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Bond issue too large, Chiles says

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Lawton Chiles said Tuesday that campaign contributions to Gov. Bob Martinez have caused the state to boost the size of a pending highway bond issue. Posing with a mock board game labeled the "Martinez transportation game," Chiles termed the bond issue the latest in a string of problems that can be traced to the influence of campaign money on the Martinez administration.

"This (expansion) is the payoff" to bond underwriters and lawyers, Chiles said at a news conference.

Chiles, who is limiting campaign contributions to $100, called on Martinez and the stateCabinet to cut the bond issue from $520-million to about $250-million, the amount he said is needed for the next year. Chiles said the reduction would save taxpayers $20-million in the first year.

Martinez aides bristled at Chiles' new attack, saying the decision to issue bonds is made by the governor and Cabinet, not just Martinez. Besides, the size of state bond issues is planned by experts, without political influence, they said.

"He is making these accusations, scurrilous as they may be, when in fact this is not the governor's decision to make," said Pete Dunbar, Martinez's general counsel.

"I'd say ... it's an outright misstatement of fact either (because of) ignorance or because it's a lie," said J.M. "Mac" Stipanovich, the governor's campaign manager.

Stipanovich also noted that Chiles has accepted a lot of contributions from investment bankers and lawyers who represent bond houses.

Chiles officials countered by producing documents they said show that the principal investment house for the bond issue, Prudential-Bache Securities, has lobbied for a bigger bond issue. State officials originally planned to sell the bonds in two separate issues, Chiles said.

"The facts are the facts on this," Chiles aide Jim Krog said.

Chiles also noted that the state's independent counsel for the bond issue, hired to safeguard the state's interests, has given campaign contributions to Martinez. Chiles said he would push for a ban on campaign contributions by the state's independent counsel.

The $520-million bond issue would be financed from tolls collected on the Florida Turnpike. The money from the bond issue would be used to finance the Northwest Expressway in Hillsborough County as well as expressway construction in Seminole County near Orlando. Chiles said he wasn't criticizing any of the projects included in the turnpike plans, but he said the state should borrow less and pay as it goes more often.

"The people who stand to lose are the people of Florida," he said.