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Bribery, Misrepresentation Mark Push to Sell Transit Tax to Hillsborough Voters

September 29, 2018 - 6:00am
Beth Alden, Hillsborough MPO executive director
Beth Alden, Hillsborough MPO executive director

The Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization is dysfunctional and in need of a big housecleaning: a new executive director and new staff.

The MPO earlier this year sided with proponents of the proposed 1 percent sales tax increase as it began its 2045 long-range transportation planning (LRTP).

Now the MPO is trying to rewrite its own history in the 2045 planning effort, revamping a prior 20-year 2040 plan. The changes involve:

— Excluding the billion dollars of new road capacity that was funded in its 2040 Plan.

— Replacing the term “rail” to “rapid transit system”. Costly rail is like kryptonite to a large majority of Hillsborough voters.

— Using its 2045 survey to promote a specific agenda. Scenario planning is not intended to push projects but the MPO is doing exactly that with its 2045 planning process.

The MPO’s 2045 three scenarios, clumsily named A, B, and C, are a total deviation from the MPO’s 2040 planning process executed in 2013-2014 by former Director of the MPO Ray Chiarmonte, who left to be the director of TBARTA in 2015.

The 2040 planning scenarios were named “Suburban Dream”, “Bustling Metro” and “New Corporate Centers” and specific projects associated with each scenario were not thrust on the public. That all changed.

Beth Alden took over as director of the MPO when Chiarmonte departed in 2015. This reconfiguration mess is all on her watch.

Scenario A provides for only a “few” and “select” road projects. Really? It omits the billion-dollar-plus of new road capacity needs identified in the 2040 plan years ago in 2014.

Scenario B only addresses interstates and some select few expressway interchanges, but includes the absurd specific project of tearing down I-275 from downtown to Bearss Avenue and converting that 10 miles of interstate to a street level boulevard with a train. I-275 is a major evacuation route that 200,000 people use everyday. Can the MPO legally propose tearing down a federal interstate?

Scenario C is costly rail, rail and more rail. Why does it include Brightline, the privately funded rail service that has stated it wants private rail service to connect Orlando to Tampa? Because of the new proposed Ybor City baseball stadium with no allowance for parking?

The reformulated scenarios are all rigged to fool voters.

The Hillsborough MPO’s 2045 planning process is simply not credible. It appears to be a misuse or abuse of the long-range transportation planning process.

Bribes being offered to the public for participating in its biased 2045 survey reflects the MPO’s desperation.

By completing the survey and leaving an email address, participants will be eligible for drawings for pairs of tickets to Lightning, Bucs or arts events. Seven drawings will be held during the Oct. 2, 9 a.m. Hillsborough MPO Board Meeting for pairs of tickets to the following:

—Tampa Bay Lightning (five single games in the 2018/19 season, one game per winner drawn)

—Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs New Orleans Saints game (12/9/2018 – 2nd row seats!)

—The Palladium Theater at St. Petersburg College (choice of five shows)

Can the federally mandated taxpayer funded Hillsborough MPO use “freebies” to bribe people to take their taxpayer-funded surveys? Did the MPO Board authorize this? Is this legal?

Who is part of the MPO’s “freebie” bribery? Jeff Vinik, owner of the Lightning and the developer of the flailing Water Street Tampa project. It is Vinik and his downtown Tampa special interest allies who perpetrated the massive 30-year $16 billion transit tax referendum and funded 99 percent of the advocacy campaign.

The term “All for Transportation” is a sick and expensive joke.  

In addition, the 14 percent transit tax hike would hand the MPO Central Planners gobs of new taxpayer money.

The $16 billion tax hike hands the Hillsborough MPO central planners a $160 million windfall over 30 years. But the MPO’s own 2040 Long Range Transportation Plan stated they only needed $16 million over 20 years. How does one get from $16 million over 20 years to $160 million over 30 years?

This massive tax hike is a big boondoggle for the MPO central planners wasting gobs of taxpayer money on central planning that the MPO never stated they needed.

Janet Scherberger, who works for Tampa International Airport Director Joe Lopano as VP of government relations, is Lopano’s alternate as a voting member on the MPO Board. She sits as a voting member on the MPO Board. She is also a Director of Keep Hillsborough Moving, Inc., the nonprofit directly connected to the All for Transportation PAC who fast tracked the transit tax hike on the ballot. Scherberger is actively working with the pro-rail tax PAC.

Who is complicit with whom?

With the MPO being massively overfunded by the transit tax hike, how was the MPO not included in the required performance audit?

There are no coincidences in this tax scam. MPO staff, at the highest level, have diminished its credibility.

They bank on the local media, which Vinik controls through bailouts and advertising, not scrutinizing or reporting all the information.  So far, it’s a winning bet.

So yes "It's Time Tampa Bay,” not for approving the MPO's 2045 rigged plan but for casting a big ray of sunshine on the Hillsborough MPO.

It’s also imperative for the MPO Board members to step up and rein in overreach by MPO staff.

 

Sharon Calvert is a conservative activist and with her husband, Mark, writes the blog Eye on Tampa Bay

Comments

As is often the case in voting, it will come down to how smart, well-informed, and interested the voters are. The people pushing this special interest boondoggle have been betting that the Hillsborough/Tampa votes are dumb, uninformed, and uninterested.

VOTE NO TAX!! The transportation + school sales taxes will increase our sales tax to 8 1/2%. That will be the highest in Florida. The billionaires are spending 1+ million dollars to pass the transportation tax, and they are expecting a return on their money. Talk to your neighbors, and bring them to the polls in November. VOTE NO TAX!!!

THIS "Money Pit" awaits ALL who fall ( or jump) into it...! (If you are a Tax-PAYER,.. RUN AWAY (don't merely "walk"), You won't "escape" at walk-speed ! ! !

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