Developer Jeff Vinik’s six-month, multi-million-dollar propaganda campaign aimed at hoodwinking Hillsborough County residents into voting themselves the highest sales tax rate in Florida passed by a large margin Tuesday.
By 57-43, voters approved the $16 billion, 30-year transit tax that will bring the county’s sales tax rate to 8.5 percent.
The tax paves the way for continued urban sprawl, gives a blank check for unscrupulous developers, and will displace minority communities.
All while failing to relieve traffic congestion.
In a classic display of voting against its self interest, the Hillsborough electorate handed Vinik a subsidy for his failing downtown development, Water Street Tampa.
The Vinik-owned Tampa Bay Times was complicit in the horror, imposing a six-month blackout on any coverage unfavorable to the plan. Vinik is the de facto owner of the financially-troubled Times which sports a reported debt in excess of $100 million.
Vinik poured more than a few million dollars of his own personal fortune, spreading false information and propagandizing the virtues of a tax that essentially props up his failing $3 billion downtown investment. He refused to debate the issue, and paid public officials and government workers to rush the ill-conceived proposition on the November ballot.
Water Street Tampa has been in deep trouble. It hasn’t met construction and commitment benchmarks, with only USF’s Morsani College of Medicine near completion. Vinik only owes the presence of that structure to his friendship with outgoing USF President Judy Genshaft.
Vinik unveiled plans more than five years ago for a health-centric district around Channelside. He promised Fortune 500 companies and a health-oriented grocery. None of that materialized.
A $16 billion taxpayer funded honeypot, overseen by Vinik’s corporate cronies and paid political allies, will bail him out. A light rail spur is expected to run through his property from USF to the airport
We know Vinik is the big winner; the losers Hillsborough County taxpayers, Vinik’s targeted “marks” in his stay-rich scheme. Other losers:
-- NoTaxforTracks, the fiscally-conservative organization that defeated Moving Hillsborough Forward in 2010, Greenlight Pinellas in 2014, and Go Hillsborough in 2016. It spearheaded opposition to Vinik’s woefully misnamed All for Transportation swindle.
-- The Tampa NAACP, which unanimously opposed Vinik’s chicanery. The black community was not consulted and would not have any representation on Vinik’s “oversight” committee. The light rail spur to benefit Vinik will displace East Tampa’s minority community. The Tampa Bay Times did not cover the NAACP meeting when the transit question was discussed and voted upon.
-- Low- and middle-income families who will bear the brunt of the regressive subsidy for development interests.
-- Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer, who approved ambiguous ballot language and illegible petition signatures during the mad dash to push Vinik’s farce onto the November ballot. Latimer is up for re-election in 2020 and will face formidable opposition. He will have to answer for his partiality.
Jim Bleyer, a former reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and Tampa Tribune, writes the Tampa Bay Beat blog.
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