Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Astroturfing For A Massive Transit Tax Hike

Tampa, Fl
From: Eye On Tampa Bay
Posted by: Sharon Calvert 

We posted here about the oddity of the transit tax hike petition PAC All for Transportation (AFT) to hand the SOE thousands of petitions to validate but not provide payment to the SOE to start the petition validation process.

Apparently AFT finally paid the SOE yesterday to begin validating the petitions they handed in on June 29th. Why did it take AFT 10 days to pay and how did the SOE account for what was handed them on June 29th? The public must be assured that the SOE process has no gaps and everything is properly accounted for from the minute any petitions are delivered to the SOE counter.

As the validation process proceeds, the SOE petition tracking list will provide the validation rate reflecting fallout. AFT intends to gather 70-80K petitions as a buffer to cover fall out by July 27th at 5pm. That is 17 days away with tens of thousands of petitions to go.

SOE petition tracking list updated for
transit tax hike petition
As Tampa Bay Guardian recently posted, there are numerous valid concerns with this hastily pursued 6 week petition effort trying to put a massive 30 year 14% transit sales tax hike on the November ballot.

We know deep pocketed downtown special interests Jeff Vinik and Frank Morsani are funding the transit tax hike AFT but who else is behind this petition effort?

The document filed with the SOE to create All for Transportation reflects there is a nonprofit "connected" to the AFT called Keep Hillsborough Moving. That is similar to 2010 when the Tampa Bay Partnership was connected to the rail tax PAC Moving Hillsborough Forward.

Additional documents filed with SOE reflect the PAC appointment of Nancy Watkins as Treasurer and her husband Robert Watkins as Deputy Treasurer.

When the initial Articles of Incorporation for the nonprofit Keep Hillsborough Moving was filed June 8, 2018 no Directors were named. An Amended Articles of Incorporation was filed on June 26th that does name the nonprofit's Directors - Tyler Hudson, Robert Watkins and Janet Scherberger.

Directors named for the Keep Hillsborough Moving nonprofit
that is connected to the transit tax hike PAC All for Transportation
Who are these people?
Tyler Hudson
Tyler Hudson is also Chair of the AFT PAC. According to Hudson's LinkedIn Profile, he is an attorney with a BA in Philosophy. Hudson recently joined the law firm Gardner Brewer Martinez-Monfort PA and focuses on commercial real estate. He just left the huge global law firm Holland and Knight in May.

Holland and Knight were big financial backers of the 2010 rail tax PAC Moving Hillsborough Forward. (or go to  SOE website and clicking on the 2010 Election cycle group). They donated $30K to the PAC but then provided consulting and campaign services to the PAC and got their donation back and thousands more.

Hudson's LinkedIn also provides his "volunteer" experience that includes he is currently on the Board of Directors of the Downtown Partnership and the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, both big supporters of the 2010 rail tax and the proposed tax hike from the Go Hillsborough debacle. They are not grassroots organizations.
Hudson's Volunteer Experience 
Hudson is on the Board of Directors of the Tampa Heights Civic Association who helped lead a fight against FDOT's TBX interstate project that has since morphed into TampaBayNext. According to this Times article this Association supports tearing down 10 miles of I-275, that is a major evacuation route in Tampa Bay and hundreds of thousands of vehicles use everyday, from downtown to Bearss Avenue. And replace the interstate with a boulevard with a train.

Coincidentally (or not), Hudson was recently appointed to the Citizens Advisory Committee of TBARTA in April as a City of Tampa appointee. He was appointed by rail advocate Mayor Buckhorn who continues insisting county taxpayers pay for costly trains in Tampa.

Who is Robert Watkins?
Robert Watkins
Robert and his wife Nancy Watkins own an accounting firm Robert Watkins and Company in south Tampa where they also reside. Nancy, who specializes in the complexities of campaign finance accounting, provides campaign finance accounting services and is the treasurer for too numerous to name candidates, PAC's and 527's.

Robert Watkins is Chair of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority Board. He was first appointed to the Aviation Authority Board by Governor Scott in 2011 and reappointed by the Governor in 2015.

Nancy Watkins is the Treasurer and Robert Watkins is the Deputy Treasurer of the PAC All for Transportation.

Who is Janet Scherberger?
Janet Scherbergr
Before she married she was known as Janet Zink who was a reporter with the Tampa Bay Times. Her LinkedIn profile reflects she left the Times in September 2011 to become Director of Communications at Tampa International Airport (TIA). According to this Tribune article Zink/Scherberger took her new position at a then salary of $110,000.

Since 2013 she has been in her current position as Assistant VP of Media and Government Relations. Scherberger often represents Tampa airport at Hillsborough MPO meetings and TMA meetings the Eye has attended and is a transit supporter.

According to the Airport Administration information found on Tampa International Airport's (TIA) website:
The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority is an independent special district of the State of Florida, established by the 1945 Florida Legislature with exclusive jurisdiction, control, supervision and management over all publicly owned airports in Hillsborough County. 
The Authority is a self-supporting organization and generates revenues from airport users to fund operating expenses and debt service requirements. Capital projects are funded through bonds, short-term financing, passenger facility charges, federal and state grants, and internally generated funds. Although empowered to levy ad valorem property taxes, the Authority has not collected any tax funds since 1973.
While TIA does not levy an ad valorem property tax to operate like HART does, the airport receives state and federal grant monies. In 2014 (another election year) Governor Scott handed TIA $194 million toward the recently completed BILLION dollar Phase 1 of their master plan improvements.

Phase 1 included moving and expanding the rental car center to the economy parking lot and expanding the elevated People Mover 1.3 miles to the economy parking lot at a cost of almost a half BILLION dollars. Phase 2 and 3 of the Master Plan, estimated to cost about $1.6 BILLION, are included in this presentation from a Master Plan workshop held April 2017.

Now there are two of the three Directors of a politicized nonprofit, connected to a PAC trying to put a massive 30 year 14% transit sales tax hike on the November ballot, that are associated with the Tampa airport. One chairs the governing authority of the airport, the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, and one is an executive employee of the airport - that receives taxpayer money.

Legal? Ethical? Conflicts of interests with any of this? We do not know but these Directors are well connected not grassroots.

Why is the airport pushing the sales tax hike boondoggle?

To expand the elevated People Mover to the proposed Westshore Multi-Modal Center?

In 2014, FDOT and TIA did a feasibility study for a TIA/Westshore MultiModal Center and according to this Tribune report in 2016 (emphasis mine):
The Florida Department of Transportation has closed on a Westshore Business District site that could become a regional transportation hub linking buses, an airport people-mover and potential commuter rail. 
FDOT’s $45 million bid submitted in November was accepted by the Blackstone Group, a New York-based investment and advisory firm that held the property now housing a DoubleTree by Hilton hotel and Charley’s Steakhouse. The site is bordered by West Cypress Street, Interstate 275, Trask Street and Manhattan Avenue.
The Times also reported about the purchase in 2016:
The center, once constructed, will be used as a hub for transit to Tampa International Airport, as a depot for Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority buses and as a station if a light rail or bus rapid transit system were to connect Pinellas and Hillsborough counties in the future. 
Airport CEO Joe Lopano called the move "a giant step in the right direction." 
"A multimodal center near the airport that connects us to the region … has always been a key part of our vision for the future of Tampa International," Lopano said. "Many more pieces still need to fall into place to make that vision a reality, but this is a critical component." 
That two-year period is tied to a prediction of how long it will take the FDOT to complete a study with Hillsborough's transit authority evaluating different options, including light rail and converting existing CSX freight tracks to commuter rail.
We must assume Lopano supports this proposed massive transit tax hike.

We reported last year about TIA airport fees that now includes fees to use ride-share services like Uber and Lyft:
We are at the limit for what we are taxed for already, still waiting for roads, storm drainage and sewer fixes, while the elites are strategizing to tax us for their benefits. 
The one thing we do know -- they will not give up trying to get them to pay for their profit. 
But to the elites, "them" is you.
This petition effort for a massive transit sales tax hike is not grassroots.

It is a power grab.

This is an astroturf effort by city of Tampa elites and the well connected to do an end round around duly elected Hillsborough County commissioners.

This is an astroturf effort paid for by wealthy special interests and orchestrated by well connected power brokers to further their interests by using a front group of Tampa urbanists and political hired guns.

This is an astroturf effort by downtown Tampa interests for another 30 year bad plan that constrains roads and forces taxpayers in unincorporated Hillsborough to pay for outdated and costly transit/rail in the city of Tampa.

As we previously posted here, Hillsborough County can pay for its transportation NEEDS without any massive sales tax hike.

Instead we get another astroturf effort by wealthy special interests, well connected power brokers, their fawning media accomplices, and their political operatives, for a huge14% sales tax hike, that hurts low and fixed income the most, because the elites refuse to even consider anything else.

But a multi-million dollar transit tax hike advocacy campaign funded by deep pocketed special interests would fill the coffers of some local PR firms.

Follow the money!

This post is contributed by EYE ON TAMPA BAY. The views expressed in this post are the blog publisher's and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher of Bay Post Internet.

Cross Posted with permission from: Eye On Tampa Bay

Sunday, July 29, 2018

My NFL Protest Season II

I was hoping that the players, the owners and the league could come to a peaceful resolution of the problem.

St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin, So You Want to Blog.
Summer is dragging to an end which means it is time for the football season to begin. All summer the NFL and the players union have bantered back and forth over the National Anthem protests.
Last year, I did a complete NFL boycott, including all products advertised on any of the NFL games.
I was hoping that the players, the owners and the league could come to a peaceful resolution of the problem, and football could get back to football.
Looks like that will not happen.
Between the insensitivity of the players, the pettiness of the owners and the inability of the league to think about anything but money it looks like the cloud of national anthem protests fueled by the media, sports writers and the liberal left will generally ruin football for another year.
Hopefully, advertisers and networks will have some serious conversations with all parties and convince them the current approach is a loose loose for everyone.
On the other hand, I really enjoyed the FIFA World cup soccer this summer. I have developed a much better appreciation for the game, and on a number of levels, it is much more entertaining and quicker than traditional football.
Less violence a lot more than line up grunt, throw the ball and see how many people you can hurt; the basic tenants of American football. I think as a society we may be moving beyond that.
It will be a bit tougher this year to add any new products or companies to my NFL sponsor boycott list as there appear to not be many new companies with goods to sell interested in being part of a violent game that disrespects what we stand for and coddle those who abuse.
If you're thinking about buying tickets or going to a few games, why not save the money or try a couple of soccer games or take the family to a movie. And, if you own a business and are considering a sky box, or a package of season tickets to use as promotion and handouts, I would think again. You could be throwing good money after bad.
 Want to know who the NFL sponsors are? The NFL Players Association web site is a good place to start. Ford is a problem for me, I was seriously considering one of those new Broncos to replace my Jeep.
You can also Google NFL sponsors for 2018.
Last year, we moved about $4000 dollars from NFL sponsors to other suppliers and manufacturers of household products and beverages.
We are setting up a new house and have plans to buy a couple of cars, there may be some opportunities there.
I won’t be watching any of the games on television, and I will try to avoid the football sections of local sports shows and their sponsors also.
Sound like a lot of trouble?
Not really when you compare it to what all those who have served us to protect our freedom have given.
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Contributor to: Rick Scott for Senate 

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Thursday, July 26, 2018

Grade F- : The Math Now Fails Even More for Rays’ New Stadium

Tampa, Fl
Tampa Bay Beat
Published By: Jim Bleyer

Attendance at Florida Marlins stadium built at taxpayer expense.

 By Scott Myers, Contributor
What if your brother-in-law offered you this investment opportunity?  Participation in a deal that costs $51 million per year and returns $20 million per year.  Would you say yes?  Would you jump at the chance to be part of an investment group that will lose $31 million per year?
Well that is pretty much what is going to play out, if the new Rays stadium gets built in Ybor City for $892 million (not including cost of land).  To finance that amount of money over 30 years at 4% interest will cost $51 million per year.
What is particularly depressing is that our elected leaders and local officials continue to be eager to put public money towards this high-risk investment.  If it were their own money, they would have ‘left the building’ long ago.
Recall that the math did not work when we were under the expectation that the new stadium would cost just a paltry $600 million.  Now that the cost is up to $900 million, it is totally ludicrous.
If the Rays, MLB, and local 1-percenters want to invest their money in this endeavor, that is certainly their call.  The Rays are a private enterprise and can do whatever they want with their money and any other private money that they may round up.  However, it is totally obscene to put even one public dollar towards this project.
Maybe, it makes sense for the Rays to build a new stadium at this high cost.  MLB would be well served to continue to have a franchise in the 13th largest TV market in the USA and pay for whatever portion of cost that the Rays will not.
When you divide the debt load over 29 other teams, it quickly becomes chump change.  And, if indeed, attendance jumps up and maintains, the $20 million per year in increased Rays revenue should reduce the amount of revenue sharing that the Rays are receiving now from many of the other teams.
These stupid contracts also include many wasted dollars being paid to players after they are no longer on MLB rosters because of career ending injuries or simply because of no longer being of MLB caliber.  Even so, MLB is chugging along with rapidly growing revenues, paying a declining percent of total revenues to players, and experiencing ballooning team valuations.
Another data point that shows the incredible wealth of MLB is its player pension plan benefits.  A 10-year veteran can draw $210,000 per year starting at age 62, or if he is very impatient, can draw $66,000 per year as early as age 45.  See graphic below.
What a tragedy that 65% of the cost of stadia over the last 27 years has been paid by taxpayers!  Tampa can do the whole nation a huge favor by stopping this nonsense.
Of course, you will hear the Rays and local leaders/officials expound on the great economic impact that an MLB team has on the region.  That is mostly horse feathers.  Consider that when you spend $100 at a Rays game, you are not spending that money at your neighborhood Macaroni Grill. or anywhere else locally.
And that $100 spent at a Rays game goes almost entirely to the Rays with most of it leaving Tampa Bay never to be seen again.  You will hear that fans of the visiting team travel here to attend games.  Keep in mind that Tampa Bay folks travel to attend road games as well.  During yesterday’s televised broadcast of the game in Minneapolis, there were sightings of Rays fans sitting in the stands.
You will hear stadium proponents say that using tourist tax money is fine, since most of it is paid by visitors to the area, not local taxpayers.  Horse feathers once again!  Regrettably, by law, tourist money has to be used for touristy things and/or enriching professional sports franchise owners.  That money should be used to improve the lives of the taxpaying citizens that live here, not to enrich billionaires and/or to create more low paying hospitality sector jobs.
Most importantly, Hillsborough County can no longer afford to divert any more public money to private enterprises.  We all know that education, transportation, infrastructure, etc. are being woefully neglected.
It is a disgrace that many hours of effort will be expended by publicly paid ‘leaders and officials’ to continue to try to allocate public money towards the new stadium effort.  What a colossal waste of tax payer money!
Cross Posted with permission from: Tampa Bay Beat  This post is contributed by Tampa Bay Beat. The views and opinions expressed in this post are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of Bay Post Internet or the publisher.