On Tampa Bay
Posted by: Sharon Calvert
The public and voters of Hillsborough County must never forget that All for Transit (AFT) caused a dumpster fire legal mess. AFT's dumpster fire resulted in over a HALF A BILLION dollars being unlawfully collected from taxpayers.
finds the legal mess dumpster fire they created nefarious and foul smelling.
AFT was funded by
wealthy special interests who have their own legal counsel. Former Tampa City
Shimberg works for AFT's largest donor Jeff Vinik. It is
reasonable to expect Shimberg, with his public sector and government relations
law experience, fully understands Florida State laws and Statutes. It is
reasonable to expect AFT spokesperson Christina Barker, hired by Vinik 2 weeks
before AFT's transit tax petition drive began in 2018 to cheerlead for the
transit tax, communicates with Vinik's lawyers.
AFT Chair Tyler
Hudson, AFT spokesperson Rena Frazier and AFT spokesperson and one of the authors
of AFT's illegal transit tax Brian Willis, are all lawyers.
AFT was surrounded
by lawyers and had access to lots of lawyers. AFT, a political action committee
(PAC), even met directly with a Hillsborough County Attorney at County Center
to review their referendum ballot language before their petition drive began.
Such meeting appears to have violated the County policy prohibiting any
political activity inside County Center.
How could AFT be so
woefully incompetent and/or ignorant of Florida Statute 212.055 which governs
the local transportation sales surtax?
Or did AFT ram
their illegal transit tax onto the ballot at the 11 hour in 2018 knowing there
were legal issues? Did AFT think no one would file a legal challenge? Did AFT
think if a lawsuit was filed, the outcome would result in the county being able
to keep the transit tax monies, which was exactly Judge Barbas's lower court
ruling in June 2019?
Something smells -
especially since it appears the AFT's high priced lawyers are driving the
AFT lawsuit losers legal actions - not the lawyers for the County or any other
AFT was never a
Defendant in the AFT lawsuit. They filed a court motion that was granted
allowing AFT to be an "Intervenor" in the case to participate in the
legal proceedings. AFT insisted on intervening so their high-priced big gun
lawyers could take over leading the case for the Defendants who could not
afford such pricey legal counsel.
AFT's legal fees
are being paid through their nonprofit Keep Hillsborough Moving, Inc. (KHM)
where donors are not required to be disclosed not through their AFT political
committee that requires donor transparency. The Board members of KHM include AFT Chair Tyler Hudson, Vinik
employee and AFT spokesperson Christina Barker, Hillsborough County Aviation
Authority Board member and AFT's accountant Robert Watkins and Janet
Scherberger, who worked for TIA's CEO Joe Lopano during AFT's 2018 campaign. In
2019, the KHM nonprofit received $814K in contributions and spent almost $800K
on legal fees.
We do not know yet
how much was received or spent by KHM in 2020. We can venture that AFT has
spent well over a million dollars defending their illegal transit
While KHM does not
disclose its donors, it is reasonable to assume the same wealthy special
interests who funded AFT's dishonesty and malfeasance in 2018 are funding AFT's
high cost lawyers. Of course AFT wants the county to keep as much of the
illegal transit tax as possible so AFT keeps funding AFT's dumpster fire legal
mess to that end.
hired outside counsel Alan Zimmet to represent the County in the AFT
lawsuit. According to public records, the county received invoices of less
than $53K thru May 2021 for Zimmet's legal fees. This confirms AFT's lawyers
are leading the Defendant's legal actions, not Zimmet or any other Defendant's
With AFT's high
priced lawyers in charge, the County and other AFT Defendant's lawyers
apparently must pursue the legal actions AFT's big gun lawyers dictate. Thus,
the County filed their phony baloney refund proposal which is not in the
best interests of all taxpayers who were swindled by AFT's illegal transit
Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White filed a motion objecting to the
AFT lawsuit losers "funny business" refund proposal. According
to this report, White stated the
"funny business" proposal "is so unworkable it would require
judges to hold less than 10-second-long hearings for 10 hours a day, seven days
a week for four months". White's motion states the local
governments, who are the AFT lawsuit losers, have no standing in the case.
Other proposals include a County sales tax holiday until the over a HALF A
BLLION of unlawfully collected transit tax dollars are depleted or a direct
check to individual taxpayers based on their IRS income records. But with
AFT's big gun lawyers in charge, such refund proposals are being fought through
motions filed by the attorneys for the AFT lawsuit loser Defendants.
AFT who created the
dumpster fire legal mess and the Defendants who lost the AFT lawsuit should
have no say in any refund process. The lawsuit winning side must get to decide
the refund remedy.
Judge Rex Barbas made a poor, grammatically incorrect, incoherent and illogical
lower court ruling in June 2019. To his discredit, Barbas allowed the transit
tax itself to stand resulting in the unlawful collection of over Half a Billion
dollars over 2 years. Barbas's ruling was overturned in its entirety by the
Florida Supreme Court in February 2021. If Barbas had properly ruled in
June 2019, he would have stopped the collection of the transit tax and avoided
this refund crisis.
To avoid any perception of a tainted decision or perceived controversy, Barbas
should not be deciding the refund remedy nor any judge in the 13th Judicial
Circuit. As we posted here, the class action lawsuit requesting a
refund remedy filed for a change of venue to Leon County.
today's Tampa-Centric Five county commissioners - Pat Kemp, Kimberly
Overman, Harry Cohen, Gwen Myers, Mariella Smith - supported AFT's illegal
transit tax in 2018. Two of them, Kemp and Cohen, are lawyers and Myers worked
for the County for 25 years. Did they support AFT's transit tax knowing it had
legal issues or are they incompetent? Or are they blinded by their transit
ideology that the end justifies the means?
A claim by any
Tampa-Centric Five commissioners that the class action lawsuit filed will
enrich private sector attorneys is a ruse.
After White filed an appeal of Barbas ruling in June 2019, the County's outside
legal counsel Alan Zimmet failed to advise the county commissioners of action
to stop the tax collection until a final legal ruling was rendered. Perhaps the
massive refund crisis could have been avoided. Shouldn't Zimmet be asked about
Five, who foolishly supported AFT's unlawful transit tax, support the
AFT-crafted proposed phony baloney non-refund refund process. They know the
vast majority who paid the illegal transit tax did not keep receipts for the
over 2 years the tax was unlawfully collected. They know a large number of
people, who paid the unlawful tax will never even know about a refund. The end
- the County allowed to keep as much of the illegal transit tax as possible -
justifies the means - a phony baloney refund process.
Five foolishness continues. They are now ridiculously pushing to put another 30
years $16 Billion AFT 2.0 rail tax on the 2022 ballot...before one cent of the
illegal AFT transit tax has been refunded.
Who is driving the
AFT 2.0 rail tax boondoggle at County Center? It is not the citizens and
taxpayers of Hillsborough County who do not want to spend billions on costly
trains and transit.
As reported here, a recent study
shows a super super majority rejects transit. HART's ridership, dismal before
the pandemic, has tanked more for numerous reasons and may never recover as
reported here. It is fiscally irresponsible to force
taxpayers to spend $7 Billion on costly trains and transit for a super super
minority of users. Taxpayers in unincorporated Hillsborough forced to pay for
costly rail in the city of Tampa to benefit AFT's wealthy downtown special
interests donors is unfair, unjust and simply wrong.
Kudos to Commissioner White for pushing back on
the Tampa-Centric Five foolishness and calling them out for their fiscal
irresponsibility. White has publicly stated he will launch a campaign to
defeat any new transportation sales tax referendum that is similar to the 2018
All For Transportation rail tax boondoggle. He knows residents in
unincorporated Hillsborough especially want transportation dollars to improve
and expand their roads, not fund costly transit in Tampa.
Commissioner White has laid down a marker he will will stand
behind and that many many others will support. The voting public will not be
lied to again.
The city of Tampa
has their own revenue sources available to fund their own trains if that is
Jeff Vinik's Water Street District was given revenue raising powers by the state
legislature in March 2018. Ironically that was right before Vinik began funding
AFT's rail tax boondoggle initiative benefitting him that began in June
2018. Vinik has also received at least a $100 million in taxpayer
subsidies for his downtown development which is way behind schedule.
With his revenue raising powers, Vinik can fund his own rail
infrastructure in his wealthy Water Street District enclave.
As we reported here, AFT intentionally
rammed their illegal transit tax onto the ballot at the 11th hour before the
2018 election. AFT feared their opposition knowing their illegal
transit tax could not withstand public scrutiny. AFT refused to debate their
opposition and used their local media allies to shut down all opposition
Again, AFT was surrounded by lawyers. We know they spoke with
and reviewed their unlawful transit tax ballot language with numerous lawyers.
AFT had to know their transit tax had legal issues. It appears AFT thought they
could get away with their unlawful transit tax hike scam because of the deep
pockets that funded them. The end justifies the means.
Commissioner White, NoTaxForTracks and others warned of AFT's
legal issues in 2018. AFT's local media allies refused to report about them.
The Tampa-Centric Five, including lawyers Pat Kemp and Harry Cohen who should
know better, ignored the warnings.
After White filed his legal challenge, according to this report "County Commissioner Kimberly
Overman said the referendum language was vetted closely and voters clearly
spoke. "This is a waste of taxpayers' money and that's a
shame," Overman said."
The shame is on Overman who is not a lawyer but is known for
calling her own constituents "super stupid". Overman has
a history of being a condescending know it
No commissioner should ever support policies that cons the
voting public, abuses taxpayers or puts the County at risk of lawsuits. Those
commissioners should be voted out of office.
AFT, surrounded by lawyers, put an illegal transit tax on the
ballot. AFT is responsible for creating the $512 million refund crisis. AFT
should be held accountable. No one should listen to AFT or their allies ever
The Tampa-Centric Five remain tone-deaf. They
dream of transit ridership somewhere "Over the Rainbow" and push
for another AFT 2.0 rail tax boondoggle.
But Hillsborough County taxpayers and voters
now know the rail tax "Pot of Gold" Billions goes to benefit AFT's
wealthy special interests cronies.
Posted by Sharon Calvert at 8:32 AM
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
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