House speaker bets political future on tax plan


Article Courtesy of The Palm Beach Post

By Michael C. Bender
Published June 5, 2007

TALLAHASSEE Marco Rubio put himself among Florida's most ambitious House leaders when he published a book of 100 ideas to serve as his agenda during his two years as speaker.

But despite spending more than $575,000 for the book, related speaking tours and Web sites promoting the goals, Rubio is still trying to wrap his arms around the one idea that could mean the most to his political future: lowering property taxes.

The cost of 'Ideas'

House Speaker Marco Rubio has invested $575,600 from the Republican Party of Florida into the publication of his book, 100 Innovative Ideas for Florida's Future, and promotion for property tax reform:

DVDs: $173,400
Public Concepts, LLC of West Palm Beach mailed a seven-minute DVD explaining the 100 Ideas initiative and seeking ideas.

Books: $157,400
Binding, printing and literary agents for 100 Innovative Ideas for Florida's Future.

Consulting: $150,000
To Arduin, Laffer & Moore Econometrics.

Web sites: $84,500
Taproot Creative built and maintained two Web sites: 100Ideas.org and nomorepropertytaxes.com.

'100 ideas' posters: $10,300
The Drummond Press.

"That's how we will be judged for the rest of our lives and the next 100 years," Rubio, R-West Miami, said of the property tax debate, scheduled for special session starting June 12.

Rubio suffered a setback this year when his tax plan - the most publicized idea in his 100 Innovative Ideas for Florida's Future book - received bipartisan opposition from the Senate and was scorned by Republican Gov. Charlie Crist.

A review of Republican Party of Florida expenditures since 2005 shows that at least $575,000 has been spent on publishing and promoting Rubio's celebrated book and the divisive tax proposal included within the 169 pages.

Some of the cash, $173,000, was spent on Web sites for both the book and property tax plan. Another $150,000 went to Donna Arduin, a consultant who helped develop the tax proposal and other ideas in the book.

The actual book cost $157,400.

The largest share of those expenses, about $77,000, was paid to publish the book.

Some $18,000 reimbursed Bridget Gregory, who party leaders said paid some of the book's other bills from her own pocket. State Republicans have paid $480,000 to Gregory, a party fund-raiser and wife of Rubio deputy Chief of Staff Chris Nocco, 2005 for consulting, travel and other expenses. Party leaders said those costs were not related to 100 Ideas, although Gregory did help organize property tax teleconferences between Rubio and party activists during the session.

The party paid for Rubio and other lawmakers to gather proposals for the book at "idea-raisers" around the state and for an August summit in Orlando to unveil the finished product. It was unclear from campaign reports how much those costs totaled.

Rubio also traveled the state before the annual 60-day session started in March to promote his property tax proposal. In the past week, he's 

twice visited civic groups in Palm Beach County.

Although some staff from the House Majority Office has traveled with Rubio, he said the GOP, and not taxpayers, bore the costs.

"Accountability is what is missing in politics," Rubio said of the investment he has made in the issue.

"The purpose of politics is not to win. This isn't a sport. Our job is not to win elections. It's too come up with a vision for the future and to find a way to sell that vision. Too many times, politics is about selling people or selling an image or, at worst, destroying the people who are against you."

But some lawmakers said privately that the 100 Ideas has blurred the line between politics and policy.

They point to the 100 Ideas insignia on the official Florida House Web site. Some members have included the graphic on their state letterhead.

Rubio's staff issued updates during the session when the ideas were debated in committee meetings and when the proposals won approval.

"Speaker Rubio has made his commitment to the citizens of Florida," state GOP Chairman Jim Greer said.

Greer, who took over as GOP chairman in January, cut off party money for Rubio's property tax Web site in April after complaints from Senate Republicans.

The Web site put the party in the awkward position of appearing to support Rubio's tax plan, while the Republican-led Senate and Republican governor both opposed it.

"When there was only one tax plan out there, I thought it was important to have the Web site, and I agreed that it was appropriate to do through the party," Greer said. "But when the governor took a position and the Senate had their proposal, I thought it was important for the party to remain neutral."

The Miami-Dade Republican Party picked up the tab, and county Chairwoman Mary Ellen Miller said local GOP senators haven't complained.

"I don't consider it political," Miller said of the Web site. "I consider it political education. It's a fine line, but there is a difference."

The difference could determine Rubio's legacy.

"Policy initiatives generally come from the governor's office," University of South Florida political science professor Susan MacManus said. "But from the get-go, the speaker's office has been playing that executive role, which feeds into people's expectations that someday Marco Rubio will run for governor."


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