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Marco Rubio with his official portrait in the Florida House near the end of his tenure as speaker in May 2008. (Tampa Bay Times file photo) Marco Rubio with his official portrait in the Florida House near the end of his tenure as speaker in May 2008. (Tampa Bay Times file photo)

Marco Rubio with his official portrait in the Florida House near the end of his tenure as speaker in May 2008. (Tampa Bay Times file photo)

Joshua Gillin
By Joshua Gillin November 9, 2015

Rubio spent tax money to renovate Florida House, state Dems say

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio railed against taxes during his career in Florida politics, but his presidential campaign has been facing accusations that he has a long history of being a spendthrift with other people’s money.

The Florida Democratic Party posted a message Nov. 5, 2015, on Facebook about Rubio’s financial habits as incoming speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.

"Remember that time Marco Rubio spent $400K of your tax dollars remodeling offices, and building a members-only lounge? We do," the post read. It included a link to a 2010 Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald story about Rubio’s use of a Republican Party of Florida credit card.

It’s common for incoming speakers to spruce up the chambers as they see fit, so we wondered if Rubio really spent $400,000 for renovations and a new lounge.

Rubio’s renovations

In August 2006, before he was officially sworn in as speaker, Rubio did order some renovations to the House.

The Times/Herald story the Democrats linked to noted, "When Rubio became speaker, he spent about $400,000 in tax dollars to remodel offices and build a members-only dining room so lawmakers rushing to meetings or in the throes of negotiations would not have to leave the Capitol to eat." The story was written before renovations were complete.

The West Miami Republican said he sought to "decentralize the power of the speakership from being some imperial position to being more of a manager of the process." That involved moving some offices around inside the Capitol.

He wanted the clerk and sergeant-at-arms moved from the fourth floor to the fifth floor, which pushed the House rules and calendar council to the 12th floor. Rubio also wanted the budget and policy committees together, and did have a members-only dining room built.  

A dining area just for lawmakers raised some eyebrows at the time. While the Capitol had a public cafeteria and separate snack bar, some critics wondered if a private room was an excuse for lawmakers to meet away from where public records laws could find them. (The dining room was built, and is still there.)

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In all, Rubio ordered almost $560,000 in renovations, according to records from the Speaker’s Office. There were some rumblings that a state representative so opposed to taxes and government waste — in 2006 he published his book 100 Innovative Ideas for Florida's Future — shouldn’t have been spending that kind of money.

But is that a lot? Consider that his predecessor Allan Bense only spent $1,500, according to the Times/Herald. On the high end, John Thrasher spent almost $7 million in 1999 to renovate the House chamber, the speaker's office and the House office building. Former Speaker Daniel Webster spent about $100,000 in 1997 to build a spiral staircase between the Speaker’s Office and the Republican Majority Office. Rubio closed the staircase.

The leader of the House Democrats at the time, Rep. Dan Gelber of Miami Beach, acknowledged the spending but didn’t make it an issue, instead praising Rubio for including Democrats in new committee suites. "I think the speaker has a prerogative to spend his budget as he sees fit," he said at the time.

Criticism of Rubio’s spending as speaker came up during his 2010 U.S. Senate campaign against then-Gov. Charlie Crist. Crist criticized Rubio for the renovations and for inflating his staff’s payroll by $2 million over his predecessor.

Rubio hired 20 new workers, many of them from former Gov. Jeb Bush’s office, paying several of them more than $100,000. One of them was Rubio’s chief of staff, Richard Corcoran, who earned $175,212 — $46,000 more than Crist did as governor.

Corcoran, now a state representative from Land O’Lakes, takes over as speaker of the House in 2016.

Our ruling

The Florida Democratic Party said, "Marco Rubio spent $400K of your tax dollars remodeling offices, and building a members-only lounge."

It was actually more than that. Rubio spent almost $560,000 to move around offices, renovate meeting spaces and open a dining area in the Capitol. Other speakers have spent more or less than that, as they saw fit. Democratic leadership at the time didn’t quibble with the changes, although Rubio did face some criticism over the moves, especially when he ran for U.S. Senate.

We rate the statement True.

Our Sources

Florida Democratic Party, Facebook post, Nov. 5, 2015

Tampa Bay Times, "Rubio already changes House," Aug. 31, 2006

Tampa Bay Times, "On special session stage, he'll star," June 10, 2007

Tampa Bay Times, "Records show Marco Rubio spent thousands with GOP credit card," Feb. 24, 2010

Associated Press, "Analysis: Crist's attacks stretch the truth," March 12, 2010

PolitiFact Florida, "Alan Grayson attacks Daniel Webster's 'stairway to nowhere'," Aug. 31, 2010

Orlando Sentinel, "Democrats' best campaign tool is Marco Rubio's record," Sept. 12, 2010

Washington Post, "Five myths about Marco Rubio," June 15, 2012

PolitiFact, "Val Demings says Daniel Webster ‘used taxpayer funds to build a lobbyist lounge’," Sept. 28, 2012

National Review, "When Rubio Was the Man of Florida’s House," April 13, 2015

Orlando Sentinel, "Rep. Richard Corcoran formally named House Speaker-designate," Sept. 16, 2015

USA Today, "More missed votes, more criticism for Rubio," Oct. 9, 2015

Orlando Sentinel, "Rubio's ugly record was hidden by ugly debate," Oct. 31, 2015

Florida House of Representatives Office of the Speaker, Rubio renovation records, accessed Nov. 9, 2015

Palm Beach Post, "House Speaker spending $550,000 on remodel to get officials working," Dec. 6, 2006, accessed via Nexis

Daytona Beach News-Journal, "Dng Rm w/o Vu No sale to Floridians looking for sunshine," Dec. 11, 2006, accessed via Nexis

Sarasota Herald-Tribune, "Speaker’s spending is raising eyebrows," Dec. 11, 2006, accessed via Nexis

Miami Herald, "State House revamp isn’t cheap," Dec. 13, 2006, accessed via Nexis

Interview with Dan Gelber, former House minority leader, Nov. 6, 2015

Interview with Brooke Sammon, Rubio campaign spokeswoman, Nov. 6, 2015

Interview with Max Steele, Florida Democratic Party spokesman, Nov. 9, 2015

Interview with Michael Williams, Florida House of Representatives communications director, Nov. 9, 2015

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Rubio spent tax money to renovate Florida House, state Dems say

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