Earmarks in government are often associated with pork barrel spending, hand outs and wasteful spending without due diligence. In government, earmarks are handed out with little to no planning and the general public now has wary eyes on earmarks.
It may be after the election but the big mess All For Transportation (AFT) created is unfolding. While local media continues to ignore what is actually in AFT's charter amendment and all the issues swirling around it, we will continue to expose those issues.
AFT knew their transit tax hike did not fund any existing transportation plan. They knew it because the AFT tax hike is not just a tax hike referendum, it is an appropriations bill full of earmarks.
AFT, a political committee accountable to no one and funded by wealthy special interests, made up their own mandated earmarks with no transparent due diligence, planning or plan.
AFT knew that if they inserted specific earmarks into their 5 page tax hike charter amendment and it passed, transportation plans would have to then be created to match the earmarks AFT made up - for 30 years.
And then taxpayers are stuck with little to no recourse except repealing the charter amendment. Taxpayers have no one to hold accountable for AFT's mandated appropriations.
AFT put the cart before the horse and that is risky business.
Dictating earmarks with no planning or transportation plan is the poster child for wasteful spending and is risky business.
Forcing taxpayers to fund AFT's mandated earmarks for 30 years is risky business.
AFT's attempt to do an end round the rule of law is risky business. Can anyone, including those accountable to no one, appropriate and mandate earmarks?
AFT spent almost $4 million making exaggerated claims, deceitfully not calling their initiative a "tax" and misleading the public about their massive $16 Billion tax hike. While AFT's deceptive, untruthful and misleading campaign rhetoric is not illegal, it certainly smells.
However, using language in any ballot initiative that is deceptive, misleading and/or confusing can be illegal.
The Times jumped on the bandwagon to throw State Amendment 8 off the November ballot. The Times even wrote an editorial about Amendment 8
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 ballotLanguage in any ballot initiative that violates any state statute, federal law or the Constitution is illegal.
Citizen initiated amendments to the State of Florida Constitution must go thru a validity review by the Florida Supreme Court before the amendment can be placed on the ballot. But there was no validity review done by anyone for AFT's citizen initiated charter amendment that was written by a few transit advocates over drinks.
AFT's charter amendment was not legally vetted by any local governing body receiving the tax proceeds or their legal counsel. To date, AFT has provided no evidence that they had their charter amendment legally vetted by anyone.
Unfortunately, issues brought up prior to the election about confusing and misleading ballot language and even potential legal issues with the charter amendment language, were ignored and not considered "newsworthy" by local media.
No transparency, no vetting, no validity review, deceptive marketing campaign and dishonest media coverage is how big messes occur.
AFT created this big mess and they own it!
And big messes, especially legal ones, must be resolved.
So now Commissioner White's lawsuit is challenging some of the questionable language in AFT's charter amendment to get the big mess resolved.
Commissioner White's dialogue at the January 9th BOCC meeting was never reported. His dialogue relates to the mandated earmarks included in AFT's tax hike charter amendment. The video/closed caption transcript of the entire meeting can be found here.
Go to about 3:15 in the video to hear White's dialogue. A copy of White's dialog from the closed caption transcript is found here.
The dialogue is between White, County Administrator Mike Merrill, County Attorney Christine Beck and Alan Zimmet, the outside attorney hired by Hillsborough County on White's lawsuit. Note that Zimmet is also attorney for transit agencies, PSTA and TBARTA.
White begins by asking if the allocations in AFT's charter amendment "both with the percentage breakdowns and categories of funding are based upon any formally adopted transportation plan." County Administrator Mike Merrill replies "not that I'm aware of inside the four walls of this building". Merrill answers "they" were not consulted and did not provide any information that would have contributed to those and answers "No".
Merrill confirms AFT misrepresented their claims and misled the voting public that their massive tax hike was funding some existing or approved "transportation plan". And this confirms AFT not only made up their own plan but they made up their own earmarks that dictate specifically how $16 Billion must be spent for 30 years.
If AFT had funded any approved plan, they would have referred to it in their charter amendment.
White raises numerous questions about how AFT's mandated appropriations impact the county commission and a county commissioner's ability to govern. White highlights that AFT's mandated appropriations does not just impact the current county commission board but all future boards and county commissioners for 30 years.
White questions how any governing board of any agency receiving AFT's tax proceed deals with change. Change can be a myriad of things especially over 30 long years.
Change can include changing needs of the agency, economic disruptions, changes to regulations at any level of government, technology, technology disruptions, innovation, and on and on and on.
Any of these changes could cause an issue or "disrupt" how AFT decided to appropriate the tax proceeds for 30 years.
Remember just a few short years ago, Hillsborough County did not have ride-share which has now exploded in Hillsborough County.
White questions how will the county or other governing agencies receiving AFT tax proceeds deal with such changes or disruptions. Failure to be able to deal with change could put taxpayers at a huge risk.
White ends his comments with this:
>> STACY WHITE: LET ME JUST CLOSE BY SAYING THAT ON THE FLIP SIDE, NO ONE SHOULD HAVE THE ABILITY TO DO an unlawful IN RUN AROUND FLORIDA STATUTES and DULY ELECTED BODY IN HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY.If such hypothetical or something similar ever occurred, we can bet the Times and others would immediately condemn such local policy, demand the policy be overturned and be supportive of any lawsuit to throw out such policy.
IF THAT'S THE CASE, THEN COUNTIES ACROSS THE STATE AND THIS IS AN ISSUE THAT'S BIGGER than Hillsborough County, counties CAN OPT TO DO IN RUNS AROUND LOCAL COUNTY COMMISSIONS thru county charters.
HYPOTHETICAL EXAMPLE, LET'S TAKE THE NEW CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT THAT RELATES TO VOTING RIGHTS.
YOU COULD HAVE A CITIZEN LED CHARTER AMENDMENT PASS THAT BANS FELONS FROM REGISTERING TO VOTE IN THAT COUNTY.
NOW, LET'S JUST SAY THAT 6 OF THE 7 COUNTY COMMISSIONERS IN THAT COUNTY HAVE AN OUTCOME THAT IS A MATTER OF POLICY THEY ARE HAPPY WITH THAT THEY AGREE WITH.
THEY OPT AS A BODY TO NOT QUESTION IT.
BUT ONE BOARD MEMBER RECOGNIZES THAT'S AN UNLAWFUL CHARTER AMENDMENT.
THIS IS A RHETORICAL, HYPOTHETICAL QUESTION.
WHAT WOULD THAT COMMISSIONER DO?
YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT A CHARTER AMENDMENT THAT WOULD BE OBVIOUSLY UNLAWFUL.
BUT UNLAWFUL DOESN'T HAVE TO BE OBVIOUS.
THAT'S WHY WE HAVE ATTORNEYS AND JUDGES.
SO I JUST WANT TO LEAVE EVERYONE THINKING ABOUT THAT HYPOTHETICAL EXAMPLE.
THAT WILL CONCLUDE MY REMARKS.
White's lawsuit is much bigger and broader than just Hillsborough County.
Can anyone appropriate sales tax proceeds in Florida?
Can anyone, including political committees accountable to no taxpayer, create their own spending earmarks and use wealthy special interests to get their earmarks on the ballot?
No one should be enabled or empowered to create local policies, legislation or governance that violates the Constitution or state or federal law.
And that includes deep pocketed special interests who pay their way onto the ballot to do an end round the rule of law.