TAMPA — Given the still-sagging economy, it may not be surprising that the two Republicans competing to challenge Democrat Kevin Beckner on the Hillsborough County Commission are pushing job creation.
Margaret Iuculano, 45, an advocate for foster children, espouses a traditional Republican line with tea party flavors. She proposes streamlining development review, lowering business-related fees across the board and fostering greater cooperation between the county and its three cities as part of her "Blueprint for Jobs."
Don Kruse, 52, who operates beauty and wellness school with his wife, pitches a far more specific approach. He would propose a 24-month program in which property owners who make physical improvements to their homes or buildings in that time would not face tax increases on the added amenities for as long as they own their property.
Both have faced an uphill climb in attracting attention. The winner will face an incumbent with a big money advantage.
"Our votes will come from feet on the streets," Iuculano says.
Iuculano has an active grass roots campaign. Her Facebook page chronicles regular walks with volunteers to introduce herself to voters. And she has raised $54,609 so far, not a bad showing for a first-time candidate.
Kruse, a former car sales manager and Tampa native, is making his third run for the County Commission. As in past races, he has been a regular at scheduled candidate forums, but other campaign activities are less evident. He has raised just $6,490, most of it from himself, family members or his school, the Beauty and Health Institute in Westchase.
One thing Kruse has done differently from in his two campaigns is get specific, at least on one issue. He calls his jobs proposal "Property Improvements without Assessments," or PIWA.
"The last time I ran, I was speaking like she does now," Kruse said. "When you make blanket statements, you appeal to everyone."
With PIWA, he would propose opening a two-year window during which property owners would be encouraged to add a bedroom to their homes, build a storage building for their business, or expand space in an existing office. For as long as the person owns the property, he or she would not pay taxes on their additions.
Kruse says the program would provide immediate jobs for builders and tradespeople, some of the hardest hit by the recession. And it would have a trickle-down effect, by enabling those people to buy tools, take an occasional night out for dinner or to buy clothes for their children.
"How many people in Hillsborough County convert a garage to a room but leave the garage door in place so they don't have added heated space, which adds to their tax bill?" Kruse said. "Under this plan, they can take the door off and put a nice window in."
The proposal may require legislative support. As a general notion, the Legislature sets rules on how properties are assessed for taxation and allows local governments to create exemptions only when they are specifically contemplated by state law. And some of those exemptions require approval by voters.
Iuculano has been more of a generalist. She speaks of streamlining, creating efficiency and enabling free enterprise, common themes among first-time candidates, particularly Republicans. Pressed for specifics, she tells anecdotes of entrepreneurs she's heard about who spent 18 months trying to get a building permit. She cites instances of proposed changes to community plans that take more than a year of review, wearing out all but the most diehard activists.
"I think we need regulations and we need fees," Iuculano said. "I just don't think we need to take 18 months to go through a process. There's got to be a way to fix it and simplify it."
Iuculano, a San Diego native who grew up in foster care, said she embraces much of the tea party movement. But she said she is not so easily labeled. Given her background, she said she will take a great interest in programs that help the needy.
"I'm very passionate about helping people who are underprivileged," she said.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Bill Varian can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3387.