1. Archive

Sales tax campaign takes slower pace

Published Sep. 16, 2005

The backers of last year's two tax referendums for school construction and law enforcement never had much to brag about, in the end.

Their measures lost big at the polls. But at least they had this going for them:

At this time a year ago, they were ahead of where the Bucs campaign is now.

Six weeks from today, Hillsborough County voters go to the polls to decide whether to increase their sales tax by half a cent, to 7 percent, for 30 years. The estimated $2.7-billion it would raise would be used for schools, roads, police and fire equipment _ and a new NFL stadium.

But so far, the campaign work Hillsborough County leaders have done in support of the tax has all been private. No educational campaign or program of advertisements. No political action committee or even a bank account. Little beyond the incremental government adjustments to the deal, the details of which are too arcane for the tastes of many.

But those involved with the campaign say the lack of public displays shouldn't concern anyone.

Bill Johnson, chairman of the Stadium Task Force, said that before a campaign can go public, "a lot of constituencies have to be brought into the fold, and shown where their interests are. We're doing that."

Although some political consultants and pollsters with national reputations have been lined up,

none has been paid yet, Johnson said _ negating the need for public campaign reports.

Johnson did say he expects Tampa Mayor Dick Greco to lead the campaign for the half-cent tax. Greco has already made it clear, in his meetings with Hillsborough commissioners, that the half-cent tax is vital for the city to address long-neglected needs like stormwater drainage.

"We could double or triple every tax we have, and still not do all the things we need to do," Greco told commissioners July 10.

The strategy for last year's campaign was decidedly low-key. The strategy this year might well be to save the message for the last minute.

But the mayor has not been as visible as he was a year ago this month, when he was speaking to the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce's Committee of 100, and to a group at the Tampa Convention Center, on behalf of last year's tax proposals.

Of course, the strategy for last year's campaign was decidedly low-key. The strategy this year might well be to save the message for the last minute, according to an Ohio-based political consultant involved in Cincinnati's successful sales-tax increase for baseball and football stadiums in March.

"A public campaign of no more than three weeks" is the recommendation of David Milenthal of the HMS Partners advertising agency.

"The public has no taste for a long communication process," Milenthal said. "The advertising for a sale at a store, which I would compare this to, would never" start earlier than that.

And, you can't air your radio and TV ads until your message is clear.

"It's hard to sell something until you know what you have," Steve Anderson, a member of the Tampa Sports Authority, said Monday.

The Cincinnati campaign cost about $1-million. If Tampa officials are obtaining pledges from local businesses and other interested parties, they aren't committing them to public records.

The only relevant political action committee registered in Hillsborough County is Bucs Backers Bridging the Bay, headed up by Dale Del Bello, a Redington Shores executive of Arigato Steakhouses who wants to see a new stadium built.

At this time a year ago, there were already two political action committees formed on behalf of the schools tax _ Schools & Futures Committee, and Engineers for Technology. But the Safe Streets Committee, which raised $20,000 for the law enforcement half-cent tax, didn't declare itself until the third week in August 1995.