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!

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