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Commission candidate Charlie Justice plans meet and greet, and Baker endorses Rice for Pinellas sheriff

ST. PETERSBURG

Justice kicks off campaign with MEET AND GREET

Charlie Justice is kicking off his campaign for Pinellas County Commission with a meet and greet reception March 29.

The event will be from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at Midtown Sundries, 100 Second St. S, in St. Petersburg.

Justice, a former state senator, recently filed to run against Pinellas County Commissioner Nancy Bostock for her countywide District 3 seat.

Justice, a St. Petersburg Democrat, seized on Bostock's vote to stop the practice of adding fluoride to drinking water. Bostock is serving her first term.

Transit tax issue divides Pinellas lawmakers

A minor local tax bill exposed a split in the Pinellas County legislative delegation when the House overwhelmingly approved legislation this month dealing with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority. The vote was 92-21 for the bill, sponsored by Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater.

The bill (HB 865) says if the Pinellas County Commission approves a penny sales tax increase for transportation improvements, the tax can only be imposed if Pinellas voters approve it in a referendum. On top of that, if the sales tax passes, the transit authority must repeal an existing property tax that raises $33 million a year. A House analysis says the sales tax increase would generate $120 million a year.

Republican Reps. Larry Ahern, Jeff Brandes and Richard Corcoran voted against the bill, and all other Pinellas House members voted yes, including Rep. Jim Frishe, a staunch fiscal conservative, House majority whip and state Senate candidate. "The taxpayer isn't going to get hit a second time," Frishe said. "This protects the local taxpayer."

Far from being a "tax swap," Corcoran argued, the shift would increase taxes on Pinellas taxpayers by $87 million. The floor speeches against the bill prompted Hooper to apologize that a local bill took up so much floor time. "It is a shame that three members of my delegation chose to argue to double the taxes on our citizens," Hooper said in a parting shot at Ahern, Brandes and Corcoran.

Baker endorses Rice for Pinellas sheriff

Former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker has endorsed Everett Rice as the fellow Republican tries to return as Pinellas County sheriff.

Rice served four terms before leaving in 2004 to be a Florida House member. Now Rice is a leading candidate to return in this year's election. Baker was among Rice's original supporters when Rice won the 1988 race for sheriff.

"He's been a friend of mine for many, many years. I was part of the group that supported him ... when he ran for sheriff the first time. ... I've worked with him. I think he did a good job," Baker said recently.

Baker adds a new big name to the public list of people supporting Rice, who faces, among others, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. While Rice has a fundraising lead, Gualtieri lined up a list of big-name supporters, such as sheriffs in surrounding counties, St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster and state Sen. Jack Latvala. Baker's clout could help dent that. (Rice already has the endorsement of Attorney General Pam Bondi, too.)

Reporters David DeCamp and Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.

Commission candidate Charlie Justice plans meet and greet, and Baker endorses Rice for Pinellas sheriff 03/17/12 [Last modified: Saturday, March 17, 2012 4:31am]

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