TAMPA – Americans for Prosperity has helped derail several plans to raise taxes for public transit over the past few years, including ones in Nashville and Little Rock.
The anti-tax, small government group, which for years was bankrolled by oil billionaires Charles G. and David H. Koch, now has it sights set on Hillsborough County.
The group announced today that it will campaign against the one percent sales tax plan put on the Nov. 6 general election ballot by citizen's group All for Transportation.
If approved by voters, the 30-year tax would start in January and raise about $280 million per year.
"After repeated failures, tax and spend advocates are once again asking for a tax hike to pay for transportation projects," Chris Hudson, AFP's Florida director, said in a statement. "With very few details on how the money will be spent, taxpayers are essentially being asked to hand over a $280 million blank check."
But the group has no plans to oppose a second sales tax proposal on the ballot, this one a 10-year, half penny hike to pay for school construction, repair and technology.
"We want to make sure that citizens take responsible steps in how they fund critical services," said spokesman Andres Malave. "We've decided we're not going to engage on that particular matter."
The campaign will include an online petition for opponents of the initiative. The petition states that there are no detailed plans for the money to be spent.
According to the ballot language of the initiative, the money would be spent on projects identified in a long-range transportation plan developed by the Metropolitan Planning Organization, a transportation policy-making board made up of elected leaders from Hillsborough County, the School Board, Port Tampa Bay, Tampa International Airport and all three municipalities.
AFP's involvement is the first sign of organized opposition to the sales tax plan.
A 2010 plan to raise the sales tax for transportation drew heated opposition from groups like the Tea Party and No Tax for Tracks. That plan was voted down by 58 percent of voters.
The same two groups campaigned against the unsuccessful Greenlight Pinellas plan in 2014.
But as of Tuesday, no local group had filed paperwork with the Supervisor of Elections office to raise money to campaign against the measure in the upcoming mid-term election.
All for Transportation collected more than 77,000 signatures to get its plan on the ballot as a citizen's charter amendment. The Supervisor of Elections office verified more than 50,000 of those signatures.
Its petition drive was boosted by big donations from Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Tampa philanthropist Frank Morsani, among others, which helped pay for a professional petition-gathering firm.
Under its plan, 45 percent of the tax would go to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit authority to improve bus service and pay for other mass transit.
The bulk of the money would go to Hillsborough County, Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City for road and bridge improvements, pothole repair, sidewalks, bike lanes and projects to ease congestion.
"Hillsborough County voters will not be conned by out-of-state billionaires who profit from traffic," said All for Transportation chairman Tyler Hudson." We can't continue to ignore a $9-billion backlog in transportation projects and growth projections of another 700,000 people moving into Hillsborough over the next 30 years."
The Hillsborough County School District also is asking voters to raise the sales tax. It is proposing a half penny increase to pay for school construction, repair and new technology.
Contact Christopher O'Donnell at [email protected] or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.