competing fiercely for such development, Pollin said.

Piccillo maintains that the idea is better than anything Nugent has offered. " 'Repeal Obamacare' may look good on an bumper sticker but it doesn't do anything to put people back to work," he said.

Repealing the recently passed health care law is, in fact, one of Nugent's goals. Nugent says business owners in the district are angry about the requirement that employers with 50 or more employees provide coverage to workers or pay a fine.

He favors a permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts and supports a tax deduction of at least 25 percent on income for small businesses to give employers resources to add jobs.

"I hear that all over the district," Nugent said. "Democrats, Republicans, independents, they're telling me that would be a huge help."

Nugent also supports a spending freeze for the federal government, bringing the budget back at least to 2008 levels. He calls the stimulus package a failure and says the government should not spend whatever money is left over and put the dollars toward the deficit.

"It's not working for us," he said. "Some say it was underfunded or was just spent on the wrong things. Personally, I don't believe either one of those theories. I just think it was a bad idea."

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or tmarrero@sptimes.com.

In 5th Congressional District race, jobs and economy are emphasized 10/12/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 12, 2010 11:40pm]

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