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.

The media continues to avoid reporting that the transportation tax will enrich developers, Jeff Vinik, and downtown Tampa special interests. The chambers of commerce, Jeff Vinik, Tampa Bay Partnership (Want to join? That'll cost $50,000!), developers, and rich special interests are investing millions of dollars to raise your taxes -- the most regressive of all taxes, sales taxes, making Hillsborough County the highest taxed county in the state of Florida. If they are investing over $2.5 million and counting, a curious media would investigate why. Instead, the media has buried that story, and writes biased stories and approving commentary. But they can't seem to square the circle they've gotten themselves into.

The Tampa Bay Vinik Times came out against subsidizing developers, and believes developers, not the taxpayer, should pay more.
Hillsborough County residents are paying for growth on both ends, subsidizing development on the front end while struggling to address billion-dollar backlogs for roads, schools and other public services. Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp tried to slow that senseless cycle this month with a reasonable proposal to raise development fees. The commission’s refusal to act is another reason why voters need to make smart choices for the board in the November elections.
The Times, and Commissioner Pat Kemp, are both on the record supporting the 14% increase in the sales tax for transportation. However, as we've pointed out before, but the Times is apparently blissfully ignorant, the sales tax increase will REDUCE the mobility fees paid by developers by up to 50% or more! Most everyone, red or blue, urban or rural, is for developers and new residents paying more for their impacts to our infrastructure. Yet here we are, the Times, and leading politicians throughout Hillsborough, are endorsing a plan that will reduce the developers fees, and increase the sales taxes you pay to subsidize the developers, the most regressive tax that will affect the poor and middle class the most. Flip and Flop.

The Times concludes
The commission’s stalling and its refusal to see the low fees as indefensible cost-shifting help explain the backlog in public services and underscore the importance of bringing a fresh perspective to the board in the Nov. 6 elections. In the countywide races for commission Districts 5 and 7, Mariella Smith and Kimberly Overman offer pragmatic and fair agendas for managing growth. Updating permitting fees that haven’t changed in decades should be an easy start. Higher fees would also send a message that local government is going to take the public impact of these projects more seriously.
Kimberly Overman of course has also advocated for the tax hike. She has also spoken publicly in favor of tearing down I-275 from Bearss Ave to the I-4 interchange and converting into a boulevard, impacting 200,000 vehicles per day, not to mention a primary evacuation route. Overman is hardly pragmatic. Flop.

Doubling down, the NAACP, who expressed massive discontent with the All For Transportation plan during a recent meeting, Sue Carlton of the Times blames them for not getting with the program. She rattles off the business and political leaders who have announced support, as well as community news papers (inquiring minds want to know...).
All of which made this week’s reaction from the leader of the Hillsborough NAACP a head-scratcher. 
Chapter president Yvette Lewis told the Times’ Christopher O’Donnell she worries the new tax would hurt poorer families and that a committee to oversee how the money is spent would have no representatives from the black community. 
Lewis also said those big-name, big-money donors don’t do enough for the black community as it is. 
Here it’s important to note it was Lewis, and not the NAACP chapter itself, that announced opposition to the transportation plan.
AFT advocates not looking so happy at recent NAACP meeting
Carlton then adds.
Questions are appropriate. Criticism and vetting are critical, especially for an ask this big. And mistrust has been earned.
Carlton and the Times would benefit from following that advice and acknowledge the issues in the AFT "plan". However, they refuse to follow it, and certainly won't be caught criticizing the sales tax hike.

Instead, they seem to be telling the African-American community, "trust us, we know what's best for you". And it involves new buses for you.

Somehow the Times can't understand why leaders in the African-American community will not support a sales tax hike supported by the richest in Hillsborough County. Could it be they have different priorities in mind?

Flip and Flop.

The most ignorant, or intentionally misleading, may be Janelle Irwin, now writing for, directly taking on and the Tea Party
The anti-tax, anti-rail group No Tax for Tracks showed up late to the game last week, sending voters mailers condemning Hillsborough County’s transportation initiative as a giant waste of money. 
Now two images are floating around social media making outlandish accusations about the proposed 1 percent sales tax increase that would fund both – yes, both – transit and transportation enhancements.

The most glowing fabrication in the media, paid for by the Tea Party group, is that the tax would not fund new roads or widened roads. 
Fake news.
Irwin is a sloppy writer, and an even sloppier thinker.
The tax would raise $280 million annually for 30 years. Of that, 54 percent would go toward exactly what No Tax for Tracks wants voters to believe it wouldn’t – roads.
Yet she then goes to describe the 54 percent does not solely fund roads, but also includes bicycle and pedestrian projects, which by our estimates can easily exceed one billion dollars.

She also conveniently ignores the language in the ballot amendment the explicitly constrains new road capacity:
Section 11.07(8) LIMITS ON NEW AUTOMOBILE LANE CAPACITY. Agencies are prohibited from expending any funds from the General Purpose Portion (the percentage of tax going towards ROADS) on New Automobile Lane Capacity. For purposes of this section, ‘New Automobile Lane Capacity’ means projects that consist of (i) adding additional lanes for automobile traffic to existing roads or streets not related to intersection capacity improvement, or (ii) constructing new roads or streets.
Irwin should read the 5 pages in the amendment. The AFT Amendment authors specified 9 different categories for transportation spending, yet could not be bothered with a category for new road capacity. The only mention for new road capacity prohibits expending funds on new capacity. When the population is expected to increase 50% in Hillsborough, this is either intentional or ignorant. You can be the judge which is worse, but the fact no one in the media calls this out is intentional and ignorant.
The wording is careful. The group writes there is no money “dedicated” for roads or street widening. That’s a tricky little word game. The referendum doesn’t “dedicate” funds for any specific project.
Exactly. The wording also happens to be true. So what is Irwin's point? AFT has repeated there is 20 percent of the funding for new road capacity. However, this is not supported by any language in the amendment. For some reason AFT consciously chose to avoid increases in road capacity and plays their "tricky little word game".

Irwin cannot even get the basics on the overall costs right. She attempts some "pretty basic math" that only proves her ignorance with math and the magic of compounding interest.
The county’s current population is 1.4 million, according to Census data. That means the population is expected to grow 50 percent within the next 30 years. If you increase the present day estimated tax burden of $9 billion by 50 percent, it comes to $13.5 billion – and that’s using some pretty basic math that assumes the population increases right away.
That is nonsense. For its budgeting and planning assumptions, The Hillsborough MPO 2040 LRTP assumes a 10 year inflation rate of 2.4 percent (page 119). The population growth rate of additional 700,000 residents over 30 years is 1.6 percent per year. Add those two together for the average annual expected sales tax revenue growth rate of 4 percent. Are you still with me, Janelle?

A simple future value calculation assuming a 4 percent growth rate for 30 years starting with $280,000,000 results in a total sales tax revenue of $15,703,782,570. The Hillsborough MPO also uses a 23-year compounded average growth rate of 3.58 percent (page 122), which will generate $14.6 billion over 30 years. For comparison, just assuming a 4.1 percent compounded growth rate yields over $15.9 billion, so a small difference in the assumed growth rates results in changes that amount to hundreds of millions of dollars over 30 years.

Of course these numbers are driven by assumptions, as the future is unknown. At least we are not ignorant of the math, and can show our work. Irwin intentionally does not ... or is ignorant. You can be the judge as to which is worse.

Irwin swings and misses again:
The group claimed in another mailer that money would go toward a new baseball stadium, which could explain their Tropicana Field Photoshop job. 
The referendum language prohibits use of funds on a stadium.
The new Rays stadium will surely get a rail station
While technically true, this ignores the fact that money is fungible and the strategies behind the scenes deep in the Hillsborough little swamp of the same few cronies. The money collected by this new tax will not technically be used to fund a stadium. However, the money that Hillsborough County will collect from other revenue sources which have been shown to support billions for transportation investment (and is now under active consideration by the Hillsborough County Commissions's Citizen's Advisory Committee) can now be freed up to spend on a stadium. Without this transportation tax hike, the odds of public funding of a stadium are slim to none. If this tax passes, get ready to welcome the Rays into the $892 million Hillsborough County Municipal Taxpayer Memorial Stadium. The same people behind this tax hike are the same people aligning to get the county to pay for the new Rays stadium. You can be sure that their new stadium will include a brand new rail station.

Irwin tries again
It also ignores that Hillsborough County’s business community is soundly behind the plan. The Greater Tampa, Upper Tampa Bay and South Tampa chambers of commerce publicly endorsed it along with several other groups and notable names. 
Since when has the business community little swamp, and their associated special interests been the final arbiter of all that is good and worthy in Tampa Bay? It's not like they are grass roots. They're the ones spending millions of dollars to get this amendment on the ballot and fund the misleading advocacy campaign. Of the over $2.5 million raised by AFT as of this writing, 96% came from 38 donations of $150,000 to $5000. Another 63 donors contributed $500 or less, or 0.45% of the total. In a county of 1.4 million residents, AFT efforts can hardly be called grassroots.

Irwin, like others critical of the opposition to the transportation sales tax hike, never reached out to anyone associated with What is she afraid of? Getting the facts straight?

Or being called out for flips and flops.

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