Hillsborough sales tax for transportation sailing toward easy passage

The sales tax would raise about $276 million in its first year. Hillsborough planners estimate it would raise about $8 billion in its first two decades.
A penny on the dollar sales tax would raise about $276 million per year for roads, trails, sidewalks and transit.  [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
A penny on the dollar sales tax would raise about $276 million per year for roads, trails, sidewalks and transit. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published November 6 2018
Updated November 6 2018

The latest

  • Election results show 57 percent voting for All for Transportation sales tax plan with early voting, mail ballots and 323 of 390 precincts reporting.
  • The victory turns around crushing defeats for transit advocates in 2010 in Hillsborough and 2014 in Pinellas.
  • More election results here.

TAMPA — More than 57 percent of early voters in early results were backing All for Transportation's sales tax plan for a penny on the dollar sales tax hike to pay for roads, buses and mass transit.

The sales tax would raise about $276 million in its first year. Hillsborough planners estimate it would raise about $8 billion in its first two decades.

Most of the money –  54 percent – would be spent on roads, trails and sidewalks. The county's bus agency would receive 45 percent of the tax to expand bus service and plan and build some form of mass-transit linking the University area, downtown Tampa and Westshore.

If approved, the tax would be effective Jan. 1. A household with an income that's average for the county, around $55,000, would pay an extra $120 per year in taxes.

The plan was put on the ballot by All for Transportation, a group of transit advocates frustrated at the failure of elected officials to tackle Hillsborough's estimated $9 billion backlog in transportation projects.

That included 2010, when Hillsborough voters soundly rejected a 1 cent sales tax hike to raise billions of dollars for roads, bus expansion and light rail.

And in 2016, county commissioners helped develop a new transportation plan minus the light rail but pulled the plug on a referendum that would have let voters decide.

All for Transportation took advantage of a rarely used citizens charter amendment process and in little more than six weeks collected 49,000 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.

It was able to do that by spending about $700,000 on a professional signature gathering firm thanks to sizable political donations from Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, philanthropist Frank Morsani and Sykes Enterprises CEO Chuck Sykes and others.

In all, the group raised almost $4 million, dwarfing the $1.5 million raised for Moving Hillsborough Forward in 2010 and the $1 million raised for the 2014 Greenlight Pinellas referendum.

Vinik was the biggest backer. Between personal donations and contributions from companies he is associated with, Vinik donated almost $700,000.

Philanthropist Frank Morsani, development firms and the region's professional sports franchises also pitched in with big donations.

The campaign faced another time crunch to get the Legislature's Office of Public Policy and Government Accountability to complete an audit of Hillsborough County's transportation department and the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit authority by Sept. 6.

That left the group barely two months to organize its get-out-the-vote operation and to continue fundraising.

Its campaign included a barrage of mailers and text messages promoting the plan. It also paid a company to provide door-knockers.

Opposition initially came from Americans for Prosperity, which for years was bankrolled by oil billionaires Charles G. and David H. Koch.

In Early October, Notaxfortracks.com formed a political committee to campaign against the tax. It has raised almost $135,000 including $70,000 in donations from East Hillsborough political activist Sam Rashid.

Leaders of the group claimed that the tax would be predominantly spent in Tampa and that it did not dedicate funding specifically for new roads.

The blasted the group's ties to Vinik, who they said was backing the plan to benefit Water Street Tampa,  the real estate venture he is building around Amalie Arena with Cascade Investment, the private capital fund of Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

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

For national and statewide election results check out The Buzz

For local election results check out the Bay Buzz

For school board election results check out The Gradebook.

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