Monday, July 27, 2015

Who Are the Sales Tax Hike Cheerleaders?

Yesterdays Tribune had a front page article titled, "Hillsborough businesses ready to cheer sales tax hike".

What businesses?

The problem with that title is the article does not identify any Hillsborough businesses saying they are "ready to cheer sales tax hike".  The only person quoted representing the business community is Mickey Jacob, co-chair of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce transportation council. And quoting him, the Tribune refused to disclose that Jacob is also a member of the HART (our local transit agency) board. 
“I think we’re looking at how we build a coalition of organizations like ourselves to be out there and talking about this,” said Mickey Jacob, co-chairman of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce transportation council. “We want to be right in the middle of the debate and the discussion.”
The Tribune also quotes Rick Homans, CEO of our Economic Development Corporation that has been heavily taxpayer funded to the tune of hundreds of thousands of our county tax dollars. It was Rick Homans and County Administrator Mike Merrill who invited the rail cartel to the very first Policy Leadership Group meeting in July 2013 as we reported back then.
“From my perspective, the issue that keeps coming up over and over is transportation,” said Rick Homans, president and CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation. “And it’s critical we respond and be able to say, ‘Look: We’re doing something about it.’ ”
Is it good policy just throwing a huge 30 year sales tax hike out there and then saying "hey look we're doing something about transportation"? 

Is it good policy to propose a 30 year $3.5 Billion sales tax increase BEFORE identifying what it will pay for? 

Does Homans think that with a new huge 30 year sales tax hike, we can tax ourselves into prosperity?

Back to all those "business leaders ready to cheer for a huge 30 year tax hike. Where are they and who are they?

Only three other people from Hillsborough County are quoted in this entire article, a current county commissioner, a former county commissioner and our county administrator. County Commissioner Ken Hagan who has thrown his hat in to support the huge 30 year tax.
“I do not envision the county or HART being involved in any manner regarding the private-sector campaign; I think that’s dangerous ground,” Hagan said. “I think PSTA ended up making fatal flaw. We want to avoid the self-inflicted grenade even getting remotely close.”
Hagan said he expects a private-sector campaign committee will be formed after the first of the year to raise money and provide oversight. Merrill said the group will likely “organize themselves.”

Hagan said he wants to see a citizens advisory committee that includes some neighborhood leaders to advise the campaign’s executive committee.

“That’s how I envision we can dig down to the grass roots,” he said.
Did Hagan catch the quote from Jacob before his comments. Certainly he knows Jacob is a HART board member because he probably voted to put him on HART. 

Citizen oversight committees are not a simple answer to overseeing a huge long term $3.5 Billion tax. In 2002, Miami-Dade County, after a similar big public outreach campaign, voters passed a half-cent transportation sales tax called (literally) "The People's Plan" or TPT. A 15 member Citizens Independent Transportation Trust (CITT) committee was created as a mandate to provide oversight to the implementation of the TPT. Even with a citizen oversight committee, Miami-Dade transit misused funds and the FTA came in and suspended their federal funding. That will be a post for another day.

The other person from Hillsborough quoted is former County Commissioner Ed Turanchik, who drew similarities of this new 30 year sales tax to the Community Investment Tax.
Former Hillsborough Commissioner Ed Turanchik said a similar parallel can be drawn between the Go Hillsborough plan for specific projects and the Community Investment Tax passed by Hills­borough voters in 1996. The half-penny tax is best known for building Raymond James Stadium, helping keep the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in town.
We are not sure that comparing this new huge 30 year tax with the CIT tax is a complement. The CIT was blown out within 11 years when voters were promised the tax would be there for the life of the 30 year tax. However, a real good question is where was all that CIT tax money spent? Does anyone know?

The Tribune then felt compelled to jump over the bridge to Pinellas County with a quote from Joe Farrell, campaign manager for the pro Greenlight Pinellas PAC, Friends of Greenlight. 
“I think there were some people opposed to (rail) but they were opposed to it because they didn’t understand the value of it,” said Joe Farrell, campaign manager for Friends of Greenlight, a private-sector group that raised money for that campaign. Farrell said voters figured if the rail didn’t run near their job or home, it had no value to them.
The Tribune has Pinellas County Commissioner and PSTA board member Ken Welch weigh in who tries to compare the 10 year Penny for Pinellas with this new huge 30 year sales tax.

Why is the Tribune going to the head cheerleaders of the losing team in Pinellas?

Isn't it arrogant that the same people over and over keep telling us, the taxpayers/voters, that we just are not educated enough on the issue?  The problem with that argument is exactly the opposite. The public has gotten better educated and more skeptical of huge,  comprehensive, long term "something for everyone" tax hikes.

We are in a very different economic time than 1996 when the CIT barely passed 53-47. There is healthy skepticism and perhaps not a lot of desire for another 30 year sales tax hike.

The Tribune article continues with this vague description of supporters of the Go Hillsborough 30 year $3.5 Billion sales tax hike:
Despite the challenges in passing any new tax, Go Hillsborough proponents feel they will benefit from mistakes made by the failed referendums in Pinellas last year and in Hills­borough in 2010.
Here's more from the Tribune article
Another reason Go Hillsborough supporters think they can win is because of the county’s extensive public outreach campaign, something that many observers said was lacking in the 2010 referendum. The county held 36 public workshops during the spring and summer, as well as two telephone town halls. At least 56 more workshops, two at every county public library, will be held late this summer.
Why doesn't the Tribune tell us who these "Go Hillsborough proponents" and supporters are? 

Then our County Administrator Mike Merrill weighs in. 
“That’s the one thing that everyone has made a lot of is that we’re out there talking to the public and asking the public to get engaged,” Merrill said. “Just the fact that the people want me to come talk to them about it, it’s a good sign. They want to learn.”
Here's a clue. Merrill (in his newly empowered role as an unelected County Mayor) identified early on a list of stakeholders he planned to evangelize with on this issue. 
Key Stakeholder list, source Hillsborough County staff 
Tampa Bay Partnership, who led the 2010 pro rail PAC Moving Hillsborough Forward campaign and also contributed greatly to the Greenlight Pinellas campaign, is right at the top. SunTrust, who gave the very first donation of $50K to Moving Hillsborough Forward is on the list too. Do these look like grassroots?

Perhaps a better title for this Tribune article would have been "Commissioner Hagan ready to cheer sales tax hike".

Next time the Tribune makes vague statements about Hillsborough County businesses are ready to cheer a new huge 30 year, $3.5 Billion sales tax increase, we suggest they report who those business cheerleaders are.

Otherwise, are they just making this stuff up?


  1. Exactly Correct. You nailed it.

  2. Bravo! When will Tampa Tribune wise up and hire real reporters like those at EyeonTampaBay instead of the crop of crony stenographers they currently have on staff?