Three weeks before election, tax foes organize to fight transportation measure

No Tax for Tracks Chairwoman Karen Jaroch is a former Hillsborough Area Regional Transit authority board member and co-founder of the Hillsborough chapter of the Tea Party.
No Tax for Tracks Chairwoman Karen Jaroch is a former Hillsborough Area Regional Transit authority board member and co-founder of the Hillsborough chapter of the Tea Party.
Published October 19 2018

TAMPA — No Tax for Tracks is putting the band back together.

The group that campaigned against the failed 2010 transit referendum in Hillsborough has regrouped to fight a proposed penny-on-the-dollar sales tax hike for road, bus and transit projects.

As in 2010, the group’s leaders include local tea party activist Sharon Calvert and Karen Jaroch, a former board member of the county’s bus agency and co-founder of the tea party’s Hillsborough County chapter.

They recently formed a new political committee to fight a proposed 30-year transportation tax that would raise about $276 million per year if approved by voters in the Nov. 6 election. The citizens group All for Transportation collected more than 77,000 signature to get the plan on the ballot.

"This tax increase is unnecessary as Hillsborough County commissioners re-prioritized $800 million of existing revenue for transportation funding over 10 years that along with our existing gas taxes funds needed maintenance and safety issues," Jaroch said in an email.

County planners have estimated that Hillsborough has $4 billion in unfunded road, sidewalk and trail projects.

No Tax is late joining the fray.

There are less than three weeks until the election and more than 63,000 mail ballots already cast as of Thursday afternoon.

The group has raised just $7,600 compared to the $2.3 million raised by All for Transportation, whose backers include Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, local hospital groups and the Tampa Bay Partnership business group.

RELATED: Bucs, Rays, Lightning back sales tax hike for transportation, each-donate $100,000

That doesn’t deter Jaroch.

"As in 2010, it doesn’t take that much money to tell the truth," she said. "We formed to counter the deception perpetrated by wealthy developers bankrolling the All for Transportation campaign. The public is unaware that this is a tax hike over 30 years costing $16 billion."

The group’s estimate assumes tax revenues grow 3.5 percent every year from inflation and rising population.

The Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization in its long range transportation plan estimates the tax would raise about $8 billion in its first two decades. Developed in 2014, the plan does not provide estimates for the final 10 years of the tax.

As evidenced by its name, No Tax’s campaign is likely to highlight spending on rail as wasteful.

Campaign signs with "Vote no rail tax" are already posted on the affiliated Fix Our Roads First Facebook page.

Most of the tax however, would be spent on roads. It earmarks 54 percent for congestion relief, safety improvements, sidewalks and trails.

About 45 percent would go to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority for buses and transit between the university area, downtown Tampa and Westshore. That could be rail, light-rail, bus rapid transit or some other system.

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

All for Transportation leaders declined to comment on the appearance of a new opposition group but said its petition drive proves it has widespread support.

"All for Transportation is a grassroots campaign that started with 77,000 Hillsborough County residents coming together to demand we finally address one of our greatest shortcomings — growing traffic congestion, unsafe roads and a lack of transit options," said chairman Tyler Hudson. "The broad based support All for Transportation has received is proof this is a community issue that impacts everyone’s quality of life."

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

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