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Bucs, Rays, Lightning back sales tax hike for transportation; each donate $100,000

 
The Buccaneers, Rays and Lightning have kicked in money to  campaign for passage of a transportation sales tax hike in Hillsborough. [Times files]
The Buccaneers, Rays and Lightning have kicked in money to campaign for passage of a transportation sales tax hike in Hillsborough. [Times files]
Published Oct. 5, 2018

TAMPA — Tampa Bay's three major professional sports franchises have each donated $100,000 to the citizen's group pushing a sales tax for transportation improvements, helping push the group's total political donations over the $2 million mark.

Boosted by contributions from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Tampa Bay Lightning, All for Transportation reported raising more than $1 million over the past two weeks, a campaign finance report filed Friday showed.

The teams also released a joint statement in support of the ballot measure: "Our organizations have long supported improvements in transportation in our community, and we proudly support the All for Transportation plan which will reduce congestion, increase safety and expand transportation options for our fans and the citizens of the region"

PREVIOUS: Petition succeeds, Hillsborough voters set to decide on sales tax hike for transportation

The group's push to get the sales tax initiative approved by voters on Nov. 6 was also backed my several major companies.

Third Lake Capital, a private investment firm created by the Ashley Furniture family, donated $125,000. There were also donations of $100,000 from Sykes Enterprises and Strategic Property Partners, a partnership between Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment. Cascade is the capital fund created by Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

Mosaic, the fertilizer giant, contributed $50,000, as did local beer distributor Tom Pepin.

Vinik, who already donated $150,000 to help launch the group's campaign, chipped in with another $100,000. Pamela Muma, the wife of Tampa philanthropist Les Muma, also donated $100,000.

The group spent about $700,000 for a professional signature gathering firm but is now entering the crucial last four weeks of its campaign. Mail ballots have already been sent to more than 205,000 Hillsborough voters and early voting is scheduled to start Oct. 22.

"The broad-based support All for Transportation has seen is a reflection of a well thought out plan that includes strong independent oversight and addresses our most critical issues: traffic congestion, safety and a lack of transportation options," said Christina Barker, one of the leaders of the group. "Now, with the generous support of so many business leaders and community leaders, we are taking our message door-to-door

All for Transportation earlier this week launched its first TV advertisements. It is also planning a "Day of Action" on Oct. 13, with phone bank calls, door-knocking, and a community bike ride.

"In an election year with one of the longest ballots voters have ever seen, All for Transportation is getting its message out to voters in every way we possibly can," said group chairman Tyler Hudson. "This plan has something in it for every person, neighborhood, and business throughout the county. Everyone benefits from fixing our failing and deadly transportation network."

So far, no organized local opposition has emerged as it did during earlier failed sales-tax hike plans in 2010 in Hillsborough and 2014 in Pinellas. Opposition has come from Americans for Prosperity, the anti-tax group bankrolled for years by oil billionaires the Koch brothers.

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On Friday, Americans for Prosperity announced it will be airing new digital and radio advertisements against the plan. It highlights that the plan would give Hillsborough the highest sales tax rate in Florida.

"The burdens of addressing Hillsborough's critical infrastructure needs shouldn't fall on our least fortunate and hardworking families; elected leaders should be solving these problems responsibly, not asking them to dole out more of their hard-earned money to pay for a plan with more holes in it than Big Bend Road," the group's Florida coalitions director, Demetrius Minor, said in a news release.

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.

If approved by voters, the 30-year tax would start in January and raise about $280 million per year.

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.

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