Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Tampa Centric 5 Turns AFT Transit Tax into Three Ring Circus: Just Vote NO and Defeat It At the Ballot Box

The Tampa Centric 5 Hillsborough County Commissioners (Overman, Cohen, Smith, Myers, Kemp) are responsible for putting the deceptive $23 Billion All for Transportation (AFT) transit tax on the November ballot. They are responsible and the reason why a legal challenge was filed against the AFT tax hike.

Circuit Court Judge Moe ruled on October 10th the (AFT) tax hike ballot language is misleading and removed the deceptive tax hike referendum from the ballot. 

After that ruling, the voting public was bombarded for days with local media headlines shouting the AFT transit tax was "nullified", "removed", "eliminated", "thrown off" the ballot. 

Judge Moe heard oral arguments on October 27th from both sides regarding Plaintiff's request to lift the automatic stay and she did

On Friday, October 28th at 7am, the Hillsborough County SOE had placed signs at all the early voting locations and in the voting booths informing voters the transit tax had been removed from the ballot.

SOE Notice to Voters AFT removed from ballot 

Then Friday afternoon, the stay was temporarily put back in place by the 2nd District Court of Appeals and the SOE signs were removed leaving voters totally confused. 

Voters have been repeatedly told, by the media and by the SOE, that the transit tax has been removed from the ballot. 

The AFT transit tax referendum is corrupted beyond repair. The genie is out of the bottle and cannot be put back in. 

While the AFT tax hike ballot language was ruled unlawful, there may be other issues with the $23B AFT transit tax. 

First, the AFT transit tax ballot is tainted. Voters have been repeatedly told the tax hike referendum was removed. Anyone who opposed or supported the tax hike may have simply not voted on the referendum because they were told, even by the SOE, it had been removed from the ballot.

Confusion now reigns over the AFT tax hike. The integrity of the transit tax hike referendum election is in jeopardy. 

Second, as we posted here, the required Financial Impact Statement (FIS) was NOT included in the ballot language as required by Section 8.05 of the County Charter. The missing FIS violates the County Charter. We have still not gotten a satisfactory answer from the County or SOE for why the FIS was excluded. Local media have been told about this issue yet they have refused to ask questions or report about it.

Third, Hillsborough County directs the voting public to Ordinance 22-9 that specifies how the AFT transit funds are to be appropriated for 30 years. 

But the County neglects to tell voters that per Florida Statute 212.055 the commissioners can apply the proceeds from the sales surtax to as many or as few of the uses Statute 212.055 enumerates in "whatever combination the county commission deems appropriate". 

Statute 212.055 does not mention the transportation sales surtax can fund "Trails". Yet the April 19, 2022 memo from Public Works Asst. County Administrator John Lyons to the County Commissioners states that at a minimum:

The current proposed plan builds out the Greenways Master Plan for Trails at an estimated cost of $273M.

Additional funding would allow for expansion beyond the Master Plan. 

Lyons 4/19 memo also states the $23B sales surtax would:
Resurface roads only once every 30 years
Fund only between 8/10 of a mile to 1 mile of new road capacity per year (a total of 24-30 miles) of additional lane capacity over 30 years

John Lyons memo is nowhere found on the County's "transportation education" website. This is totally unacceptable for a website created by engineering firm HNTB, who was handed a $700K taxpayer funded contract to launch the "transportation education" (aka GOTV) campaign. 

The only place the terminology "build and widen roads" is used is in AFT's ballot summary language, the only thing every voter is guaranteed to read, Those words are the first item listed on the ballot language the tax hike will fund. 

Using those poll tested words as the first item to be funded by the AFT tax, the County implies to voters that building and widening roads is the highest funding priority of the $23B tax hike. 

That implication is totally false. The terms "build and widen roads" are only found in the ballot summary language. They are found NOWHERE else in Ordinance 22-9. Those words are nowhere found in any of the mandated appropriations dictated by Ordinance 22-9. There is NO appropriation in Ordinance 22-9 to fund additional new auto-lane capacity.

Statute 212.055 does not mention "make walking and biking safer". Those terms found in the ballot summary language can mean REMOVING auto lanes for bike paths and/or transit. Voters are not told that.

Fourth, Ordinance 22-9 putting the $23B transit tax on the ballot states:

the Board desires to enact this Ordinance to provide for the levy of, and referendum on, a one percent (1%) transportation system sales surtax (the "Transportation Surtax") in accordance with the State Surtax Law AND as provided herein, to provide a method of funding such transportation needs
All proceeds from the Transportation Surtax....shall be expended only as permitted by AND in accordance with this Ordinance AND the State Surtax Law
A County Ordinance cannot supersede State law. Stating the AFT tax hike proceeds must be used according to Ordinance 22-9 AND State law appears to be conflicting.

Fifth, the County neglects to tell voters the funding allocations currently in Ordinance 22-9 can be changed by a future commission board.  

A serious question is whether this county commission board can legally dictate how future commission and municipality Boards, future HART Boards, future TPO Boards spend their Transportation Surtax proceeds over 30 long years. 

Sixth, the deceptive AFT ballot language was intentionally used for political gain. As we reported here, HART's lawyer David Smith told us.

At the March 10, 2022 BOCC Transportation Workshop, questions about the proposed AFT transit tax were raised. Questions were directed by County staff to the county commissioners whether the ballot question should be generic or "tailored to specific projects" and whether "a percentage split of uses between transit and non-transit projects be addressed".
From March 10, 2022 Transportation Workshop

The Tampa Centric 5 commissioners willfully decided to put the flawed $23B AFT transit tax hike on the ballot with the deceptive poll tested ballot language. 

Their poor judgment, incompetence and willful neglect may have set the County up for more legal challenges. 

The Tampa Centric commissioners have turned the $23B AFT transit tax into a three ring circus a week before the election.

They have no one to blame but themselves for creating another big AFT transit tax hike mess! 


  1. Great article Sharon! It raises many questions and shows the people of this county just how far down their local government’s morals have descended. It is now OK for your commissioners to lie, county staff to withhold information from the public and the media to look the other way. The 5 commissioners mentioned are all on the Transportation Planning Organization that constructed the fantasy called the “Long Range Transportation Plan”. Now they want you to pay for a plan written for the city of Tampa elites. The entire wording of the ballot and spending in the ordinance shows this. They even attempt to make the LRTP the supreme transportation document for the county when the vast majority of the TPO board lives and works in Tampa, but the people live in the county. They are using the people’s desire for better roads to make Tampa and their businesses richer with a train. All without improving the transportation in the county. I don’t like to be lied to by anyone, let alone take money from my pocket. I’m voting NO and the people should too!

  2. Does the fact that HNTB and their marketing firms they subcontracted left John Lyons memo of 4/19 off the county info website evidence they are violating the Florida campaign laws against using taxpayer dollars to advocate a referendum? Should the County Administrator and County Attorney also be held liable since they are to monitor the website for just such violations? Also, can the use of false info from the TPO LRTP be used as evidence. Is the States Attorney and Sheriff Chad aware? The memo completely contradicts what the website states and TPO (LRTP) claims.

    1. This is so weird. I can't believe you people obsess over this. Let it go.

    2. We will when they start telling the truth instead of marketing the voters.

  3. We need ALOT of transportation related work in Hillsborough. The voters already decided on this a few years back. I suspect it could pass again. Why do you all make such a big deal out of this? I didn't even notice the last 1% tax and they raised over $500M. If not this than how do you propose to fix the Hillsborough Infrastructure? Just asking, it does take money to do that.


    2. There are always alternative transportation funding plans. Unfortunately Hillsborough County, with its ballooning budget that increased by over $1 BILLION since last year, refuses to consider any alternatives. This commission prefers a new sales tax so they can use their rising revenues for their own pet projects....even a new baseball stadium. Did you know the County has REMOVED every penny of their skyrocketing property tax revenues from funding transportation? In 2017, the then county commission passed a $812M 10 year transportation funding plan using the growth of existing revenues, including property tax revenues. This current county commission eliminated that plan as property tax revenues were rising and the County was receiving almost $300M of COVID relief money. This commission eliminated a transportation funding plan that had already been committed to their constituents because they wanted a new massive tax hike to bailout transit agency HART who is going insolvent in 2-4 years. Here's an alternative transportation funding plan that does not require a new $23B tax hike: http://www.eyeontampabay.com/2022/03/dr-jim-davison-presents-plan-to-fund.html In addition, the County can, but they refuse to even consider, tax-increment financing (TIF) which is what growing Pasco County decided to use to fund their growing transportation needs instead of a new huge sales tax. And taxpayers cannot ignore the legal issues the County created that potentially put taxpayers at risk again.

  4. Also, I just voted today and a 5th grader could understand the wording of the referendum. There's nothing deceptive to it.

    1. Try using some 5th grade Math and you'll see the numbers don't add up. 40% of tax to Hillsborough with 70% of the population and 70% of the growth. Unincorporated pays 70%. Tampa gets > 50%.

    2. Have you read Ordinance 22-9 that put the $23B transit tax on the ballot? Find where "build and widen roads" -- the 1st item listed the tax funds in the ballot summary language implying that is a high funding priority- anywhere else in all the mandated spending appropriations. Hint: those words are found nowhere else because there is NO funding appropriations to "build and widen roads". Telling voters in the ballot summary language, the only thing every voter is guaranteed to read before they vote, the tax will fund road widening but the Ordinance that includes all the spending appropriations provides no funding for road widening is not deceptive? Please explain why you think that is not deceptive. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/62e157c4e0e7f4762952a57a/t/631a44908526002f4d8160f5/1662665877736/Final+Ordinance+229+Transportation+Surtax+Ordinance.pdf

    3. The County excluded the Financial Impact Statement in the ballot summary language that is required for all County referendums per Section 8.05 of the County Charter. The Financial Impact Statement is required to inform all voters - why it is in the ballot summary language - what the tax is going to cost them and if there's any costs to the County. That information was provided in the 2018 All for Transportation transit tax ballot summary language but is missing in the 2022 transit tax hike ballot summary language. Does the County not want voters to know how much this massive transit tax will take from their wallets? This issue may not only be deception to the voters but it could be another potential legal issue.