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Luxury at taxpayers' expense

The Tampa Sports Authority has long been a hangout for politicians eager to cash in on public office. When members aren't kicking back in a stadium skybox, devouring free booze and food, they're devising new ways to pick the taxpayers' pocket to further enrich Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer.

The latest favor comes in the form of tax breaks that even authority members stumble trying to defend. Under the scheme, Glazer will be allowed to buy marble tables, leather chairs and other furnishings for new luxury stadium suites and use the authority's legal status as a government agency to avoid paying sales tax.

It's no surprise Jim Norman, Gwen Miller and others in the TSA fraternity jumped to save Glazer a few bucks. These are the same people, after all, who take in most Bucs games from the confines of a luxury suite that Glazer provides as a perk to authority members and their friends and family.

Heat up the tar. Bring on the feathers.

Laundering money to save a for-profit company from sales tax that every other consumer and business pays is a misuse of government's tax-exempt status. Miller's excuse _ "We're just helping them out" _ fails to explain the public benefit of waiving the tax. She's not on the Sports Authority to represent Glazer.

It is offensive that Norman, Miller and the other house guests of the Glazers had the audacity to vote on the tax break, given their obvious conflict and personal stake in keeping Glazer happy. The thousands of dollars charged to taxpayers to keep authority members awash in Bacardi, steak, crab and shrimp must be the lubricant that keeps such warped priorities afloat.

If the Florida Department of Revenue fails to quash the deal, Republican state Sen. Tom Lee of Brandon should follow through with his idea of seeking legislation to outlaw the practice. Lee should also seek to disband the Sports Authority. Its few legitimate functions can be handled more responsibly by county staff in Hillsborough.

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