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March column: Buckhorn, political parties crop up in candidates' debate

Political party identification, and the role of Mayor Bob Buckhorn, were among the issues that cropped up in a debate this week between Tampa District 7 City Council candidates Luis Viera and Jim Davison.

The race is technically non-partisan — the city charter says candidates can't "publicly represent or advertise as a member of any political party" — but party politics has become an issue nonetheless.

Viera has a long list of endorsements from prominent Democrats, while Davison has received support from Republicans and has said the council needs a Republican member.

Davison has also vowed to fight the city political establishment, which he says Viera represents and which ignores the needs of the North Tampa and New Tampa district.

In response to a question from a Davison backer at the debate, Viera sought to distance himself from Buckhorn.

"A lot of things have been said about me and the mayor," he said. "I have a long line of endorsements. Mayor Buckhorn is not in that line of endorsements. … For the record, he is not endorsing me."

That was Wednesday. Thursday morning, Buckhorn told Richard Danielson of the Tampa Bay Times that he is indeed endoring Viera.

During the debate, Viera said Davison's antagonism toward City Hall would lead only to "a lot of 6-1 votes" on the council, with District 7 losing out.

"For the last six years, they've had seven out of seven votes on the City Council," Davison responded. "There's seven people of the same party sitting on that council, along with the same party as the mayor. … Where'd that get us?"

In the initial Nov. 8 vote, he added, "There were six candidates … Three were from the party that he represents, one was from the party I represent, two were independents. The two independents have endorsed me."

Viera cracks $100k in shortened council race

With his latest campaign finance report, Luis Viera has entered the big leagues of Tampa municipal races, reporting $101,809 raised as Nov. 11.

It's not rare for candidates to raise and spend more than $100,000 in Tampa City Council races. The champ, according to Supervisor of Election records back to 2003, is Shawn Harrison's $209,143 campaign in 2007. Second place was Jackie Toledo's $163,457 campaign in 2015.

Both lost, but later found consolation in state House seats.

Viera still may be considered something of a record-holder because he hit the mark in a shorter, special election campaign that didn't start until May. He started raising money in June.

The job pays $38,230.

Young's fracking bill may face rough sailing

State Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, elected Nov. 8 after a campaign including controversy over fracking, recently said she'll introduce legislation to ban the practice in Florida.

But that bill may face rough sailing in the Legislature.

Young, who says she's firmly opposed to allowing fracking in Florida, previously favored imposing a moratorium on fracking while state officials studied its possible effects. Environmentalists said that wasn't strong enough and campaigned against her; Young says she's now willing to support an outright ban.

But Young also said she thinks the bill should include a "pre-emption" to stop local governments from passing their own regulations.

That pre-emption, said state Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, was the chief reason the previous legislation died in the Appropriations Committee during last spring's legislative session, when he was chairman.

Including pre-emption, he said, would mean that if the Legislature at some point reversed its ban, counties would be left unable to enact their own local prohibitions.

Challenging Airbnb – the next Uber?

Airbnb, the on-line vacation rental service, could turn into the next Uber/Lyft-style fracas in the Florida Legislature over how government should regulate emerging on-line industries. Hillsborough County, as in the Uber battle, may be in the thick of it.

County Tax Collector Doug Belden is asking local legislators — including state Sens. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg and Tom Lee, R.-Thonotosassa — to pass legislation over collecting tourist taxes on rentals by Airbnb and other on-line, short-term rental services.

Belden's office has been negotiating with Airbnb since March, but he refused conditions sought by the company that he says other counties have agreed to — some of which, he said, would violate state open government laws.

The company has sought to keep parts of its agreements with them secret. Belden said that would violate state public records law.

He said the company also wants a waiver on collecting back taxes, and wants to avoid providing the names of its renters. That would make it impossible for the tax collector to do audits, as it does on other hospitality businesses, to ensure they're accurately reporting rental income.

Pinellas County, on the other hand, already has signed an agreement with Airbnb and is getting some $63,000 per month in tourist taxes, said Erin, tourist tax auditor.

In that agreement, Airbnb agreed to compromise on the issues that Belden objected to, Sullivan-Bolt said.

A number of other counties also have reached agreements with Airbnb, and the state Department of Revenue collects the taxes for 22 counties.

A legislative settlement could be a long way off, said state Sen. Tom Lee, one of the legislators Belden has asked for help. The Legislature has been trying unsuccessfully for at least two years to settle the issue of Uber, Lyft, and their competitors, the traditional cab companies.

"This is really the Uber situation all over again, an existing tax structure and regulatory scheme that's being challenged by new technology," Lee said. "You don't want to shut a new technology out of the market, but you want their competitors to have a level playing field."

Contact William March at [email protected]

March column: Buckhorn, political parties crop up in candidates' debate 12/02/16 [Last modified: Thursday, December 1, 2016 5:01pm]
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