Wednesday, July 18, 2018

More Deep Pockets Coming For Your Wallets

As we posted here, the petition effort for a massive 30 year 14% transit sales tax hike is astroturf and not grassroots. Tampa wealthy elites and well connected power brokers are using a group of Tampa urbanists and some paid political operatives to front them. The wealthy elites want to unnecessarily raise taxes to 8% - the highest tax RATE in the state - that will benefit them.

Hillsborough County, growing by leaps and bounds with new growth and rising property values, can Fund Transportation and No Tax Hike Is Needed! Except when a billion dollar stadium is seeking public money It's a Package Deal! The Billion Dollar Stadium Needs Billions for Trains. It's the same Tampa power brokers seeking both.

Surprise! NOT! Tampa Bay Partnership, the symbiotic twin of the 2010 pro rail tax PAC Moving Hillsborough Forward (MHF) and also a supporter of Greenlight Pinellas, donated $150K to the transit tax hike AFT PAC on June 26.
Tampa Bay Partnership donates $150K
(click to enlarge)
Both those transit tax hike referendums were overwhelmingly defeated by voters. Tampa Bay Partnership must have lots of money to burn to keep funding LOSING transit tax hikes.
2010 Rail Tax in Hillsborough defeated 58-42% 
2014 Greenlight Pinellas Rail Tax
defeated 62-38%
Let's throw in the latest transit tax hike boondoggle savagely defeated in Nashville 64-36% on May 1. See a trend? The public no longer is hoodwinked by multi-million dollar fairy dust and unicorn advocacy false advertising campaigns for massive tax hikes.
Nashville Rail Tax
defeated 64-36%
Tampa Bay Partnership (TBP) self-proclaims they represent the Tampa Bay business community and are representative of the business community in Tampa Bay but they do not. They represent a number of big businesses in Tampa Bay and also includes USF President Judy Genshaft. However, no one appointed or elected them to represent anybody.

TBP is funded by special interests who pay $50K and $25K to be a member to lobby. And their top policy issue continues to be pushing costly transit in Hillsborough and Tampa Bay - when less than 2% use transit today and the vast majority want our roads, highways and interstates fixed and improved.

We did contact TBP regarding their $150K donation and support for the transit tax hike and received their statement below.
The governing body of the Tampa Bay Partnership, its Council of Governors, voted unanimously to contribute $150,000 to “All for Transportation,” the grassroots group that is collecting signatures to place a transportation referendum on the ballot for the November general election.
 “To connect regionally, we need to have a well-funded local transportation system,” said Rhea Law, chair of the Tampa Bay Partnership and chair of the Florida offices of Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney. “Improving connectivity throughout Tampa Bay is critical and we’re proud to support the citizens working to bring this decision to Hillsborough County voters in November.”
With the $600K that was donated to the AFT PAC from 4 special interests donors ($150K each), their last SOE campaign filing reflects they have paid Revolution Field Strategies $250K for petition gathering. That is not a grassroots petition gathering group. They are paying people to gather petitions who may not live in Hillsborough County or even live in Florida.
AFT pays for petition gathering
The only reason the Tampa deep pockets want a massive transit sales tax hike from 7% to 8% (a 14% tax hike not a one penny or one cent tax hike) that takes $15-18 BILLION out of taxpayers pockets  is to fund costly Tampa centric transit. Fixed guideways and rail are about land use aka transit oriented development to benefit them. It is not about mobility solutions to relieve congestion for the 98% who use roads in Hillsborough County everyday.

And Voila!

Special interests Coastal Construction out of Miami also donated $150K. The Tampa Bay Business Journal reported last June that Coastal Construction, led by Sean DeMartino, is expanding into Central and North Florida.
He [Sean DeMartino] is co-chairman of the Orlando Economic Partnership and past chairman of the Central Florida Transportation Task Force.
Just think of the Orlando Economic Partnership as Central Florida's version of Tampa Bay Partnership. The Orlando Economic Partnership was created thru the merger last year of what was the Central Florida Partnership and the Orlando Economic Development Commission. Their "investor" level pay to play lobbying starts at $100K and they receive taxpayer monies.

According to this Business Observer article, last July Vinik hired 9 construction firms to construct in his Water Street district development that included Coastal Construction. But by January 2018 according to this Tampa Bay Business Journal article (also find it here): (emphasis mine)
The developer of Water Street Tampa has parted ways with the majority of contractors doing pre-construction work on the massive, mixed-use project, instead hiring a Miami firm for most of the buildings in the district's first phase. 
Strategic Property Partners, which is controlled by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment LLC, is awarding the majority of the construction work in the first phase of its $3 billion district to Coastal Construction, the developer confirmed Tuesday.
Coastal Chairman and CEO Thomas Murphy Jr. is the father of Patrick Murphy, the Democrat who challenged Sen. Marco Rubio in 2016. The elder Murphy was the "financial muscle" behind the campaign, the Tampa Bay Times reported in May 2016.
Skanska is building the University of South Florida's Morsani College of Medicine, which is on an acre of donated land within Water Street. That construction project is under the purview of the university, not SPP.
All the major donors to this reckless massive Tampa centric transit tax hike is Jeff Vinik and those connected to him and Vinikville - Morsani, Tampa Bay Partnership and Coastal Construction.

We cannot forget what the state legislators handed Vinik in this last legislation session:  Jeff Vinik scores win with signing of Water Street Tampa bill
A bill that would create a special taxing district for the Water Street Tampa development in Hillsborough County was recently signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott. 
The proposal was backed by Strategic Property Partners, a partnership of Bill Gates’ investment arm, Cascade Investment, and billionaire developer Jeff Vinik. Water Street Tampa has become one of the most eagerly awaited private developments in Tampa. 
The Water Street Tampa Improvement District, created by HB 1393, would allow an appointed board to levy assessments on commercial properties and charge property tax of up to one mill — $1 per $1,000 of assessed value — on property within the district.
And his thanks to them is pushing a massive transit tax hike that is an end round around county local officials for 30 years?

We have to assume Vinik did not get all that he wanted from the state so he is intent on getting more - BILLIONS more - from Hillsborough County taxpayers of whom over 2/3 of them live in unincorporated Hillsborough County.

Most people in Hillsborough County know nothing about this petition effort because there is no broad base of support for a massive $15-18 BILLION transit sales tax hike.

Tax hikes do not belong in County Charters. The Hillsborough County Charter is a governance document. This effort is changing the County Charter to add the massive tax hike and its 5 pages of gobbledygook burdensome regulations to the County Charter for 30 years. Ludicrous!

Like the crony Go Hillsborough, there is no broad base of support in Hillsborough County for this transit tax hike.

The base of support for this petition effort is Jeff Vinik, his cronies and their fawning local media - literally bought by, paid for and bailed out by Jeff Vinik. It's public face is fronted by pro rail Tampa urbanists. (Who's using who??)

There is much more going on with this petition effort than just the astroturf funding it - a post for another day.

The failure to even consider any alternative transportation funding plan is bad public policy and shameful.

But ignoring the consent of the governed can be perilous!

Friday, July 13, 2018

It's a Package Deal! The Billion Dollar Stadium Needs Billions for Trains

Tuesday the Rays unveiled their Billion dollar stadium plans. It was all happy face rah rah to those who attended the announcement event at the Italian Club in Ybor.
Billion dollar Rays stadium in Ybor City
While "they" estimated the cost at $892 million for what will be the smallest baseball stadium in major league baseball, cost overruns will push the costs to a billion dollars or even more.

While the Rays are on record saying they would pitch in $150 million, the elephant in the room Tuesday was not mentioned at their stadium unveiling. Apparently not one word was mentioned how the billion dollar stadium will be paid for and who will get stuck with the tab to build it and pay for it's ongoing maintenance costs.

That is what most people want to know so Wednesday, the day after the stadium unveiling, the Times reports:
"I absolutely know it will grow from there, but I also know it’s not going to be multiples" of $150 million, Sternberg told the Tampa Bay Times’ editorial board.
"A baby step," the mayor [Buckhorn] added. "I think the reality is that unless the Rays are able to get to close to half, this will be a very difficult transaction to complete."
The Eye has speculated the latest massive transit tax hike effort is tied to the billion dollar stadium because there's no parking for the stadium. And it is.

One of the most pressing issues is logistically getting fans to the stadium.

Taking them out to the ballpark, the team acknowledges, will require an expanded Ybor streetcar, beefed up water taxis, a longer Riverwalk, a rail line from the east, and drop-off places for Uber and Lyft.

"The days of a ballpark where everybody drives their car to the ballpark, that's kind of five years ago," one team official noted.
Who is going to tell the Bucs they no longer need their big parking lot where lots of tail gates are held? Who is going to tell the Bucs their parking lot is passe and will now be "developed" over because the days of driving to a sports venue is passe.

The District Rays Candidate Hagan has been talking to Jeff Vinik and others for years about putting a stadium in or near downtown Tampa. And a massive transit tax hike has always been part of the package deal.

We reported in 2016 the crony Go Hillsborough Sales Tax Hike Is For A New Baseball Stadium. Hagan voted for the proposed tax hike at both county commission public hearings in 2016.

Hagan has been orchestrating the baseball stadium/transit tax hike package deal for a decade. Hagan knows he needs a new revenue source to be able to fund building a Billion dollar stadium and then maintain and operate it forever.

Hagan never updated his commissioner colleagues as he promised in 2014 when he lined up his secret baseball committee, expensive NY baseball law firm and underwriters to finance a stadium. Selection of the Ybor site and all the wheeling and dealing was done without ANY public discussion or even a nod of approval by county commissioners. Now the Rays/Hagan team want the county commissioners to ante up public funds for a stadium they had no say in?

According to this Times article last October Darryl Shaw, a big donor to Hagan, bought up Ybor property and then entered into an option agreement with the nonprofit SC Hillsborough setup last August. The Directors of the nonprofit are Chuck Sykes and Ron Christaldi. Both were supporters of the 2010 rail tax but Sykes led and was a huge financial supporter of the pro rail tax PAC Moving Hillsborough Forward.

It's all the same circle of Tampa power brokers with a few name changes.

With the Rays announcement looming for a new stadium without parking, suddenly the hastily pursued 6 week petition effort to put another massive 30 year 14% transit sales tax hike on the November ballot began June 15th. The AFT PAC, funded by deep pocketed downtown special interests, has until July 27 at 5pm to gather 49K valid petitions.

A massive 30 year regressive tax hike, that hurts low income and fixed income the most is unnecessary because Hillsborough County can fund its transportation NEEDS without a tax hike.

A massive transit tax hike provides Hagan the new pot of revenue he has continuously sought.  This massive 14% tax hike enables other revenues from the county's ballooning budget to be leveraged, borrowed against and spent on a billion dollar baseball stadium that enriches special interests and subsidizes another wealthy sports team owner.

It's a double whammy to taxpayers and the public should know it's all a package deal.

The Billion dollar stadium needs Billions for costly trains/transit to a stadium with no parking.

Ybor City is "one of only three National Historic Landmark Districts located in the State of Florida. Cobblestone streets and huge old cigar factory buildings make up this historic and legendary town."
Italian Club in Ybor   City

Historic Ybor City
A few red bricks were added to the stadium but this spaceship to Mars looks very out of place in the historic Ybor city.

Skyline of historic Ybor City with new stadium
Where are the historic and neighborhood preservation activists? They were out in force opposing TBX, opposing expanding and improving I-275 and fixing malfunction junction.

With the Billion dollar stadium and the Billions for transit a package deal…

Who is using who?

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Astroturfing For A Massive Transit Tax Hike

We posted here about the oddity of the transit tax hike petition PAC All for Transportation (AFT) to hand the SOE thousands of petitions to validate but not provide payment to the SOE to start the petition validation process.

Apparently AFT finally paid the SOE yesterday to begin validating the petitions they handed in on June 29th. Why did it take AFT 10 days to pay and how did the SOE account for what was handed them on June 29th? The public must be assured that the SOE process has no gaps and everything is properly accounted for from the minute any petitions are delivered to the SOE counter.

As the validation process proceeds, the SOE petition tracking list will provide the validation rate reflecting fallout. AFT intends to gather 70-80K petitions as a buffer to cover fall out by July 27th at 5pm. That is 17 days away with tens of thousands of petitions to go.
SOE petition tracking list updated for
transit tax hike petition
As Tampa Bay Guardian recently posted, there are numerous valid concerns with this hastily pursued 6 week petition effort trying to put a massive 30 year 14% transit sales tax hike on the November ballot.

We know deep pocketed downtown special interests Jeff Vinik and Frank Morsani are funding the transit tax hike AFT but who else is behind this petition effort?

The document filed with the SOE to create All for Transportation reflects there is a nonprofit "connected" to the AFT called Keep Hillsborough Moving. That is similar to 2010 when the Tampa Bay Partnership was connected to the rail tax PAC Moving Hillsborough Forward.

Additional documents filed with SOE reflect the PAC appointment of Nancy Watkins as Treasurer and her husband Robert Watkins as Deputy Treasurer.

When the initial Articles of Incorporation for the nonprofit Keep Hillsborough Moving was filed June 8, 2018 no Directors were named. An Amended Articles of Incorporation was filed on June 26th that does name the nonprofit's Directors - Tyler Hudson, Robert Watkins and Janet Scherberger.
Directors named for the Keep Hillsborough Moving nonprofit
that is connected to the transit tax hike PAC All for Transportation
Who are these people?
Tyler Hudson
Tyler Hudson is also Chair of the AFT PAC. According to Hudson's LinkedIn Profile, he is an attorney with a BA in Philosophy. Hudson recently joined the law firm Gardner Brewer Martinez-Monfort PA and focuses on commercial real estate. He just left the huge global law firm Holland and Knight in May.

Holland and Knight were big financial backers of the 2010 rail tax PAC Moving Hillsborough Forward. (or go to  SOE website and clicking on the 2010 Election cycle group). They donated $30K to the PAC but then provided consulting and campaign services to the PAC and got their donation back and thousands more.

Hudson's LinkedIn also provides his "volunteer" experience that includes he is currently on the Board of Directors of the Downtown Partnership and the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, both big supporters of the 2010 rail tax and the proposed tax hike from the Go Hillsborough debacle. They are not grassroots organizations.
Hudson's Volunteer Experience 
Hudson is on the Board of Directors of the Tampa Heights Civic Association who helped lead a fight against FDOT's TBX interstate project that has since morphed into TampaBayNext. According to this Times article this Association supports tearing down 10 miles of I-275, that is a major evacuation route in Tampa Bay and hundreds of thousands of vehicles use everyday, from downtown to Bearss Avenue. And replace the interstate with a boulevard with a train.

Coincidentally (or not), Hudson was recently appointed to the Citizens Advisory Committee of TBARTA in April as a City of Tampa appointee. He was appointed by rail advocate Mayor Buckhorn who continues insisting county taxpayers pay for costly trains in Tampa.

Who is Robert Watkins?
Robert Watkins
Robert and his wife Nancy Watkins own an accounting firm Robert Watkins and Company in south Tampa where they also reside. Nancy, who specializes in the complexities of campaign finance accounting, provides campaign finance accounting services and is the treasurer for too numerous to name candidates, PAC's and 527's.

Robert Watkins is Chair of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority Board. He was first appointed to the Aviation Authority Board by Governor Scott in 2011 and reappointed by the Governor in 2015.

Nancy Watkins is the Treasurer and Robert Watkins is the Deputy Treasurer of the PAC All for Transportation.

Who is Janet Scherberger?
Janet Scherbergr
Before she married she was known as Janet Zink who was a reporter with the Tampa Bay Times. Her LinkedIn profile reflects she left the Times in September 2011 to become Director of Communications at Tampa International Airport (TIA). According to this Tribune article Zink/Scherberger took her new position at a then salary of $110,000.

Since 2013 she has been in her current position as Assistant VP of Media and Government Relations. Scherberger often represents Tampa airport at Hillsborough MPO meetings and TMA meetings the Eye has attended and is a transit supporter.

According to the Airport Administration information found on Tampa International Airport's (TIA) website:
The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority is an independent special district of the State of Florida, established by the 1945 Florida Legislature with exclusive jurisdiction, control, supervision and management over all publicly owned airports in Hillsborough County. 
The Authority is a self-supporting organization and generates revenues from airport users to fund operating expenses and debt service requirements. Capital projects are funded through bonds, short-term financing, passenger facility charges, federal and state grants, and internally generated funds. Although empowered to levy ad valorem property taxes, the Authority has not collected any tax funds since 1973.
While TIA does not levy an ad valorem property tax to operate like HART does, the airport receives state and federal grant monies. In 2014 (another election year) Governor Scott handed TIA $194 million toward the recently completed BILLION dollar Phase 1 of their master plan improvements.

Phase 1 included moving and expanding the rental car center to the economy parking lot and expanding the elevated People Mover 1.3 miles to the economy parking lot at a cost of almost a half BILLION dollars. Phase 2 and 3 of the Master Plan, estimated to cost about $1.6 BILLION, are included in this presentation from a Master Plan workshop held April 2017.

Now there are two of the three Directors of a politicized nonprofit, connected to a PAC trying to put a massive 30 year 14% transit sales tax hike on the November ballot, that are associated with the Tampa airport. One chairs the governing authority of the airport, the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, and one is an executive employee of the airport - that receives taxpayer money.

Legal? Ethical? Conflicts of interests with any of this? We do not know but these Directors are well connected not grassroots.

Why is the airport pushing the sales tax hike boondoggle?

To expand the elevated People Mover to the proposed Westshore Multi-Modal Center?

In 2014, FDOT and TIA did a feasibility study for a TIA/Westshore MultiModal Center and according to this Tribune report in 2016 (emphasis mine):
The Florida Department of Transportation has closed on a Westshore Business District site that could become a regional transportation hub linking buses, an airport people-mover and potential commuter rail. 
FDOT’s $45 million bid submitted in November was accepted by the Blackstone Group, a New York-based investment and advisory firm that held the property now housing a DoubleTree by Hilton hotel and Charley’s Steakhouse. The site is bordered by West Cypress Street, Interstate 275, Trask Street and Manhattan Avenue.
The Times also reported about the purchase in 2016:
The center, once constructed, will be used as a hub for transit to Tampa International Airport, as a depot for Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority buses and as a station if a light rail or bus rapid transit system were to connect Pinellas and Hillsborough counties in the future. 
Airport CEO Joe Lopano called the move "a giant step in the right direction." 
"A multimodal center near the airport that connects us to the region … has always been a key part of our vision for the future of Tampa International," Lopano said. "Many more pieces still need to fall into place to make that vision a reality, but this is a critical component." 
That two-year period is tied to a prediction of how long it will take the FDOT to complete a study with Hillsborough's transit authority evaluating different options, including light rail and converting existing CSX freight tracks to commuter rail.
We must assume Lopano supports this proposed massive transit tax hike.

We reported last year about TIA airport fees that now includes fees to use ride-share services like Uber and Lyft:
We are at the limit for what we are taxed for already, still waiting for roads, storm drainage and sewer fixes, while the elites are strategizing to tax us for their benefits. 
The one thing we do know -- they will not give up trying to get them to pay for their profit. 
But to the elites, "them" is you.
This petition effort for a massive transit sales tax hike is not grassroots.

It is a power grab.

This is an astroturf effort by city of Tampa elites and the well connected to do an end round around duly elected Hillsborough County commissioners.

This is an astroturf effort paid for by wealthy special interests and orchestrated by well connected power brokers to further their interests by using a front group of Tampa urbanists and political hired guns.

This is an astroturf effort by downtown Tampa interests for another 30 year bad plan that constrains roads and forces taxpayers in unincorporated Hillsborough to pay for outdated and costly transit/rail in the city of Tampa.

As we previously posted here, Hillsborough County can pay for its transportation NEEDS without any massive sales tax hike.

Instead we get another astroturf effort by wealthy special interests, well connected power brokers, their fawning media accomplices, and their political operatives, for a huge14% sales tax hike, that hurts low and fixed income the most, because the elites refuse to even consider anything else.

But a multi-million dollar transit tax hike advocacy campaign funded by deep pocketed special interests would fill the coffers of some local PR firms.

Follow the money!

Friday, July 6, 2018

Transit Tax Hike Petitions Turned In Without Payment to SOE To Start Validating Them

Is there something  odd with the transit sales tax hike petition effort in Hillsborough County?

A citizen (not grassroots) petition effort funded by deep pocketed downtown special interests, including Jeff Vinik and Frank Morsani who also own part of the Tampa Bay Times, is underway. This is another effort to put a massive unnecessary 30 year 14+% transit sales tax hike referendum on the November ballot. The special interests funded PAC orchestrating the effort is All For Transportation.

The effective start date of this tax hike petition effort from the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections was 6/15/2018 and the last day to turn in petitions is just 3 weeks away on 7/27/2018. The PAC plans to gather and tun in about 70K signed petitions by 5pm on July 27th to try to get the required 48,745 valid petitions to put the massive transit tax hike on the November ballot.

The SOE then has until August 27th to complete all the petition validations and certify whether the required number of petitions was reached to get on the November ballot. Petitions must be collected proportionally in at least 2 of the 4 county commission single districts.

It was reported by local media that the special interests funded PAC had already turned in about 5K petitions last week. The Eye went to the SOE office yesterday to inquire about their process for validating the petitions and wanted to know the current status of those 5K petitions. We were told each petition must be validated - the cost is 10 cents per petition. However, the SOE must first be paid upfront to start the validation process. That makes sense.

But surprisingly the validation process had not even begun for the 5K petitions handed in because the PAC has not provided a $500 check to the SOE to start the process. Until a check is received, the SOE does not consider the petitions "received". Therefore, the petitions must be sitting in boxes somewhere in the SOE's office. How comforting is that?

The SOE had not updated their list of active petition initiatives since January even though this latest petition effort was given a start date by the SOE of June 15th. This is the list where the number of petitions received and validated are transparently tracked by the SOE.

We were able to get the SOE to update their active petition list to include this latest petition effort even if the number of petitions received is "zero" (because no payment has been received).
SOE Active Petition List tracking
(Click to enlarge)
We were told by the SOE that no observers like poll watchers are allowed to observe the validation process. How comforting is that?

A public records request can be made to get access to the petitions.

While at the SOE, the Eye witnessed a stack of petitions being brought in for the Marijuana petition effort number 16-02. They provided a check to get them validated because the SOE's active petition list was updated to reflect that 650 had been received and are in the process to be validated. But the petition effort for the massive 14% transit sales tax hike misnamed "Funding for Countywide Transportation and Road Improvements" (post for another day) still currently shows ZERO received.

It is very odd that the PAC, which has raised over $300K, cannot (or intentionally did not) write a $500 check to cover the cost of validating the petitions they have turned in. We asked the SOE if the PAC could just keep dropping off thousands of petitions with no check and then wait until the last day on July 27th to provide a check to start the validation process for all of them. We were told they could though the SOE preferred that did not happen. Could the SOE even validate 50-70K petitions within the required 30 days?

The normal timeframe provided by the SOE for a citizen petition is 6 months but this effort is trying to cram their effort into 6 weeks. This petition effort could have been started last year or at the first of this year for November. Hmmm…

Did an alternative transportation funding proposal that requires no massive sales tax hike that was presented to the county commissioners in April cause panic with the transit tax hike crowd? The county commissioners voted unanimously (except for Hagan who walked out and refused to vote) on June 6th to ask the Citizens Advisory Committee to look at the proposal and provide an advisement.

While the local media fawns over another attempt at a massive Tampa centric transit tax hike for costly trains, they refuse to report about any other funding plans - even a proposal the commissioners took action on.

We're left wondering what kind of games may be being played by those orchestrating this effort.

The PAC hired Revolution Field Strategies to help direct and manage the petition effort. The PAC was expecting to hire 100 petition gatherers to hit the streets but no one has seen them anywhere with only 3 weeks left to gather and turn in petitions.

Note that petitions gathered by paid petition gatherers must be reported accordingly on the petition form itself after the signature at the end of the form.
All petitions gathered by paid petitioners must
complete this section at end of petition form
From comments we found online from those supporting this petition effort, they are extremely optimistic that they will get the required 49K valid signatures to put this massive tax hike on the November ballot.

If the PAC and their supporters are so confident, why aren't they paying the SOE to start the validation process? With deep pocketed special interests funders, the PAC can certainly afford to pay the $500 to start the validation process.

Does something not smell right? Why hasn't the local media picked up on this part of the story?

Potential for issues with this petition process?

We'll be watching closely over the next few weeks.

Who Harassed Attorney General Pam Bondi

Local Progressive activist and transit advocate Tim Heberlein was part of the group who accosted and harassed Attorney General Pam Bondi recently at a movie theater in Tampa. As reported by this  Politico article
According to Bondi, she and a friend were confronted at least four times — while buying tickets, entering the theater, standing in line at the concession stand and then on their way out — and that activists were aggressive in each instance, with one yelling so loudly at her that he spit in her hair, either unintentionally or because he meant to expectorate on her. She said they also taunted her friend as “blue eyes” and asked him in a threatening manner if he was going to protect her, as though they wanted to fight. 
“Pam Bondi’s version of events is inaccurate and don’t reflect what happened,” said Tim Heberlein, Tampa Bay regional director for the progressive group Organize Florida. 
In talking to POLITICO, Heberlein said he needed to be cautious about his remarks because Bondi is the “top law enforcement officer” in the state and she had called the actions of his group an assault. Earlier, to The Tampa Bay Times, he had more swagger: “If you refuse to meet with us, we're coming to where you're at. We're coming to where you're watching a movie or eating dinner.” 
The Tampa Bay Times article about the incident, link also embedded in Politico article above has Heberlein's complete quote (emphasis mine):
Heberlein, who accused Bondi of refusing to start a dialogue with groups that work with at-risk communities like his, said he has no regrets about how the protesters acted. 
"If you refuse to meet with us, we're coming to where you're at. We're coming to where you're watching a movie or eating dinner," he said. "Sorry, not sorry."
Tim Heberten, Regional Director of
Progressive Organize Florida 
 Ironically, Heberlein had previously been lauded with this Meet Tim Heberlein — one of the “30 under 30″ rising stars in Florida politics
He has worked on legislative campaigns on the protection of Social Security and Medicaid, Senate Rules reform, Medicaid Expansion, and budget cuts; and now focuses his efforts on the Bay Area through amendment campaigns and local races. He organized the Awake Tampa progressive table, including an Awake the State rally in Tampa which was the largest of such in the state 3 years running.
I’ve [Heberlein] already worked on legislative campaigns ranging from the protection of Social Security and Medicaid, Senate Rules reform, Medicaid Expansion, the fight against state budget cuts and I am now focused on transit improvements in the Bay area.
Heberlein was previously associated with the Progressive Florida Consumer Action Group and was an ally and an activist member of the now defunct local transit lobbyist organization Connect Tampa Bay. They were advocating for another sales tax hike in 2013 and supposedly credited with the county commission creating the 2013 transportation initiative.

We all know how that transportation initiative started and ended. It started by inviting all the 2010 rail cartel cronies to their very first meeting and ended with the corrupt crony Go Hillsborough debacle under a law enforcement investigation. Unfortunately, while the sheriff's investigation admitted they were unable to get all the evidence they asked for, they refused to do a forensic investigation that would have led to capturing much more of the communication trail and the money trail associated with the crony effort.

Heberlein was also featured in the Progressive New Leaders Council (NLC) 2014 list of NLC Fellows (emphasis mine)
Tim Heberlein is the Political Director for the Florida Consumer Action Network, and organizes his community to advocate for economic and social justice. His activism has focused on grassroots organizing and field campaigning for progressive issues and candidates. 
He will also be a speaker for a national webinar in January focusing on assisting advocacy organizations in preparing for transit referendums.
Heberlein, representing the Young Democrats gave public comment at the public hearing the county commissioners held on May 13, 2010 regarding putting the 2010 rail tax on the ballot in support of the rail tax. He stated (emphasis mine):
The choice of the voters on a 14% sales tax hike for outdated costly rail boondoggles in 2010 was overwhelming defeat 58-42%.

Heberlein is also the regional director for Organize Florida Education Fund, both Organize Florida entities are partners of the Progressive Center for Popular Democracy (CPD). Organize Florida is also known as Organize Now. According to
CPD’s largest donor is activist billionaire George Soros. Its network also includes former chapters of the controversial and now-defunct Association of Community Organizations and Reform Now (ACORN).
As the Time article above reports, Tim Heberlein and his band of screaming ranters were having a public temper tantrum yelling at Bondi "You're a horrible person" at a movie theater because they disagree with her politics.

Threatening to go after people in public places to engage them in abusive temper tantrums is unacceptable. Most people consider that kind of behavior to be "horrible".

Progressive activist and transit advocate Tim Heberlein is simply a bully not a "rising star".

And no such bullies should be dictating transportation policy in Tampa Bay.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Rebutting Rhetoric to Reign in Recklessness

The transportation issue in Tampa Bay today consists of lots of kabuki dancing, lots of posturing, some street theater, some insider ball game scheming and even an attempted power grab. As taxpayers keep enriching the same consultants over and over for transit study after transit study, the rhetoric soars with dishonesty, deception and misleading information.

And all of this is done at what cost and at what success?

The attempt to extract millions and billions more from taxpayers for transit services that costs too much, does too little and benefits too few continues. Insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome - especially as transportation and traditional transit are being disrupted by innovation and new technology.

Reading local media or attending the too numerous transportation meetings in Tampa Bay, one would think transit is the biggest transportation issue in Tampa Bay. These transportation meetings are mostly attended by special interests and have become an echo chamber of group think. The group think mentality forces their focus to be on costly transit and empowers tone deafness to the reality that the vast majority in Tampa Bay want their roads, highways and interstates fixed and improved.

As a side note, the Orlando area is vastly improving and expanding their roads and interstates all over Central Florida while Tampa Bay has dithered with malfunction junction for decades and a Howard Frankland bridge northbound bottleneck that we bet has caused numerous folks to miss or almost miss their flights.

Just 10 short years ago, the now defunct Tribune published 'Malfunction' Moniker From Past Still Describes Revamped Junction (emphasis mine)
A state priority should be to move traffic faster through the intersection as welcomed improvements to I-275 and I-4 funnel more cars and trucks into the mix. 
Surely if the state can spare hundreds of millions of dollars to help private, profitable railroads improve their freight tracks through the boondocks, it can find enough money to add a few lanes to an urban junction used by tens of millions of cars and trucks a year. 
The constant shortfall of construction money suggests the local legislative delegation needs to do a better job advocating for local transportation improvements. And it suggests that Florida's congressional delegation needs to make more noise about the unfair return on federal gas taxes collected in Florida. For decades Florida drivers have helped pay for highway earmarks in states with much less traffic and growth. But most important, every political and civic leader in Tampa should agree that packing four lanes of high-speed traffic into three lanes is an intolerable way to treat ourselves and to welcome our guests. If, instead of playing petty political games, our state and local leaders would agree on top priorities such as fixing the junction, it wouldn't now face another decade of malfunction.
What happened since 2008? Tampa Bay keeps growing and even more cars and vehicles are using I-275 and I-4.

But then the media, special interests (especially those who would benefit) and some electeds figured out that if local taxes can be raised and a new long term pot of local money provided, they can gain access to another trough of federal dollars - federal transit grant monies. Those federal dollars come from the general fund aka debt. And that's how the tax hikes for rail boondoggles began.

While Hillsborough County overwhelmingly defeated the rail tax in 2010 58-42% and Pinellas County defeated Greenlight Pinellas rail tax by an even greater margin 62-38% in 2014, the media, the same power brokers and some electeds prefer to ignore the consent of the governed. And as we posted here, Hillsborough County's MPO has totally gone over the cliff of reality as they consider tearing down 10 miles of I-275 from downtown to Bearss, they try to use unsubstantiated data to create false narratives and ignore their own data.

As we reported here, the taxpayer funded TMA (which is the MPO's of Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco) invited a transit lobbyist to speak on how to pursue a transit referendum, how to deceive by whitewashing use of the word "rail" and how to confront critics. This nonsense alone should have shut the TMA down two years ago.

Remember what Commissioner Hagan said about the tax hike proposed by the Go Hillsborough debacle in 2016 that he supported? 
Hagan said that by design, the ballot question does not mention light rail — a mode of transportation that opponents focused on and that was highly unpopular among suburban voters.
Of course, the fine print of the actual Go Hillsborough plan/projects for what the massive tax hike was going to fund included rail projects. Hmmm…Sound familiar? Being deceptive is consistently used by those who keep pursuing these massive long term transit tax hikes. But soaring rhetoric is easily debunked.  

Here is the reality of transit in Tampa Bay.  

AllTransit was implemented in 2016. It provides the percentage of commuters who use transit and a performance score provided. It also provides # of jobs within 1/2 mile (10-20 minute walk) of transit and # of workers within 1/2 mile of transit

According to the AllTransit website:

Tampa, FL - 2.68% of commuters use transit, 90.3 % of jobs w/in 1/2 mile of transit, 84.6% of workers live within 1/2 mile of transit

St. Petersburg, FL - 2.51% of commuters use transit, 93.6% jobs w/in 1/2 mile of transit, 89.2% of workers live within 1/2 mile of transit

Clearwater, FL - 2.78% of commuters use transit, 96.2% of jobs w/in 1/2 mile of transit, 88.1% of workers live within 1/2 mile of transit

Hillsborough County, FL (which is 1100 square miles, still has rural areas, lots of suburban) - 1.5% of commuters use transit, 75.8% of jobs w/in 1/2 mile of transit , 54.2% of workers live within 1/2 mile of transit

Pinellas County, FL (dense, built out) - 1.76% of commuters use transit, 92.6% of jobs within 1/2 mile of transit, 83.7% of of workers live within 1/2 mile of transit

Pasco County, FL (no large densities or CBD, lots of rural, suburban) - .45% (less than 1/2 percent) of commuters use transit, 47% of jobs w/in 1/2 mile of transit, 34.3% of workers live w/in 1/2 mile of transit

Tampa-St. Pete-Clearwater Metro Area - 1.38% of commuters use transit, 78.2% of jobs w/in 1/2 mile of transit, 60.4% of workers live within 1/2 mile of transit

We are told by special interests, some electeds and others that the Tampa Bay region is one big happy family that needs to speak with a single voice. Therefore, looking at the total population: Today’s population in Tampa Bay is about 3 million and we are expecting a million or more to move to Tampa Bay (Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco) by 2045 which could grow the population to over 4 million by then. 

For ease of use, let’s round and say 2% use transit today in Tampa Bay. If transit ridership quadrupled to 8% by 2045 (which has never happened), there will be 92% or 3.68 million of the 4 million using our roads while 320K of the 4 million use transit.

Looking at the largest county in Tampa Bay, Hillsborough County has a current population of about 1.4 million but only 1.5% (about 21K) use transit today and ridership has continued to decline. Hillsborough is expected to grow 600K by 2040 and may increase 800K over the next 30 years. The population by 2050 may be approaching 2.2 million. If transit ridership somehow quintupled from 1.5% today to 7.5% (which is totally unheard of), 165K would be using transit while over 2 million will be using roads.

Tampa Bay is growing and has a basic math problem. How we decide today to deal with the transportation issues of a growing region will determine whether we become gridlocked, get more congested or get any congestion relief.

Unfortunately once again deep pocketed special interests, with their media allies in tow, are pursuing another unnecessary massive 30 year sales tax hike to take $15 BILLION out of taxpayers wallets and force $7 BILLION be spent on costly transit projects. The special interests are funding a citizen petition effort to get the 14% sales tax hike on the November ballot that would fund a plan worse than the 2010 rail tax (post for another day).

Asking taxpayers to unnecessarily raise their sales tax to 8%, the highest in the state, and get stuck paying billions and billions for costly transit, rail and streetcars that does nothing for congestion relief and benefits so few is fiscal recklessness.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Debt-Ridden Tampa Bay Times Duping Employees, Subscribers , Advertisers, Suppliers

Cross Post from Jim Bleyer, Tampa Bay Beat blog

With approximately $100 million in debt and operating nowhere near profitablity, the Tampa Bay Times is in its death throes as a viable, traditional newspaper entity, Tampa Bay Beat has learned.

The pension plan is in jeopardy. Assets have been mortgaged. Filing bankruptcy could very well be on the horizon.

Some creditors know this. So-called “local investors” must be aware of it. But worst of all, Publisher Paul Tash, who also serves as board chairman of the Poynter Foundation, has been cognizant of the deteriorating financial situation for several years.

The Poynter Institute is the parent company of the Times.

Tash, the $550,000-a-year chief executive, using a three-card-Monte ploy to stave off bankruptcy, seizure of assets, and an ignominious finality to a longstanding media entity, has known for some time the company’s pension plan is at extreme risk. Times employees have a regular payroll deduction for pension benefits but it could very well be funneled into financing current operations instead of its intended purpose.

Any employee, sufficiently deranged to want to continue employment at the Times, should require an examination of its books. Hell—subscribers, advertisers, suppliers and any entity that has advanced money to the Times should demand to see the results of a forensic audit as well.

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, a federal agency, has placed liens totaling $70 million against The Times Publishing Company. The Times’ total indebtedness is believed to be in excess of $100 million.

The PBGC obtains revenue from four sources:
Insurance premiums paid by sponsors of defined benefit pension plans;
Assets held by the pension plans it takes over;
Recoveries of unfunded pension liabilities from plan sponsors’ bankruptcy estates; and
Investment income.

PBGC liens against the Times (only opens in Google Chrome):

—Oct. 15, 2015 totaling $7,610,616.

—Jan. 15, 2016 totaling $2,888,797.

—Oct. 15, 2016 totaling $10,904,192.

—Jan. 15, 2017 totaling $3,496,356.

—Apr. 15, 2017 totaling $30,476,992.

—Oct. 15, 2017 totaling $15,369,170.

On June 28, 2017, Crystal Financial signed a Satisfaction of Mortgage, releasing Poynter Institute from a 2013 loan totaling $28 million. The mortgage security released was the Poynter Institute property and the parcels of land comprising the Times printing plant.

On the same day, Encina Business Credit LLC signed a lien subordination agreement with PBGC on Encina’s $20 million loan. The agreement identifies that as of January 15, 2017, the Times has an outstanding lien from PBGC for $59,615,990.

The subordination agreement was written so as to basically replace the same subordinated lien that Crystal had with the Times. Encina is a lender of last resort, one step above Tony Soprano’s loan sharking operation.

The subterfuge, paper shuffling, and co-mingling of funds are mind boggling.

In a “distress termination,” where the plan does not have sufficient money to pay all benefits, the employer must prove severe financial distress, e.g., the likelihood that continuing the plan would force the company to shut down. PBGC would pay guaranteed benefits, usually covering a large part of total earned benefits, and make strong efforts to recover funds from the employer.

Greasing the skids for the Times was its purchase of the Tampa Tribune from Revolution Capital Group for a reported $22 million, about $22 million too much. With property, buildings, and a printing plant divested, the Times basically purchased a name, some temporarily inherited advertisers, a subscription list, and a shabby web presence.

The machinations of the Times and Tash are eerily reminiscent of events leading up to the 2009 bankruptcy filing of the Journal Register Company. It operated the flagship New Haven Register in Connecticut as well as smaller papers in four other states.

A top executive declared the company would “emerge stronger and more viable” from the bankruptcy but three years later the papers folded.

A 2012 New York Times article recounts the duplicity of John Paton, chief executive of the management company Digital First Media Group, parent of the Journal Register group. The syndicate was run into the ground and it was perceived Paton filed bankruptcy to shift the pension burden to PBGC.

Paton was quoted as saying pension benefits should be covered by the federal agency. He said he was “embarrassed” as if that mitigated him taking a bloated salary, lying to his employees and suppliers, and putting pensioners in limbo.

Sound familiar? Tash has been insisting publicly that the Times is profitable. He said this after accepting close to $15 million from influential local businessmen who, since the stopgap bailout, have been elevated to godlike status in the paper’s so-called “news” pages and columns.

One investor, Kiran Patel, was the Times “Floridian of the Year” in 2017. Out of 17 million residents, Patel, was deemed to be the shining star. But in May of last year, two of his businesses paid more than $30 millionin a settlement with the federal government after accusations of artificially inflating costs for health care. No admission of wrongdoing was part of the settlement.

Another investor, Jeff Vinik, has really gotten his money’s worth. In past trouble with the Securities and Exchange Commission on both ethical and legal grounds, Vinik tried to bleed taxpayers on a shady Museum of Science and Industry relocation.

His ineptly named downtown project, “Water Street Tampa,” is in serious trouble. Insiders say it will be ten years before it reaches fruition, if at all. But as far as the Times is concerned, the $200 million and counting in taxpayer funding to support Vinik’s “vision” is money well spent.

Steve Yzerman, general managet of Vinik’s NHL Tampa Bay Lightning never makes a wrong move, according to the Times. But he has been GM for eight seasons without a Stanley Cup. Former GM Jay Feaster, who served under a previous owner, was GM for 2 1/2 years when the Lightning won the championship.

There’s more Vinik cbicanery but adverse news regarding him in the Times is verboten.

Tampa Bay residents, who are savvy enough to glean information from alternative news sources, know better. Meanwhile, the Times continues to be nothing more than a mouthpiece for its investors and vested Poynter Foundation board members. Even the “Politifact” feature is slanted and inaccurate.

The recent plethora of Times/Poynter misadventures are codified here.

Former staff writers collecting a pension might start researching freelance opportunities. Although pensioners would stand at the head of the line, a bankruptcy would interrupt pension payments. It’s extremely questionable whether or not a sale of assets would make the retirees whole.

Current employees should have been bailing for at least a couple of years as the paper has been publicly stripped of any vestige of ethical standards. It also is difficult to fathom that anyone, paid to investigate and gather news, failed to sniff out this debacle occurring in their very own workplace.

Advertisers, subscribers, suppliers, and anyone else advancing cash or goods to the Times should be squirming. When the hammer falls, it will be 20 cents on the dollar in a rosy scenario and that group will comprise the caboose.

The Times two months ago announced it would slash printing of its totally superfluous *tbt tabloid from every weekday to once a week. Tash blamed the action on the institution of newsprint tariffs by President Trump. Ludicrous.

Meanwhile Tash has been living like a Russian oligarch. In recent years, Tash sold his posh $1.6 million, Snell Isle waterfront digs and acquired even more lavish quarters, a $1.8 million condo at Vinoy Place in downtown St. Petersburg. In late 2016, he reportedly sold that condo for $2.15 million, and is now renting a comparable crib on Beach Drive in St. Pete.

Records on file with the Pinellas County Tax Collector have been changed, no longer reflecting the name of Paul Tash when a search is conducted.

Tash continues his profiteering while drawing an immense salary and driving the company’s debt to the stratosphere through artiface and gross mismanagement.

(Tampa Bay Beat will have follow-up stories on the Poynter/Times slide into bankruptcy)