Thursday, November 8, 2018

30 Year Rail Tax Passes With Big Claims But Little Public Scrutiny

Good public policy requires healthy debate, plenty of scrutiny, input from diverse stakeholders, and almost always results in some compromise.

That is not how the $16 Billion rail tax hike charter amendment policy passed Tuesday was created.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Confirmed! $16 Billion Rail Tax Never Intended for New Road Capacity

Former County Commissioner Mark Sharpe is now a spokesperson for the $16 Billion rail tax sending text messages in support of the massive tax hike. He helped lead the 2010 rail tax boondoggle that was overwhelmingly defeated 58-42%.

Sharpe was challenged on Facebook recently about All For Transportation's (AFT) rail tax hike not including any dedicated funding for new road capacity. He tried dancing around but finally admits:

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Paid Political Facebook Ad Runs Without Proper Disclaimer

Is All for Transportation shoveling money wherever they can trying to stop the wreckage of such a bad week for their Rail tax?

Are they paying to have old articles run with outdated and misleading information run as paid ads?

Arrogance and Deception Wrecks Havoc With Rail Tax

With the election days away, the All for Transportation campaign funded by billionaires and fronted by millennials must be in panic mode.

All for Transportation spent multi-millions on a deceptive campaign trying to disguise their rail tax as fixing traffic congestion.

But they finally admitted what we have stated all along - their 30 year $16 Billion tax hike is a RAIL tax.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Hillsborough NAACP In Opposition to County Transportation Referendum

TAMPA, FLA (November 2, 2018)—The Hillsborough County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) officially announced its opposition to Hillsborough County Referendum Number 2, the All for Transportation backed plan.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Throwing Good Money After Bad

Randal O'Toole, Senior Fellow with the CATO Institute, submitted this Op-Ed weeks ago to the Tampa Bay Times who refused to print it. We are printing it with his permission.
Randal O'Toole
CATO Institute
Tampa Bay transit ridership has declined 9 percent in the last year and 20 percent in the last four years. This mirrors a nationwide transit decline that is taking place in almost every major urban area and calls into question the tens of billions of dollars in subsidies taxpayers spend on transit each year.

They Got Caught! It's a Rail Tax That Makes Traffic Congestion Worse

They have been caught.

The exaggerated claims in those glossy mailers hitting voters mailboxes daily from All for Transportation transit hike campaign have been officially debunked.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

School Needs and Transit Greed Push 21.4% Tax Hike


It is unfortunate but hardly unexpected. The school needs and the transit greed tax hike campaigns joined forces to push both tax hikes over the finish line on November 6th.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Media Flips and Flops All Over All For Transportation

Another day, and another round of commentary from our media elites flipping and flopping their rationale to support the disingenuous Hillsborough County transportation sales tax. We find it rather unusual the usually liberal media has flipped from their typical empathy and support of the down-trodden. They are now clearly advocating for a tax hike promoting the billionaires and business interests in Tampa at the expense of the most vulnerable in Hillsborough County.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Our Entitled Billionaires


The billionaires are entitled. They buy off the media. They bankroll a deceptive advertising campaign for a massive tax hike that never mentions the word "tax". They want to shut down any debate about their $16 Billion rail tax boondoggle.

Friday, October 19, 2018

What NoTaxForTracks Said, What They Wrote

The NoTaxForTracks.com PAC was filed with the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections on October 5, 2018. The PAC was established as formal opposition to the All for Transportation 14% sales tax hike that is on the ballot.

On October 17th the Times published an article about Mayor Buckhorn supporting the rail tax hike that included:
The only organized opposition to the tax is from Americans for Prosperity — an anti-tax, small government group founded by oil billionaires Charles G. and David H. Koch.
That was totally incorrect.

Fraudulent Transit Plan Skewered at Tampa NAACP Meeting: They Will Vote ‘No’


Reposted by permission from Jim Bleyer, Tampa Bay Beat


There is one group in Hillsborough County that Jeff Vinik can’t buy.

The Vinik-inspired sales tax referendum came under heavy fire Thursday night when Tampa’s African American community attacked it as vague, promoting unwanted gentrification, and a bailout for development interests at the expense of the working poor.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Commissioner White States His Frustration with Transportation Amendment

Hillsborough County Commissioner, District 4, Stacy White, held a press conference today, Thursday, October 18, becoming the first elected official to make the thoughtful, logical case against the All For Transportation tax hike. He expressed his frustration with the lack of transparency and impact to his constituents in the fast growing east and south part of the county, who, along with the rest of the suburban and rural county residents, will be expected to pay for nearly half of the transit costs for city of Tampa, while benefiting little in increased road capacity. EyeOnTampaBay.com was at the press conference. Please take a few minute to watch the press conference video, with questions and answers, in full below.

Fletcher Ave Complete Street Complete Fail

A stretch of Fletcher Avenue from Nebraska Avenue to Bruce B Downs Boulevard was redeveloped by Hillsborough County into  a "compete street" in early 2015 at a cost of $5 million. Unfortunately, it is a complete fail, yet many more complete streets are a substantial part of the Hillsborough transportation sales tax hike.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Future is Against All For Transportation

The Eye caught up with the All For Transportation proponents at Cafe Con Tampa on Friday, October 12. AFT made their pitch for their plan. Here are some selections on what they said, and what it means for the future of transportation in Hillsborough County. The future will not be kind to AFT's rigid plan, nor the citizens in Hillsborough.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Did Hillsborough MPO Director Cross An Ethical Line?



We posted here and here about the credibility of the Hillsborough MPO is on a downward spiral. The Hillsborough MPO has gone rogue but has the MPO Director now crossed an ethical line?

On August 27th we asked Hillsborough MPO Director Beth Alden if the massive 30 year 14% transit tax hike was funding the MPO's 2040 long range transportation plan (LRTP). That claim was reported numerous times by local media. Alden seemed flustered with the question and tried to respond that she had not taken much time looking at the transit tax hike petition.

However, after more questions were asked, Alden admitted she had spoken to two All for Transportation (AFT) PAC activists and spokespersons. Alden spoke to Kevin Thurman and Christina Barker when the petition drive began in mid June and they also met on July 2nd. Alden indicated she met with Thurman and Barker the same day she said Thurman and Barker were meeting with county commissioners. **

Tampa Bay Times All In for All For Transportation

The Tampa Bay Times had the printing presses running at warp speed on Friday October 12 to push support for All For Transportation. They released 4 different stories and editorials supporting AFT within hours of each story, and in each avoided any facts or criticism of the amendment.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Nelson Directs Users to Democrat Fundraising Site for Hurricane Relief

Clueless or intentional? Senator Bill Nelson, in a close campaign for re-election against Governor Rick Scott, sent a fundraising email for hurricane Michael relief that directed users to the ActBlue web site, a Democrat fundraising PAC, which could capture donor's email addresses.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

All For Transportation Will Be A Transit Failure

As we discussed here, the All For Transportation Hillsborough County Charter Amendment cloaks itself around transportation and safety improvements, while deceptively and intentionally constraining road capacity and thus increasing congestion. They are intentionally downplaying their true advocacy for transit, specifically fixed guideway or rail solutions. Yet those will be an even bigger failure than their so called transportation improvements.

Train wreck

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

All For Transportation Will Increase Congestion

Despite the $2 million and growing advertising campaign for All For Transportation and the 1 cent, 14% sales tax increase proposed as a county charter amendment in Hillsborough County, the plan will increase congestion and not relieve it. The evidence is hidden in plain sight in the details of the ballot amendment, which they conveniently avoid in their advocacy.

You will move at snails pace with the AFT plan

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Hillsborough MPO Gone Rogue, Part 2

The Hillsborough MPO is dysfunctional and in need of a big housecleaning. The MPO needs new leadership, a new Director and new staff.

We posted here that the Hillsborough MPO had already taken sides earlier this year as they began their 2045 long range transportation planning (LRTP).
What is the Hillsborough MPO up to now?

Monday, September 24, 2018

Anatomy of the rushed Hillsborough transit tax audit


Cross post with permission from Tom Rask, Tampa Bay Guardian

It was after 3 P.M. in County Center on a hot Friday in September. The previous evening at 6:15 P.M., Hillsborough County Chief Financial Administrator Bonnie Wise had requested that “errors” be corrected in the performance audit report delivered by the auditing firm McConnell & Jones (M&J).

The corrected report arrived at 2:33 P.M. In response, at 3:12 P.M. Wise wrote to M&J and the state agency responsible for the audit and said: “Our understanding is that we are to substitute this version for the version already posted on our website, is that correct? Would like this response in writing please.”

Wise received no response. Instead, Emily Leventhal at the state Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) wrote M&J without copying Wise and said “OPPAGA will close this loop by working directly with the County on these issues. Take no additional steps unless otherwise directed by me or Janet [Tashner].”

However, OPPAGA never closed that loop, as a public records request to OPPAGA shows. Leventhal is a chief legislative analyst at OPPAGA and was the point of contact for the audit. It is unclear why she didn’t “close the loop” as she said she would.

Thus the corrected and final version of the performance audit report was never uploaded to the county website. By state law, the report must be uploaded at least 60 days before the referendum, and that Friday September 7th was the deadline for the November 6, 2018 election.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Grossly Cynical, Hypocritical Campaign of Janet Cruz

Cross post with permission of Jim Bleyer, Tampa Bay Beat

When State Rep. Janet Cruz jumped into a Florida Senate race against incumbent Republican Dana Young, she told Tampa voters she was motivated to run because of the February school shootings in Parkland.
The term-limited House minority leader had previously filed to run for a seat on the Hillsborough County Commission.
Her (in)action during the 2018 legislative session screams the ultimate hypocrisy.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Voters Should Know What They're Voting On Before They Vote


Voters should know what they're voting on before they vote.

The Tampa Bay Times begins a recent editorial about the Florida Supreme Court striking down Amendment 8 from the November ballot (emphasis mine):
Voters should know what they’re voting on, which is why the Florida Supreme Court was entirely correct to strike the deviously worded Amendment 8 from the Nov. 6 ballot.
We agree. Voters should not be forced to rely on any deviously worded amendment that could deceive them. 

Friday, September 14, 2018

The Weenie Tax

Plans to fund the planned new Tampa Bay Rays stadium near Ybor City are emerging.

"Every hot dog, beer purchased in that district will go toward the stadium."

Taxing hot dogs and beer to pay for a stadium? Now you got my attention.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

2010 All Over Again! Tampa Bay Partnership Funds Another Massive Rail Tax Hike

Surprise!

Or not.

Voters and taxpayers are not funding the All for Transit (AFT) 30 year 14% rail tax hike.

The Tampa Bay Partnership, leader of the local rail cartel, is at it again.

Friday, September 7, 2018

State agency hides the ball on Hillsborough transit tax hike, info funneled to friendly media instead

Cross Post with permission from Tom Rask, Tampa Bay Guardian

Yesterday morning, a state agency told the Guardian that they did not have an audit report that was due for delivery to them five days earlier. Yet that same afternoon, the Tampa Bay Times obtained a copy of the report and published an article about it. The Tampa Bay Times editorial board supports the proposed tax hike to add another 1% to the Hillsborough county sales tax to pay for transit.

“OPPAGA has no records responsive to item number 5, ” Janet Tashner, General Counsel for OPPAGA, wrote to the Guardian yesterday morning at 9:15 A.M. in response to our request for the completed audit report. OPPAGA is the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, a state agency statutorily charged with insuring that such required audits are carried out.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Greed Over Need: Tampa Bay Times Pitches a Temper Tantrum

The Tampa Bay Times needs an intervention.

The Times has reported about 43 Hillsborough County schools needing new air conditioners. They recently published this article about the A/C issue, hot classrooms and mold in schools.
When Plant High School opened its doors after summer break, teachers discovered mold in the auditorium, soggy posters falling off walls and copiers that struggled to come back to life after sitting in high humidity for two months. 
Christine Brady Corum saw so many posts about sweaty students on the Fishhawk Area Neighborhood Facebook page that she began purchasing box fans for Randall Elementary School and launched a community-wide fundraiser.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Building Bridges

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is preparing to release a request for proposal to build a new 8 lane span for the Howard Frankland Bridge (HFB). FDOT is planning to award the contract in late 2019, and to start construction in 2020.

At $814 million, it's not cheap, but has the advantage of being paid state and federal monies... and some tolls. But it's cheaper than the $892 million planned a baseball stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays, without parking in Ybor City, which could become the burden of Tampa and Hillsborough residents. The bridge will benefit a lot more people every day than a new baseball stadium.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Pay to Play On The Ballot

Five downtown Tampa special interests contributed $150K each to fund the "All for Transit" (AFT) transit tax hike petition effort. Those five special interests bought their way onto the November ballot.

Five downtown Tampa special interests donated a total of $750K to buy putting a massive and unnecessary 30 year transit tax hike that will raise the sales tax to the highest in the state - 8% - on the November ballot.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

All for Transit Tax Hike: Costly and Won't Work

All for Transit wants to raise Hillsborough County sales tax to 8% - the highest in the state. The 30 year All for Transit tax hike throws billions of county tax dollars at transit, including billions for costly rail/fixed guideways in the city of Tampa.

And All for Transit uses the heavy hand of big government regulations to mandate the spending and prohibit any changes for 30 years.

Mandating and forcing the spending of billions on transit at a time when traditional transit is being disrupted and transit is declining all across the country is reckless.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

What They Say, What They Do

Pending some unforeseen disaster with the required OPPAGA audit, All for Transportation's County Charter Amendment in Hillsborough County raising the sales tax to 8 percent for 30 years, raising an estimated $15 billion, will be on the November ballot. They are starting their campaign to misinform voters. The Tampa Bay Times is right there with them in the campaign of deceit.
"It provides the people of Hillsborough County an historic opportunity to begin the long overdue work of funding a transportation system that save people's time, people's money, people's lives" Hudson said. "Whether you live in Carrollwood, Sun City Center or right here in East Tampa, there is something in the All for Transportation plan for you."
Well, not really.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Vinik's 30 Year "All for Transit" Tax Hike Constrains Roads, Creates Gridlock - Vote NO!

A standard definition of "road improvements" or "improve roads and bridges" includes (emphasis mine):
"Road improvement" includes construction of new roads or improvement or expansion of existing roads and related appurtenances
But transit advocates who wrote the egregious Vinik massive 30 year $17 BILLION transit tax hike intentionally narrowed that standard definition of road improvements.

In the ballot summary language that will be on the ballot in November, they deceptively included as the very first item the massive tax would be spent on as "improve roads and bridges".


Monday, August 13, 2018

OPPAGA Counsel, Like Sgt. Schultz, Knows Nothing

Cross post with permission from Tampa Bay Guardian/Jim Bleyer

OPPAGA staff
As far as we can determine, Hogan’s Heroes character Sgt. Schultz did not hold a law degree nor was he entrusted with protecting the public purse.

But Janet Tashner, the state Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability’s General Counsel, apparently needs those qualifications for the position she holds. Certainly it does not involve transparency or candor.

Vinik's Massive Transit Tax Hike Is Another Boondoggle!

A performance audit is currently underway for the massive 30 year 14% transit tax hike referendum recently placed on the ballot by the Vinik funded All for Transportation (AFT) PAC petition effort.

Somehow the Vinik tax hike audit leap frogged in line over the Hillsborough County's School Board audit request for their proposed sales tax referendum. We now also know that Vinik's tax hike audit has been "fast tracked" to meet the required 60 day pre-election deadline for the November ballot.

It is apparent that someone with access and strings to pull in Tallahassee, where the agency who facilitates the audits OPPAGA is located, pulled some strings or called in some chits. OPPAGA had hired the auditor and set the audit up before the SOE had even finished validating the petitions while OPPAGA left the School Board's audit request whistling in the wind.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Hands Along the Water

This morning, Sunday August 12, across many locations in Florida, thousands came out to the beaches to support clean water and beaches with Hands Along the Water. We attended the St. Pete Beach event.

The St. Pete Beach event was organized by local volunteers Casey Corder and Jill Barncord. Hundreds turned out to support the event. People from all walks of life participated the peaceful, non-political event.

It was a pleasant morning on St. Pete Beach. Thousands were out on the beach, enjoying the sun, water, watersports, walks on the beach, and the warm weather. Plenty of sea birds around as well, and thankfully, no dead fish or foul odors.

It's a Dud! Press Conference For Vinik's Massive Rail Tax Hike

A press conference was held last week to announce that Vinik's massive tax hike to raise Hillsborough County sales tax rate to 8% - the highest in the state - will be on the November ballot.

Where was this press conference held?

In front of a drive in movie theater on Hillsborough Avenue - deceptively far away from Vinikville and the gleaming downtown towers.

Far away from the wealthy five Vinik associated donors who donated $750K to spend over a HALF a MILLION dollars to paid petition gatherers to get Vinik's $15-18 BILLION massive tax hike on the ballot.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Ferry Dust

Ah... the good old days, way way back to May, 2013, when we were told we would have ferries running across Tampa Bay.
HMS and [Ed] Turanchik formally unveiled plans for what they are calling high-speed ferry service that would start as commuter boat transportation between MacDill Air Force Base and southern Hillsborough County, home to many of its employees. Ferry boats also would be used for transportation to large events on either side of the bay, such as Tampa Bay Rays baseball games in St. Petersburg and Tampa Bay Lightning hockey games in the Channel District.
Speakers at the presentation at the Tampa Bay Times Forum included Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman and Tampa Bay Lightning chief executive officer Tod Leiweke. 
"I think this has got some sex appeal to it," Buckhorn said.
Of course, it cost something to do anything, especially to pay for sex appeal.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Vinik's Rail Cartel Plays HardBall Against County Taxpayers

Guest post from Dr. James Davison

Mr. Vinik and his cronies have bought their way onto the November ballot spending over a HALF a MILLION DOLLARS to collect petitions to qualify a referendum for increasing the sales tax in Hillsborough county to 8% - the highest in the state. All because he needs light rail to make his downtown [Under] Water Street real estate go. 


Vinik then somehow "leap froged" in line right over the Hillsborough County School District to have a state mandated audit of the programs receiving the $15 billion tax plan. The school board had already informed the state that they were going to put a 1/2 percent sales tax question before the voters in November. The school district wanted their tax hike for much needed A/C replacements, capital improvements and hardening of the schools for security.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

How the Crony Swamp Supports Massive Tax Hikes to Benefit Them

We posted here about the downtown Tampa cronies who are collaborating to control billions of taxpayer dollars. Five donors, all connected to Jeff Vinik, contributed $150K each to Vinik's transit tax hike PAC All for Transportation (AFT) to advance their collaborative agenda.

With $750K in the bank, where has Vinik's AFT PAC money been spent? Below are the expenditures reported by AFT through their latest campaign filing.

$525K was spent paying Revolution Field Strategies who paid petition gatherers to collect petition signatures. Revolution Field Strategies website states they lead "grassroots" campaigns. Obviously that is not always true. This petition campaign, funded by five deep pocketed special interests who are all connected to Jeff Vinik, is anything but grassroots.

Another $15K was spent with Mercury PR firm. We understand Mercury is working with the campaign of Jane Castor who is running in Tampa's mayoral race. And who donated to Castor's campaign according to the SOE website? Sykes.
Sykes donates to Jane Castor
Mercury PR firm sound familiar? Go back to the Go Hillsborough (GH) debacle.

PR firms began salivating at the thought of getting a piece of a multi-million dollar tax hike advocacy campaign in 2015. The Mercury PR firm was pining for that business. According to this Tribune article in 2015:
“In our world — public affairs, strategic planning and advocacy — this is a big deal,” said Ana Cruz, a political consultant who works with Mercury, one of the firms that talked to the county about the campaign. “These big campaigns … we all want to be part of it. It’s what we do.” 
Kieran Mahoney, Mercury’s chief executive officer, met with Merrill more than a year ago, on Aug. 20, 2014, less than a week after the county Transportation Policy Leadership Group agreed it needed to hire a firm with experience in transportation referendums. Merrill described his talk with Mahoney as a general description of the Go Hillsborough process.
It makes sense Mercury is working on Jane Castor's campaign because Ana Cruz is Jane Castor's partner. She is also the daughter of Democrat state rep Janet Cruz who originally filed to run for county commission but then jumped over to run against incumbent Republican state senator Dana Young. Maybe Cruz jumped ship out of the commission race because she knew Vinik's transit tax hike was a power grab by Tampa and usurps the power of county commissioners for 30 years.

A Tribune article in April 2016, right before the first public hearing on the Go Hillsborough debacle tax hike, reported a poll taken by Mercury:
The poll, conducted by the Tampa-based Mercury firm and financed by unidentified business interests, indicates the strongest support yet for the proposed tax. A total of 66 percent of those surveyed said they would either “definitely” or “probably” vote for the tax. 
Hagan said the survey was financed by a group of businessmen in different industries who did not want to be identified. Asked if the group would ever come out of the shadows, Hagan said that was a “distinct possibility.”
We knew then and we know today who those unidentified business interests sitting in the shadows were who funded the poll.

That Mercury poll in 2016 was for the proposed GH one-half percent sales tax hike and no formal opposition was ever in place. The polling on a one percent sales tax hike was polling about 30% or lower.

Which confirms just how greedy the Vinik tax hike cartel are.

Mercury wanted the lucrative advocacy campaign for the crony GH tax hike so bad they did a poll funded by the very cronies who would dump millions into the advocacy campaign to benefit them all. Of course Mercury got the polling answer to help get them the campaign work they wanted.

That same April 2016 Tribune article also reported :
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. 
Sound familiar? That was a lie then and it's a lie now.
Go Hillsborough Rail/transit projects
The only reason Vinik demands a 30 year 14% massive transit tax hike is to fund costly rail in Tampa and fund all of it. The cronies are not planning to go to the Feds for funding because the cost is too high and the ridership too low to qualify for federal money. Vinik and his downtown Tampa allies plan to fund the ENTIRE cost of the costly trains in Tampa with YOUR COUNTY TAX DOLLARS -  most of which will come from unincorporated Hillsborough County.

Of course, Kieran Mahoney, the CEO of Mercury PR firm, donates to Tax Hike Hagan because Hagan has not seen a proposed sales tax hike in over a decade that he has not supported.
Mercury PR firm CEO donates to Hagan on 6/21/2017
Special interests keep circling money thru PAC's, PR firms and campaign coffers to push massive tax hikes that benefit them.

Expect Vinik and his special interests allies to dump $5-10 million into Mercury and perhaps some other PR firms over the next 90 days. With the Vinik owned media megaphone, they will drown out everything and everyone as if nothing else exists but their own greedy egregious massive tax hike.

It is a big circle of money!

And a big SWAMP!

The Three Faces of Hagan


Anyone who has been a county commissioner for 16 long years has a history. One's own political history is the best predictor of what one will do in the future, not campaign rhetoric.

Therefore, what does one do when their political history includes growing local government, ballooning the bureaucracy, blowing out future Community Investment (CIT) revenues, pushing for unnecessary massive tax hike boondoggles - multiple times - and pursuing a billion dollar baseball stadium to subsidize and enrich another wealthy sports team owner? They try to rewrite their own history.

Today we can clearly see the "Three Faces" of Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan. Two of the faces reflect Hagan's actual past history. The third face is Hagan's self-described campaign rhetoric in his campaign mailers trying to rewrite his own history.

Hagan even used a picture of him and Gov. Scott from 2012 without Scott's approval. Isn't that illegal or at least unethical? Ironically, Gov. Scott touts the need to get rid of career politicians - that includes Hagan.

Fiscal conservatism includes lower taxes, less spending, less debt and smaller government.

While Hagan self describes himself as "conservative" in his campaign rhetoric, let's review some history.

Most of the property tax millage rate cuts Hagan touts were made during the housing bubble. Property tax revenues were flooding County Center from escalating property values and new growth while property owners were getting angry about the increasing property taxes.

Floridians were so angry about escalating property taxes that the state legislature passed a bill in 2007 to roll back property tax rates to 2006 levels and mandated deeper cuts based on how much a local government collected in property tax dollars. In addition Amendment 1 was overwhelmingly passed by voters in 2008 64-36% that added an additional homestead exemption, the portability of Save Our Homes benefit and an assessment cap on non-homesteaded property.

Even with some millage rate cuts, according to tax-rates.org:
Hillsborough County has one of the highest median property taxes in the United States, and is ranked 376th of the 3143 counties in order of median property taxes.
Hillsborough County's Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFR) reflect Hillsborough County became the second largest county employer behind the Hillsborough County school system after Hagan was elected in 2002. The number of county employees rose from 9,774 in 2003 to 11,169 in 2007, an increase of over 14% (approx 1400 employees) in FOUR short years. (Note: The 2017 CAFR reflects the county is currently the fourth largest county employer with 9336 employees.)

Then the recession hit in 2008 and the county had created its own big problem. It had ballooned the bureaucracy, was blowing thru county tax dollars like a drunken sailor and wrongfully assumed the housing bubble would never burst - aka bad judgment.

The county was then forced to make cuts to balance the county budget. Where did the county decide to cut? Transportation - which is a primary responsibility of local government.

Transportation funding got a double whammy hit with the recession under Hagan's tenure. The county diverted ALL property tax revenues previously funding transportation to other places to balance the budget. In addition, the Community Investment Tax (CIT) funding for transportation evaporated because the county had gone on a huge debt spree of borrowing against future CIT revenues right before the recession hit.

In 2007, Hagan, who led the Transportation Task force, and then county debt/bond manager Mike Merrill recommended the risky huge borrowing against future CIT revenues - just 11 years into the 30 year tax. This broke the promise the county made to spend the CIT revenues in 5 year increments as part of their 5 year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).

Merrill told the commissioners in 2007 that the CIT tax would continue growing leaps and bounds and CIT revenue growth would be so great there would not be any problems funding future needs. Such bad judgment. Everyone else knew the housing bubble was going to burst at some point. The borrowing spree tied the hands of future commission Boards for years after the recession hit.

And Surprise! In 2007 Hagan's close PR confidante Beth Leytham was hired and paid with county tax dollars to be a consultant to his Transportation Task Force. Sound familiar?

When the county commission voted in 2009 to fire then county administrator Pat Bean, it was Hagan who recommended and lined up debt manager Mike Merrill to replace her - promoting the person who had provided such bad judgment to blow out future CIT monies.

Hagan's transportation task force was in two phases. Phase 1 borrowed the future CIT revenues and Phase 2 pushed the 2010 huge 30 year 1% rail tax hike.  In the 2007 BOCC meeting where Hagan pitched his debt spree, he also stated (emphasis mine):
THE SECOND PHASE, WHICH WILL BEGIN IN THE FALL, WILL FOCUS ON LONG-TERM SOLUTIONS, WHICH PRIMARILY INCLUDE LIGHT RAIL OR COMMUTER RAIL OR RAIL OF SOME FASHION.
Three years later when the unemployment rate in Hillsborough County was running 10-11%, Tax Hike Hagan voted at the May 13 2010 public hearing to put the multi-BILLION dollar rail boondoggle sales tax hike on the 2010 ballot. While many Hillsborough County residents were still hurting and struggling from the recession, Hagan decided it was time to put a sales tax hike on the ballot. Hagan was Chair of the county commission in 2010.

Again - such bad judgment! The multi-BILLION dollar tax hike was not conservative and certainly showed no compassion for those still financially reeling from the recession. Thankfully it was overwhelmingly defeated because it had a basic 3rd grade math problem and was a bad plan.

Tax Hike Hagan's pursuit of huge tax hikes and his alter ego District Rays Candidate Hagan's pursuit of a billion dollar baseball stadium have been a package deal for almost a decade. As we reported here, Hagan invited the baseball coalition to speak at the May 19, 2010 BOCC meeting immediately after he had voted to put the rail tax on the November ballot.

The tax hike came back courtesy of the crony Go Hillsborough (GH) campaign in 2014 as Hagan was heading toward his second countywide term. The District Rays Candidate Hagan saw his stadium clock ticking away. His alter ego Tax Hike Hagan knows he needs a new funding source to pay for a billion dollar stadium and he saw the GH tax hike as the ticket.

After getting the Parsons/Leytham team in place for the GH tax hike by August 2014, District Rays Candidate Hagan began actively pushing the baseball stadium issue.

By January 2015 with the tax hike GH campaign underway, District Rays Candidate Hagan and his alter ego Tax Hike Hagan had his baseball and tax hike agenda both lined up. The District Rays Candidate Hagan had gotten his secret baseball committee created and got the county to hire an expensive NY baseball law firm Foley and Lardner to negotiate with the Rays. 

The GH Parsons/Leytham team had to propose another 30 year tax hike because that was always part of the phony campaign. In the middle of the GH community meetings, Tax Hike Hagan came out supporting a tax hike. 

Tax Hike Hagan voted for the unnecessary 30 year, $7 BILLION tax hike at both Go Hillsborough public hearings in 2016. Apparently Hagan's "when you cut taxes, you ignite job growth" slogan is his lip service and meant only for his campaign flyers.

Tax Hike Hagan held local road funding hostage for almost a decade while he pursued multiple  massive county tax hikes for trains. This #FakeNews flyer of false advertising reflects how Tax Hike Hagan will say anything to get elected.  
Tax Hike Hagan flyer full of egregious False Advertising
It was Tax Hike Hagan who fought Commissioner Murman's proposal to use growth of the existing budget to fund roads and transportation. Because of Tax Hike Hagan, Murman's original proposal got watered down. (Transcript of August 10, 2016 BOCC Budget Workshop meeting can be found here.)

District Rays Candidate Hagan is now pursuing some creative public financing scheme scam to fund the billion dollar baseball stadium. Incurring another huge round of debt putting taxpayers at risk to subsidize a wealthy sports team owner is not conservative or fiscally responsible.

Who should you believe -  Hagan with a history of bad judgment or Economists?
"The idea that sports is a catalyst for economic development just doesn't hold water."
—Robert Baade, sports economist 
When surveyed, 86 percent of economists agreed that "local and state governments in the U.S. should eliminate subsidies to professional sports franchises.. 
In a 2017 poll, 83 percent of the economists surveyed agreed that "Providing state and local subsidies to build stadiums for professional sports teams is likely to cost the relevant taxpayers more than any local economic benefits that are generated.
The history of District Rays Candidate Hagan and his alter ego Tax Hike Hagan is pushing massive unnecessary sales tax hikes and risky financing schemes and pursuing a billion dollar baseball stadium. Words on his campaign flyer are just rhetoric to get elected.

The District Rays Candidate Hagan and his alter ego Tax Hike Hagan's donor base, who cannot even vote for him, (from his campaign filings with the SOE) is who he is beholden to.

After 16 too long years as a career county commissioner, Hagan is running again for a single district seat he already held. He is doing what no other commissioner has done since Hillsborough county's Charter was implemented in 1983 - violating the intent and spirit of the term limits in the Charter.

There are Three Faces of Hagan: Tax Hike Hagan, District Rays Candidate Hagan and Hagan's self-described [false] narrative of "Conservative" Hagan.

But the Three Faces of Hagan have a Primary challenger, Chris Paradies.

That provides an opportunity for voters in District 2 to reject all Three Faces of Hagan in this months Primary.

—————————————————————————-
Vote by Mail ballots are out
Early voting is August 13-26
Primary election day is August 28

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Tax Hike Audit Battle - Vinik vs Schools - Who Is On First?



As we previously reported, OPPAGA has begun their performance audit for the Vinik massive transit tax hike. There remains questions about how the Vinik audit jumped in front of the audit requested by Hillsborough County School Board who also wanted to put a referendum on the November ballot.

It is our understanding that OPPAGA audits are conducted first come first serve. 

Rumblings were that someone from Vinik's All For Transportation (AFT) PAC, funded by Vinik and four of his downtown allies connected to him who dumped $750K into his PAC, approached the school board last month in a face to face meeting with no paper trail. If those rumblings are correct, did Vinik's PAC for a massive unnecessary 30 year tax hike arrogantly want to jump in front of the school board's request for their audit?

Are voters and taxpayers in Hillsborough County beginning to ask some questions? The Eye received a copy of an email thread sent by a concerned citizen to the school board.
From: Gretchen Saunders <gretchen.saunders@sdhc.k12.fl.us>
Sent: Wednesday, August 8, 2018 4:36 AM
To: tashner.janet@oppaga.fl.gov; summers.david@oppaga.fl.usCc: Jeff Eakins; Christopher Farkas; jim.porter@akerman.com; jg@macfar.comSubject: Fwd(2): To Jeff Eakins Re: Charlotte Greenbarg - 180807-14991 
Good Morning Ms. Janet.

We received an email request from a community member last night regarding the Voter Referendum/OPPAGA review.

Do you have time for a quick call today? Would like to work with you and the OPPAGA team regarding our response to the question below about Hillsborough County receiving preference over Hillsborough County Public Schools and the "Way of Work" for the upcoming referendum and district audit/review.

Thank you for your help and continued support.

Gretchen Saunders
Chief Business Officer
Hillsborough County Public Schools
Telephone: 813-272-4383
Fax: 813-272-4007

----- Original Message -----

Got this through the clearinghouse tonight. I think this should be forwarded to our contacts at OPPAGA to make them aware that these questions and concerns are coming from the community.

----- Original Message -----

HCPS Web Site Contact Form
-----------------
Type: Contact Superintendent's Office
Staff Member: JeffEakins
Topic: Other
TopicOther: OPPAGA's doing the county audit first
Message:
How did the county get preference over the Board's proposal for .5% sales tax increase? 
The FloridaLegislature
OFFICE OF PROGRAM POLICY ANALYSIS AND GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY
R.Philip Twogood, Coordinator
August 3, 2018 
Michael Merrill, CountyAdministrator
Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners
601 EastKennedy BoulevardTampa, Florida 33602

Dear Mr. Merrill:

Pursuant to the requirements of Ch. 2018-118, Laws of Florida, the Office of Program PolicyAnalysis and Government Accountability has selected McConnell & JonesLLP to conduct a performance audit of the programs associated with the surtax proposed for Hillsborough County.

McConnell & Jones will begin work on August 6, 2018. Representatives from McConnell & Jones will contact your office in the near future to discuss protocols for the performance audit.

If you have any questions, please call Emily Leventhal, OPPAGA’s Government Operations Staff Director and the contract manager for this audit, at (850) 717-0525.

Sincerely,

R. Philip Twogood CoordinatorRPT/kgAttachment
cc: Christine Beck, County Attorney forHillsborough County
Sharon Murphy, Partner, McConnell & Jones, LLP

From: Charlotte Greenbarg
It appears OPPAGA began their audit for Vinik's massive tax hike before the SOE has even certified the petition effort.

Remember the school board stated they were told it could take 6-8 months to complete their audit for a program that appears much less complex than Vinik's $15-18 BILLION tax hike for multiple programs spread across multiple entities.

With school starting earlier this year in hot humid August, this Times article lists the over $343 MILLION in air conditioning needs of schools in Hillsborough County over the next few years. And that's just the air conditioning needs…..

While schools need air-conditioning and other capital improvements, Vinik pursues unnecessary billions for costly trains to a billion dollar baseball stadium. 

We will pursue getting a copy of the school board's response after they speak with OPPAGA today. 

But the battle for massive tax hikes in Hillsborough County may turn into an outright war.

And much of the blame goes directly to Jeff Vinik.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Can Performance Audit For Massive Transit Tax Hike Be Done By Deadline To Put on November Ballot?

We posted here about the performance audit now required to be completed and published 60 days prior to the election for any local referendum that gets on the ballot - no matter how the referendum gets on the ballot.

The petitions are still being validated by the SOE. We expect the required number of valid petitions will be reached and the SOE will certify to the county commissioners shortly.

OPPAGA notified Hillsborough County on Friday, August 3, 2018 they have hired an auditor to begin the audit process.


We do not know the current status of the OPPAGA audit request from the Hillsborough school board who also wanted to put a sales tax hike referendum on the November ballot. However this was reported about the school board's referendum on June 26:
Prospects for a Nov. 6 referendum are shaky at best, as a new state law requires the district first to undergo a state performance audit. That process, including two months to post the results, could take eight months.
How did the audit for Vinik's transit tax hike get in front of the request by the school board? There were rumblings that someone from Vinik's AFT PAC approached the school board last month to ask if they could jump in from of the school board to get their audit done first. Hmmm…

Section 10 of Florida Statute 212.055 states:
For any referendum held on or after March 23, 2018, to adopt a discretionary sales surtax under this section, an independent certified public accountant licensed pursuant to chapter 473 shall conduct a performance audit of the program associated with the surtax adoption proposed by the county or school district.
At a minimum, a performance audit must include an examination of issues related to the following:
1. The economy, efficiency, or effectiveness of the program.
2. The structure or design of the program to accomplish its goals and objectives.
3. Alternative methods of providing program services or products.
4. Goals, objectives, and performance measures used by the program to monitor and report program accomplishments.
5. The accuracy or adequacy of public documents, reports, and requests prepared by the county or school district which relate to the program.
6. Compliance of the program with appropriate policies, rules, and laws.
We are about four weeks out from the 60 day pre-election deadline for completing and publishing the audit by September 6, 2018 before the November election. According to OPPAGA, one performance audit may audit multiple programs associated with a sales surtax referendum

There are multiple programs associated with Vinik's massive 30 year  $15-18 BILLION transit tax hike. There are transit programs, road programs, planning programs. These multiple programs are across multiple entities - the county, the city municipalities, HART and the MPO.

In addition, this 14% sales tax hike referendum grows government. It creates another government transportation bureaucracy that usurps power from duly elected county commissioners, city council reps and the governing HART Board of the special taxing district for the local transit agency HART - for 30 years.  

We know who wrote the ballot summary and the five pages of fine print in the lengthy petition that many probably never read. All the bureaucratic and regulatory burdens baked into the monster 14% transit tax hike were intentional because they benefit - for 30 years - those who wrote them.

We doubt the regulatory gobbly gook was written with any thought that an audit would be required.

As we reported here, Jim Davison has proposed a transportation funding plan that does NOT require a massive tax hike. Tampa Bay Beat reported Davison's recent comment about Vinik's unnecessary 30 year tax hike boondoggle:
The special interest, eight percent sales tax proposal over 30 years, Davison asserted, is an attack on unincorporated areas and Hillsborough County’s smaller cities. Tampa reaps the benefits with 27 percent of the county population siphoning 53 percent of the tax receipts.
Audits are very methodical. To do any audit, it takes time to plan, time to do the field work and time to complete the audit report.

Is it possible that a performance audit for a complex $15-18 BILLION tax hike referendum that includes multiple programs can be completed and the report published in about 30 days?

What happens to this transit tax hike petition effort if the audit is not completed and published by the 60 day pre-November election deadline?

The Eye will be watching!

Monday, August 6, 2018

Cronies Collaborate to Control Billions of Tax Dollars

The Vinik $15-18 Billion transit tax hike and the Chuck Sykes/District Rays Candidate Hagan billion dollar stadium have officially combined into one collaborative effort.

The latest campaign filing found on the SOE website of Vinik's transit tax hike All For Transportation (AFT) PAC provides the confirmation. On July 11, Sykes donated their Vinik required $150K to the PAC.
Sykes donates $150K to Vinik's tax hike PAC
Here is the entire list of donors to the AFT PAC available on the Hillsborough SOE website.
AFT donors and expenditures
AFT did a faux grassroots call to action for citizens to donate $20.18 to their transit tax hike petition effort. It was an epic failure. A whopping four people responded because AFT and everyone else knew the special interest donors were their bank account.

Thomas Scherberger, who donated $250, works for Hillsborough County Clerk of the Court and is the husband of Janet Scherberger. As we reported here, Janet Scherberger works for Lopano at TIA and is a Director of the nonprofit Keep Hillsborough Moving, Inc. connected to the AFT PAC.

The highlighted five deep pocketed special interests donors who donated $150K each are connected to each other, Jeff Vinik and his [Under] Water Street development.

Sykes, Vinik and Rays President Brian Auld each pay Tampa Bay Partnership $50K a year to be a member of their pay to play lobbying organization.

WSP previously known as Parsons Brinkerhoff of the Go Hillsborough debacle, Vinik's Tampa Bay Lightning and Darryl Shaw each pay Tampa Bay Partnership $25K a year to be a member of their pay to play lobbying organization. After Shaw bought up the Ybor property, he donated at least $5K to District Rays Candidate Hagan's District 2 race right before Ybor was announced as the likely site for the new stadium last year. Ybor is NOT in District 2…..

Sykes donated almost $200K and carried the financial torch for the losers - the pro rail tax hike PAC Moving Hillsborough Forward (MHF) - who spent almost $1.6 million promoting the rail tax hike in 2010.  It was Hagan and his Transportation Task Force who recommended putting that massive boondoggle tax on the 2010 ballot that was defeated 58-42.

Tampa Bay Partnership with Sykes in tow created the MHF PAC and had donors contributing before the rail tax was ever even put on the ballot in May 2010. Why? Because they had assurances from then BOCC Chair Hagan that he would get the tax hike on the ballot.

Then Sykes supported Greenlight Pinellas rail tax boondoggle in 2014 that was defeated by an even greater margin 62-38 in Pinellas County.

Now Sykes has decided to play first fiddle for the BILLION dollar stadium with no parking.
Site of Proposed Rays stadium in Ybor City with no parking
Sykes is now scheming in secrecy with the District Rays Candidate Hagan for how to bleed dry Community Redevelopment Area (CRA)/special taxing district money to publicly finance the billion dollar stadium. Since 2011, District Rays Candidate Hagan has been talking about using tax increment financing (TIF') to publicly finance a new stadium with huge amounts of debt.

CRA Boards, which can be stacked with more cronies, can pledge TIF funds to finance bonds with NO public input. CRA's, with lax accountability and transparency, can invite abuse and have been abused.

In steps Vinik last year. Indications are that the tax hike and the Ybor stadium site were probably being orchestrated at least early to mid last year. That was about the same time Vinik admitted he bailed out the Times as he needed to own his own media megaphone to push his agenda.

According to the county lobbyist registry, Vinik was meeting with County Administrator unelected county mayor Mike Merrill in May, June and December of 2017. Vinik met with Hagan on June 5, 2017.
County lobbyist registry
Vinik was lobbying Hagan last year
Taxpayers have been paying for highest paid Merrill and his highest paid staff's time to be intimately involved with Hagan and the Rays - behind closed doors with no transparency - on public financing schemes scams for the billion dollar stadium.

Vinik now plays first fiddle for pursuing another 30 year massive transit sales tax hike that is worse than the rail tax defeated in 2010 (post for another day).

Now that Sykes has thrown in his obligatory $150K into Vinik's massive transit tax hike - the collaboration of cronies pursuing the Billion dollar stadium with no parking and a $15-18 Billion transit tax hike is confirmed.

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

The Sykes/Vinik/Hagan triumvirate to control billions of tax dollars and scam taxpayers not once but twice is complete.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Vinik Tax Hike DOUBLES County Sales Tax Revenue, Increases COUNTY'S Tax Rate 100%

Guest post from Hillsborough County resident and small business owner Tim Curtis.


Who among the "Transit Tax Hike supporters" will tell the whole truth about Vinik's transit tax hike petition effort to raise the total sales tax rate in Hillsborough County to 8% - the highest in the state?

The so-called “one penny” or $.01 increase isn't a "1%" or even a 14+% increase. This is a county levied tax hike. It is a 100% INCREASE in the COUNTY Sales Tax Rate.

As a small business owner, the current state sales tax rate I must collect and remit to the state is 6%. The other 1% of the current 7% total sales tax rate collected is the county sales tax rate. It does not take a rocket scientist to understand that an increase from 1% to 2% is a 100% PERCENT INCREASE.

The transit tax hike will DOUBLE the county's sales tax rate with the vast majority of the 100%  increase in the county sales tax revenue paid by taxpayers in unincorporated Hillsborough.

Local media, including Sue Carlton and others at the Vinik bailed out Tampa Bay Times, continue misleading the public that this is a “one penny” tax hike. Nothing can be further from the truth.

Instead of this “mad dash” to unnecessarily take an additional $15-18 BILLION out of taxpayer pockets, the mad dash should be insisting elected officials properly prioritize the current and growing county revenues. Ensure our county roads, neglected for almost a decade, are fixed first and then lets talk about where additional transportation funding is needed.

Two years ago, the BOCC-appointed Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) diligently examined the county budget. They prepared a report, unanimously approved by the bipartisan CAC, containing recommendations on the budget. The CAC meticulously identified $3 BILLION in potential savings.

Why is there a “mad dash” to unnecessarily increase the county sales tax rate 100% instead of a “mad dash” to examine whether the identified potential savings in other areas of the county budget can be used to fund transportation?

Hillsborough County and the local economy is growing – both resulting in booming revenues unanticipated a few short years ago.

I personally know the misleading talking points being used by those gathering petition for the 100% county sales tax rate hike petition effort.

Last week at my place of business, I was approached by a nice young lady who asked if I would “sign her petition”. I engaged her in conversation and learned she had only recently relocated to Tampa from out of state and was doing this work to earn money.

I applaud her for that and assume a temp agency is being used to hire paid petition gatherers.

However, I asked some very pointed but polite questions about the petition and she told me she was told “it is a one per cent increase”. When I questioned her again and showed her the math questioning how that can be, she assured me that she was told “one per cent”.

Obviously, people that was hired to gather the transit tax hike petitions know nothing about Hillsborough County or the transportation issue.

The city of Tampa power brokers behind this Vinik and associates funded transit tax hike petition effort are being dishonest and intentionally using misleading information to deceive taxpayers and voters.

But are you getting a 100% raise or revenue increase next year?

If not, then why should the county?

Especially a 100% county revenue increase that will greatly benefit Vinik, his Under Water Street development and the city of Tampa…but will be paid for on the backs of taxpayers in unincorporated Hillsborough.

————————————————————————
Eye Note: There is another citizen led transportation funding proposal that does NOT require any massive 30 year sales tax hike. Fund Transportation and No Tax Hike Is Needed!
Voters and taxpayers deserve to hear both proposals and be fully informed.
Unfortunately biased local media is suppressing information and intentionally shutting down any other proposal so they may cheerlead for Vinik's massive transit tax hike.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Media Suppresses Information to Cheerlead for Vinik's 14% Transit Sales Tax Hike


A massive 30 year 14% sales tax hike is totally unnecessary to fund transportation needs in fast growing Hillsborough county. There is no need to take an additional $15-18 Billion out of taxpayer pockets to fund transportation.

As we posted here, Hillsborough County commissioners took action regarding an alternative transportation funding proposal. We could find no local media reported about this action taken by the commissioners or the alternative funding proposal.

Citizen and Hillsborough County resident Dr. James Davison, who presented his alternative transportation funding proposal to the county commissioners on April 4, directly contacted the Tampa Bay Times (Times) and other local media outlets regarding his funding proposal. He sent the Times and other local media a copy of his transportation funding proposal on July 4th.

Below is a copy of the letter Dr. Davison sent to the Times on July 4th that with his permission we are posting:
To the staff of the Tampa Bay Times; 
So that there is no confusion I have attached a copy of the Transportation Revenue Plan presented to the Hillsborough County BOCC on April 4th at their regular meeting. Its total revenue is $8.469 billion of which at least $6.2 billion goes to transportation including $2.014 billion in new revenues for transit. Money is also included for roads, congestion relief/safety, sidewalks/trails and other infrastructure, all without raising taxes. There is a slight increase in the sales tax, ¼ percent, from 2021 to 2026. From 2027 to 2045 the sales tax in Hillsborough county remains at 7%. The revenue plan is spread over 25 years. If you extend the plan to 30 years the numbers increase dramatically, but the tax level remains the same, 7%. These are conservative estimates and at the request of Mr. Merrill were verified for accuracy and validity. On June 6th at their regular meeting and after meeting with Ms. Wise, Mr. Fesler and Mr. Brickley the county administration did so verify to the plan’s estimates and the BOCC voted unanimously to send the plan on to the Citizen Advisory Committee for their opinion and deliberation. Copies of the plan were given to several TBT reporters, the same attached here. A unanimous vote by the BOCC on any transportation plan in Hillsborough county I think would be news. I have never seen any mention of the above in any of your columns, the editorials or in the pages of the Tampa Bay Times. On the contrary you have chosen to publish a plan put forward after the BOCC voted on the 6th, whose numbers have not been vetted nor its impact modeled. One that raises the sales tax to the highest in the state for 30 years and is knowingly regressive in its application. That is your right as a free press. 
As we celebrate the 4th of July and are all aware that American men and women are in harms way around the world I hope we can celebrate our freedoms and rights but remember our responsibilities. 
I have had the pleasure of knowing several journalists and professors of journalism. They have assured me that there is no course or curriculum at any American university school of journalism or any ethic in journalism which teaches or supports the suppression or withholding of this type of information from the public. You have therefore learned this on your own and have done so knowingly. I am a staunch supporter of a free press. Even Pravda or the Cuban Granma have a right to publish in America, but I remind you, this is America and the truth will get out whether or not you choose to live up to your responsibility. 
I hope you and yours have had a safe and happy 4th of July

Jim Davison DO.
Davison's proposal is also a citizen led funding proposal with numbers and estimates that have been vetted. But according to Davison, the Times nor any other local media he contacted, would report about his citizen proposal that county commissioners actually took an action on. Davison, disturbed by the lack of fair journalistic reporting by local media on the issue of funding transportation, told the Eye when we contacted him:
Suppression of information by the press is not part of the 1st Amendment and has always led to tragic consequences for the people in the past. It will here too for the people of Hillsborough County.
The Times and local media cannot claim ignorance. They are aware there are alternatives to the Vinik and associates funded massive 30 year 14% sales tax hike proposal.

The Times and local media must have their marching orders. They have become information gatekeepers who refuse to fairly report and inform the public of any other transportation funding proposal but Vinik's massive 30 year 14% transit sales tax hike.

It is easier for local media to suppress information and shut down healthy public debate over different transportation funding models. Because it is very difficult for anyone to defend a massive transit tax hike that is not needed.

The Times and local media are intentionally ignoring Davison's funding proposal so they can cheerlead for the special interests/astroturf funded 14% transit sales tax hike,

The financially distressed Times, who was bailed out last year by the wealthy transit tax hike donors Jeff Vinik and Frank Morsani, is the transit tax hike's biggest cheerleader accomplice. The wealthy downtown special interests bought their media megaphone to do the cheerleading for them. 

The media is now part of the storyline not reporters.

The Times latest pro Vinik tax hike cheerleader is Sue Carlton, who the Times never discloses is the wife of Times editor John Hill. Carlton's Times article about the proposed 14% transit sales tax hike in Hillsborough County uses a picture showing traffic congestion in Clearwater. 

Cannot make such nonsense up but it does fuel the fire that the Times has no credibility when it comes to the transportation issue in Tampa Bay. They cannot figure out that Clearwater is in Pinellas County not Hillsborough.

Information is key to public debate, especially regarding transportation funding and contentious tax hikes. But the Times and local media refuse to acknowledge or report about another citizen's transportation funding proposal.

Instead the Times and local media have instituted a media blackout of reporting on any transportation funding proposal except Vinik's 30 year 14% transit sales tax hike - that will greatly benefit him.

And it's called media bias.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Audit Required For Local Tax Hike Referendums


In this year's 2018 legislative session, HB 7087 was passed that added Section 10 to Florida Statute 212.055 governing local tax referendums. A Performance Audit is now required and must be completed and published online 60 days prior to the election for any local sales tax hike referendum held on or after March 23, 2018.

The Performance Audit language added provides criteria for what the audit will examine and evaluate. The audit must examine and evaluate how economically efficient or effective the proposed tax hike program is, the tax hike programs goals and objectives, alternative methods of providing the program, performance measures to measure programs success and is there adequate and accurate public documentation relating to the program.

The Hillsborough County School Board had been considering putting a sales tax referendum on the November ballot. However, on June 14, the Tampa Bay Times reported Hillsborough schools tax referendum is unlikely for November
Money that the Hillsborough County School District needs to build schools and replace air conditioners might be farther from reach, thanks to a new state law and a bureaucratic process required before the voters can decide on a tax referendum. 
The law could delay a sales tax referendum by about eight months, past the November election that would usher in the needed bonanza. 
An April 16 letter from the Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability said districts had to submit their resolutions by April 23 to arrange a required performance audit by the legislative office, known as OPPAGA.

Hillsborough spokesman Grayson Kamm said that when district leaders contacted OPPAGA to arrange the audit, they were told there could be a six-month wait. And the results would have to be posted for two months before the referendum could take place.
OPPAGA contacted all counties and school boards in the State. OPPAGA's April 16 letter, addressed to the Chairs of each county commission and school board (copy also found here), stated to contact OPPAGA by April 23rd for any referendum on the August or November ballot and to contact them ASAP if a referendum was being considered.

That same June 14 Times article that reported the audit required could delay a school board sales tax referendum also stated:
A citizens’ group called All For Transportation is gathering the required petition signatures to place a question on the November ballot about a penny sales tax to subsidize public transportation and needed road repairs in the cities and county. And, because the law requiring the OPPAGA audit specifies "county or school district" and the citizen group is neither of those two things, they do not believe they will have to take that step.
We do know there's been some confusion regarding this new audit requirement, especially with a sales tax hike referendum initiated by a petition effort. However, from numerous sources we spoke to or contacted, all indications was that any local tax referendum regardless of how it got on the ballot, required the performance audit be completed and published at least 60 days prior to the election.

For the November 2018 ballot, the performance audit must be completed and available to the voting public posted online by September 6, 2018.

The Times also reported on June 18 regarding the school board proposed sales tax hike referendum (emphasis mine):
The board voted 5-0 to submit a tax referendum resolution to the state, a first step toward trying to place such a question on the Nov. 6 ballot — though other factors may render that a futile step. 
The audit, which will not cost the district anything, will likely take about six months. The results must to be posted for two months after that, making it unlikely that such a referendum could appear on the November ballot.
Something changed with the AFT PAC between June 14 and July 9. Perhaps they were advised by someone the performance audit does apply to any local tax hike referendum. And that would include AFT's proposed 14% transit sales tax hike referendum to raise Hillsborough County's sales tax rate to 8%, the highest in the state.

Obtained via a Public Records Request, AFT emailed and snail mailed a letter to OPPAGA on July 9, 2018.

On July 9, 2018 AFT informed OPPAGA of their citizen petition effort to put a transit sales tax hike referendum on the November ballot. AFT requested "that OPPAGA begin the process of arranging for an audit pursuant to the statute in sufficient time to comply with the 60 day pre-election deadline.

We have seen no update reporting from the Times regarding AFT requesting the performance audit on July 9th.

AFT has a very compressed timeline as their 6 week petition drive ends this week. All petitions to be validated must be submitted to the SOE by Friday, July 27, 2018 at 5pm. The SOE has 30 days to complete their validation process.

It is reasonable to assume the SOE will certify to the Hillsborough county commissioners, sometime between August 1st and the 30 day deadline of August 27th, whether the required number of valid petitions were submitted for the transit sales tax hike to be placed on the November ballot.

But then there is also the performance audit requirement.

Hillsborough County school board was told it may take 6 months to complete an audit for them. Is it possible OPPAGA can complete the required audit for this petition's proposed massive sales tax hike in 5 weeks or less?

Does OPPAGA begin their performance audit process for any proposed local tax hike referendum being considered before it is officially placed on the ballot? Even if the audit process started July 9th when AFT officially notified OPPAGA of their petition drive, can OPPAGA complete the required performance audit in less than two months by September 6?

Back in October 2015 during the Go Hillsborough debacle, the county had requested a sheriff's investigation of how Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB) received their no bid county contract to conduct that tax hike campaign. The commissioners also requested their internal auditor conduct an audit of the CCNCA procurement process used to award PB the contract.

At the October 7 2015 BOCC meeting, the county's internal auditor Peggy Caskey, told the commissioners it would take 3-4 months to complete the audit of the CCNA procurement process and an additional 2 months to issue the audit report. That is a 6 month audit window auditing one county procurement process.

This proposed transit sales tax hike is a $15-18 BILLION initiative that funds multiple programs in multiple organizational entities. The petition is not simple. It is 5 pages of legislative regulations and bureaucratic specificity that would be placed in the county's governance document - the County Charter for 30 years - if passed. Therefore, how complex or comprehensive will the performance audit be?

Remember AFT decided to ram a normal 6 month citizen petition drive process into a 6 week petition drive. Their decision to use such a compressed timeline was theirs. They could have completed their petition drive last year or months ago.

We doubt anyone can request OPPAGA somehow provide preferential treatment to complete their required audit to meet the September 6 pre-November election deadline.

We know Hillsborough county must be audited for this proposed transit sales tax hike because it is a county levied tax. That is a good thing. We always wanted an independent audit done before there was ever another proposed countywide tax hike referendum placed on a ballot.

Hillsborough County's property values are rising and growth is occurring so fast that one county commissioner said the county must re-estimate population growth on a yearly basis. We know Hillsborough County can fund its transportation needs within the county's existing ballooning budget: Fund Transportation and No Tax Hike Is Needed!

So kudos to the state legislature for requiring the performance audit and requiring the results be transparently displayed to the public 60 days BEFORE the election. Voters must be informed and taxpayers must be protected.

AFT must first submit the required number of valid petitions by July 27th at 5pm.

If they don't, the audit is a moot point because the tax hike will not be on the ballot.

If they do, the completion of the performance audit by September 6 will become a critical path to actually getting AFT's massive 30 year 14% transit sales tax hike on the ballot.