Monday, October 15, 2018

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.

First up, Here’s how money from a sales tax hike would improve transportation in Hillsborough, which reads like a public relations press release.
If approved, local government agencies say the money could be used to: 
  • Resurface Tampa’s roads every 25 years instead of every 75 years.
  • Build a mass-transit system linking the university area, downtown Tampa and the Westshore-Tampa International Airport area.
  • Round out a planned network of 400 miles of bike and pedestrian trails.
  • Add 10 new routes, 150 new buses and increase the frequency of at least four bus routes to every 15 minutes.
  • Plug roughly 500 miles of sidewalk gaps on roads in unincorporated Hillsborough.
  • Make intersection improvements throughout the county, including the addition of intelligent traffic signals that adjust to real-time traffic flow. 
Other priorities include adding bus and express-bus routes in south Hillsborough, the restoration of bus routes that were cut by the cash-strapped Hillsborough Area Regional Transit authority, and more crosswalks and street lighting to make roads safer.
In reality, NONE of these projects are specified in the actual language of the amendment.

We are not the only ones to notice the lack of concrete plans in the amendment. From Tampasphere, an actual supporter of the tax:
Nevertheless, the transportation referendum does not have a list of projects, or even a partial list. We would like a partial list (a beginning list), but it is what it is.
Tampasphere also picks up on another criticism of AFT's advertising and messaging:
We are not sure what the polling and market surveys said, but not mentioning the actual tax is clearly, as the quote says, strategic. What is also interesting is how much the ad downplays transit and focuses on roads.
As we have noted repeatedly as well, AFT is strategically downplaying, or not even mentioning, the rail and transit portions in the amendment, which will be primarily be spent in the city of Tampa. Instead, they highlight roads and safety and other feel good, non-specific, "we have to do something, and the time is now" messaging. Yet AFT denies the clear wording in their own plan that actually restricts road capacity improvements to support an incoming 700,000 new residents over the duration of their 30 year plan.

The Times was just getting started.

Jeff Vinik
[CC BY-SA 4.0  (],
via Wikimedia Commons
Jeff Vinik, an "investor" in the Tampa Bay Vinik Times, gained even more free media from his investment, published a self serving op-ed supporting the tax.
All my life I’ve been an investor - realizing the untapped potential of a business or an idea. I love the process of studying investment opportunities and supporting those with promise.
He goes on, regurgitating the same feel good talking points and avoiding any details. However, he never gets around to mentioning how much money he and his cronies have "invested" in the AFT. Vinik and the firms he controls contributed over $480,000 to the AFT PAC according to the latest campaign expenditure filings. In addition to the millions of dollars from other special interest tied to Vinik and his Water Street development.

Doubling down on the wise rich guys message, the Times published another op-ed with a list of all the rich guys supporting AFT and the Hillsborough County Schools 1/2 percent, 10 year sales tax.
As the Tampa Bay Times stated so clearly in its Sept. 30 editorial, “For a Better Hillsborough,’’ we support each of the referendums on the ballot addressing options for Transportation Services (Hillsborough County Referendum #2) and Public School Infrastructure support (Hillsborough County Referendum #3). 
We believe in the endless possibilities of economic development opportunities for Hillsborough and this region if we can begin to address specific transportation mobility solutions with assured funding, as well as basic and essential infrastructure support for our public schools. 
Each proposal has appropriate oversight committees with citizens involved and each will serve as transparent guarantees to our community that the collected funds are spent as explained and expected in each referendum. 
Please join us in your active support by voting YES on both of these measures.
Over 40 business leaders with a combined net worth well into several billions of dollars, are supporting the most regressive sales tax hikes of 1 1/2 percent. Many of these same millionaires and billionaires have donated over $100,000 to the AFT PAC. These taxes will make Hillsborough County, with a median household income of $51,681, the highest sales taxed county in the state of Florida.

Trust us, and the Vinik Times, they say.

Trust us. This is not a red or blue issue. It is about green. They want your hard earned green cash out of your pockets to fund ill defined projects and enrich a select few of them.

Was the Times done? No. There was more! As ballots start coming in, All for Transportation makes its case for sales tax hike.
There is little disagreement that Hillsborough County’s roads and bus network are not meeting the needs of the fast-growing county. 
But how to fix congestion and pay for better transit remains a thorny issue even as voting by mail already is underway on a proposed one-cent-on-the-dollar sales tax hike to raise billions for transportation improvements. 
All for Transportation, the group that got the plan on the ballot, on Friday took its campaign to Cafe Con Tampa, a weekly current-event discussion group.
At least this article acknowledged there is some disagreement about the plan that was questioned at Cafe Con Tampa on Friday, October 12.  Of course quoting AFT representatives statements without criticism. We'll have another post soon on Cafe Con Tampa event, but this caught our eye:
The charter amendment written by All for Transportation prohibits portions of the tax earmarked for congestion relief, road and bridge repairs, sidewalks and bike trails from being used for new roads or road widening. 
But of the money that is allocated for roads, close to 20 percent can be spent building new ones, the group says.
This is the first time we've notice the local media properly acknowledging the AFT amendment has restrictions on new road capacity. Yet the Times immediately follows up with a statement from AFT that "close to 20 percent can be built spending new ones". The only portion of the amendment that mentions 20 percent is 11.07(1):
(1) Maintenance and Vulnerability Reduction. At least twenty percent (20%) of the General Purpose Portion shall be expended on projects that: (i) improve, repair and maintain existing streets, roads, and bridges, including fixing potholes, or (ii) reduce congestion and transportation vulnerabilities.
Which is among those sections specifically excluded by 11.07(8):
(8) Limits on New Automobile Lane Capacity. Agencies are prohibited from expending any funds from the categories mandated by Section 11.07(1), (2) and (3) above on New Automobile Lane Capacity. For purposes of this Section 11.07(8), “New Automobile Lane Capacity” means projects that consist of (i) adding additional lanes for automobile traffic to existing roads or streets that are not related to intersection capacity improvement, or (ii) constructing new roads or streets.
It's pretty damn clear what's in the amendment. And it's pretty damn clear it does not include new road capacity. But it is still a mystery why no one will call AFT out for their clear deceptions.

Perhaps we all know why in this era of fake news and distrust in the media.

The Vinik Times supports the Vinik Tax.

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