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Wake Up and Smell the Coffee: Latest on the Hillsborough Transit Tax Boondoggle

September 13, 2018 - 6:00am

It should come as no surprise that voters and taxpayers are not funding promotion of the grossly misnamed All for Transportation (AFT), 30-year, 14 percent rail tax hike.

The Tampa Bay Partnership, leader of the local rail cartel, has been complicit with certain members of the mainstream media in disseminating the misinformation that the transit tax is a grass roots effort.

According to AFT’s latest campaign filing on the Supervisor of Elections website, $175,000 was recently donated to the AFT transit tax hike PAC from merely two donors -- BayCare Health Systems donated $50,000 and another $125,000 was filtered through Tampa General Hospital’s wholly owned coffee shop subsidiary.

Sounds like more grounds to defeat the tax.

Seven special interest entities have donated $925,000 to push the unnecessary massive 30-year transit tax hike scheme on local taxpayers.  

While almost $1 million has been donated by corporate cronies, only $1,025 has been donated by individuals -- in a county of 1.3 million people.

The dismal support by those who actually can vote may indicate how totally underwhelmed voters and taxpayers are about raising their sales taxes to the highest in the state. The proposed $16 billion transit tax hike includes billions for costly rail but zero funding for new roads and new lane capacity -- for 30 years.

High-profile AFT donors Jeff Vinik and Sykes Enterprises are intertwined with the Tampa Bay Partnership. BayCare and Tampa General Hospital (TGH) are also $50,000 pay-to-play members of the TBP.

BayCare gave at least $25,000 to the ill-fated Greenlight Pinellas light rail initiative in 2014.

When we looked at BayCare Health Systems 990 for 2014, which is available through Guidestar, we could not find the $25,000 donation to the Greenlight Pinellas political advocacy campaign in its Schedule C – Political Campaign and Lobbying Activities.

House of Coffee Tampa is a Starbucks franchise that operates in Tampa General Hospital and TGH Brandon Healthplex. House of Coffee’s legal entity is TGHHOC, Inc. which is a for-profit, wholly-owned subsidiary of Florida Health Sciences Inc.

Florida Health Sciences, Inc. is the nonprofit legal entity under which Tampa General Hospital operates.

It seems a bit odd for a two-site coffeehouse to be handing $125,000 to a PAC. But for-profit corporations do not have the limits or restrictions on engaging in political activity that nonprofits have.

Therefore, it appears TGH funneled their $125,000 PAC contribution to AFT through their for-profit coffee house subsidiary. Until now, voters didn’t know beans about this shell game.

The president and CEO of Tampa General Hospital, John Couris, who receives a total salary package of more than $1 million a year, was hired last June from Jupiter, Fla. Coincidentally, Couris had previously worked at BayCare.

Couris is on the Board of Florida Health Sciences Inc. (TGH) and, interestingly, Kathleen Shanahan is also on the Board of Florida Health Sciences (TGH)).

Shanahan is currently a City of Tampa (Mayor Bob Buckhorn) appointee to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority Board (HART) and she is HART’s representative on the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transport Authority.

HART would get so many transit tax dollars from AFT’s rail tax hike, they would literally be swimming in it. We bet TBARTA, created by the state at the request of Tampa Bay Partnership, will want a piece of the massive transit funding action too.

For the last few years, Tampa Bay Partnership has been promoting regionalism in Tampa Bay, Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., lecturing us that we must regionally speak as one kumbaya voice -- to get more state and federal tax dollars, of course.

Now Tampa Bay Partnership is funding another unnecessary 14 percent, Tampa-centric Hillsborough County rail tax hike. They want to force taxpayers in unincorporated areas to pay billions for costly rail in the city of Tampa.  At the same time, the $16 billion tax hike provides ZERO dedicated funding for 30 years for new road capacity, desperately needed in unincorporated Hillsborough.

Tampa Bay Partnership’s kumbaya moment had an expiration date.

Tyler Hudson, chair of AFT PAC, is a board member of the Tampa Heights Civic Association, whose members want to tear interstates down.

Tampa Bay Partnership aligned itself with the Tampa urbanist transit advocates who want to tear down I-275 downtown north to Bearss Avenue and replace it with a street-level boulevard and a train. Yet, the schizophrenic Tampa Bay Partnership has been proposing a regional BRT on I-275 from Wesley Chapel to downtown St. Pete, which includes that route.

Tampa Bay Partnership and its cronies must have money to burn. They threw gobs of dough behind the defeated 2010 and 2014 transit tax scams in Tampa Bay and are trying it a third time.

But in 2018, innovation and technology are disrupting traditional transit. Ridership has been tanking everywhere, including in Hillsborough County.

The Tampa Bay Partnership was not elected or appointed by anyone and they do not represent the overall business community in Tampa Bay. They are a pay-to-play lobbying group of one-percenters who keep funding expensive campaigns for rail-tax-hike boondoggles.

They refuse to even consider transportation funding solutions that do not require increased taxes, but demand more oversight and accountability.

Insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over again expecting a different outcome.

The All for Transit tax hike is infinitely worse than the 2010 rail tax. The AFT $16 billion tax hike with its five pages of big government regulations ignores funding new road capacity and absurdly prevents and prohibits changes for 30 years -- in a county expected to grow by about 800,000 over the next 30 years.

This is not just an All for Transit tax hike; this is a 30-year congestion creation tax hike that will cause gridlock on Hillsborough County’s arterial roads.

Does BayCare and TGH simply have money to burn?

Why did the two health care providers financially support an unnecessary massive transit tax hike that hurts low- and fixed-income citizens the most? BayCare and TGH benefit from the one-half percent indigent care and trauma center sales surtax that generates over $140 million a year from county taxpayers. They know those who cannot afford to pay for an emergency room visit. Does BayCare and TGH want the low income and the most financially vulnerable to pay for the costly rail they will rarely, if ever, use?

These two entities are also heavily financing a tax plan that will negatively impact first responders as congestion increases in a rapidly growing county.

The common denominator is the Tampa Bay Partnership.

The 2018 version of its previous boondoggles needs to be rejected again.

Sharon Calvert is a conservative activist and with her husband, Mark, writes the blog Eye on Tampa Bay. This story was reprinted with permission from Tampa Bay Beat



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