TAMPA — Two local hospital groups have donated a combined $175,000 to the group campaigning for a sales tax hike to pay for transportation improvements. They say the ballot measure will increase access to medical care and provide transportation options for hospital staff who work early and late shifts.
Tampa General Hospital gave $125,000 to citizen's group All for Transportation. The donation was made through the hospital's for-profit arm House of Coffee, Tampa, which runs coffee shops in two hospitals.
Baycare Health System, which owns six hospitals in Hillsborough County, also weighed in with a $50,000 donation.
"Access to health care services is a major issue across our region," BayCare president and chief executive Tommy Inzina said in an email.
BayCare's medical centers include St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, where the emergency room received more than 145,000 patients in 2017. The company has partnered with a rideshare firm for patients who don't own a car to get home.
But many patients struggle to make appointments at out-patient centers, according to a 2015 community health needs assessment conducted by BayCare. The survey of 654 Hillsborough residents found people without their own transportation often wait longer to get needed treatment.
"Barriers in accessing transportation was a major driver of delayed health care," said BayCare spokeswoman Lisa Razler. "It is a pressing need for our community and particularly our patients."
Tampa General officials requested that the House of Coffee board of directors make a donation. The for-profit operates coffee franchises at Tampa General and at the TGH Brandon Healthplex and pays taxes on profits it receives, said spokeswoman Lisa Greene.
"Our transportation system needs to be dramatically enhanced and improved across the region," Greene said, "in order to ensure that the most vulnerable in our community can access our services and that our team members, many of whom rely on this system, can come to work and help us provide world-class care."
All for Transportation collected more than 50,000 verified signatures to get the transportation measure on the ballot. If approved by voters, the tax would raise about $280 million a year, which would go to priorities adopted in a long-range transportation plan developed four years ago by the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Most of the money, 55 percent, would go to Hillsborough's four local governments — Tampa, Temple Terrace, Plant City and Hillsborough County — to spend on road improvements. Most of the remainder would go to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit authority to expand bus service and develop a transit system linking the University of South Florida, downtown Tampa and West Shore.
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All for Transportation has raised more than $925,000, the majority of which came from major donors including Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, Tampa philanthropist Frank Morsani and the Tampa Bay Partnership, a group that advocates for local businesses.
"Our unreliable and underfunded transportation system is a barrier to health care access for too many people," said the group's chairman Tyler Hudson. "We are very grateful for the support of the county's leading health care institutions."
Ballot measures in 2010 and 2014 proposing sales tax hikes for transportation faced heated opposition from groups like No Tax for Tracks.
But with mail ballots for the upcoming general election set to go out on Oct. 2, no group has organized to campaign against the new proposal.
Opposition is coming, however, from Americans for Prosperity — an anti-tax, small government group founded by oil billionaires Charles G. and David H. Koch. Based in Arlington, Va., the organization has 13 offices across Florida, including one in Brandon.
"If the county could stop wasting money on non-essential; projects, we could have the money to improve infrastructure," said Andres Malave, a spokesman with Americans for Prosperity in Arlington.
"Citizens need to vote against this ballot initiative because it is a massive tax increase that will always hit the least fortunate the hardest."
Contact Christopher O'Donnell at email@example.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.