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A sales tax referendum to pay for transportation improvements underscores one of the biggest differences between GOP District 1 County Commission candidates Sandy Murman and Trey Rustmann.

By a 5-2 vote, Hillsborough County commissioners in May agreed to ask voters to consider the 1 cent sales tax in November.

Rustmann says not only does he support the appearance of the initiative on the ballot, but he will vote for it.

Murman says had she been on the commission in May, she would have voted with conservatives Jim Norman and Al Higginbotham against putting it before voters. Murman said she supports the idea of mass transit.

"But I don't like paying for it with a sales tax," she said. "The lead economists will tell you a sales tax is one of the most regressive taxes on family incomes and businesses. It's not the right funding source. I hope we'll get a chance to go back to the drawing board and come up with some other options."

Read that to mean she hopes the referendum will fail.

Rustmann wants it to pass. He describes himself as a Reagan conservative who believes in small government, low taxes and the free market.

So why support a new tax?

"As a voter and a citizen, I would be willing to contribute to an investment in a modern transportation system for my community," he said.

If approved, the tax will pay for road improvements, expanded bus service and light rail.

A 40-year-old project manager for the personnel firm Kforce, Rustmann has lived in Hillsborough County since 2004. The son of a school teacher and a CIA officer, he served in the U.S. Marine Corps as a commander for a sniper platoon.

In his first run for public office, he is casting Murman, who served eight years in the state House of Representatives, as a career politician.

"Voters want new ideas. They want new leadership and a new direction for this community," he said. "I simply want to make Hillsborough County a better place to work, a better place to live, a better place to start a business and a better place to raise a family."

Murman, 59, counters that she has not held office since 2004. For the past six years, she has been working to bring the soon-to-open Glazer Children's Museum to Tampa, chaired the Brandon Chamber of Commerce for one year and volunteered for children's advocacy organizations.

She said her time in Tallahassee gave her experience she can call on as the county struggles as tax revenues decline.

"I've done a lot with budgets, especially big budgets," she said. "I know how to get things done. In the state of urgency we are at with the county, on-the-job-training is not something we can afford."

The winner of the Republican primary is likely to face Democrat John Dingfelder in the general election. Hillsborough County Republicans, though, are trying to get him off the ballot, saying he should be disqualified because he missed a deadline for filing paperwork with the Supervisor of Elections.

Janet Zink can be reached at or (813) 226-3401.