Yankees and Moffitt help push donations to transportation group over $3 million

Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, executive director of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, left, and All for Transportation co-leader Rena Frazier speak at a campaign event in support of sales tax hikes to pay for schools and transportation at the West Tampa Library on Union St. Monday.   [Times photo: Christopher O'Donnell]
Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, executive director of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, left, and All for Transportation co-leader Rena Frazier speak at a campaign event in support of sales tax hikes to pay for schools and transportation at the West Tampa Library on Union St. Monday. [Times photo: Christopher O'Donnell]
Published October 29 2018
Updated October 29 2018

TAMPA — The New York Yankees, Tampa Electric and the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center are the latest big names to weigh in with sizable campaign donations to the group pushing the transportation sales tax, which has now raised more than $3 million.

The Yankees donated $100,000 to All for Transportation, matching earlier contributions by the region’s three major professional sports franchises.

TECO and Moffitt both gave $50,000 and Adventist Health System, which owns Florida Hospital, donated $100,000. And there was another $150,000 donation from Strategic Property Partners, a development firm launched by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment, the capital fund owned by Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates.

With the campaign entering its final week, All for Transportation held its first joint campaign event on Monday with Strengthen Our Schools, the group campaigning for a half percent sales tax for schools that need air conditioners, roofs and other capital needs.

The transportation plan would increase the sales tax by a penny on the dollar. The two groups ended up sharing a ballot despite some concerns that two requests to voters to raise taxes would doom both.

Organizers said that’s not the case and that voters see both ballot measures as important quality of life issues.

"We think the time is right that people will vote for both to support critical infrastructure needs in both transportation and education," said Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, executive director of the Hillsborough County Classroom Teachers Association.

RELATED: Here’s how money from a sales tax hike would improve transportation

Strengthen Our Schools has raised $287,000 since it began campaigning in September.

"We just haven’t had the time to fund-raise in the same way perhaps as the other group but we’ve had great support from the business community, from the chamber to the various sports teams," Baxter-Jenkins said.

All for Transportation’s campaign haul is three times as much as was raised for the unsuccessful Greenlight Pinellas campaign in 2014.

It has already spent more than $2.5 million, including $700,000 for a professional petition gathering firm to collect the more than 50,000 valid signatures to put its transportation plan on the ballot.

It is also spending heavily on professional door-knockers, phone-banks, flyers, and television and social media advertisements.

"We know when voters hear from us they will vote for us," said Christina Barker, one of the group’s leaders. "Our strategy is to get our message out by any medium to any voter."

Notaxfortracks.com, the group campaigning against the transportation sales tax, has raised just over $41,000.

RELATED: Three weeks before election tax foes organize to fight transportation measure

Treasurer Sharon Calvert said there has not been enough public debate about the transportation plan and that many voters are unaware of the details.

She said the big money donations are coming from developers who will reap a return on investment once taxpayers pick up the tab for transportation. That includes Vinik, who between personal donations and contributions from companies he is associated with, has given $600,000 to All for Transportation.

"The value of his property will increase exponentially," she said.

Contact Christopher O’Donnell at codonnell@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.

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