AFT Tax Con Strategy: Surprise Public, Prevent Scrutiny



Another Tampa Bay train wreck


By Sharon Calvert, from Eye on Tampa Bay

(Part 1)

As a recent Circuit Court ruling confirmed, All for Transportation (AFT) put an illegal and unlawful transit tax charter amendment referendum on the ballot in Hillsborough County last year.

If such a big mess was about an issue local media did not agree with, we would see daily headlines shouting out those who were involved with it. But local media refuses to do that with AFT and prefers to filter out information about those who pushed an illegal transit tax onto unsuspecting voters in 2018.

The public deserves to know more.

An informed electorate can decide for themselves who they want to trust (or not). An informed public can help prevent such a mess from happening again.

The AFT illegally flawed transit tax (aka Jeff Vinik tax) could be one of the most dishonest scams ever perpetrated on Hillsborough County voters.

How did it happen?

  • By crafting a massive $16-billion transit tax in the dark
  • By launching a last-minute transit tax “surprise” petition initiative on unsuspecting voters, taxpayers and anyone AFT considered their opposition
  • By preventing public debate and public scrutiny
  • By using millions of dollars from wealthy special interests on a deceptive marketing campaign
  • By using pro transit tax media accomplices to cheerlead support, drown out opposition and filter out and ignore serious issues raised about the tax
  • By masquerading their transit tax that benefits the city of Tampa behind a facade that it was a tax to fix roads and reduce traffic congestion in Hillsborough County.

AFT rammed a 30-year, $16 billion transit tax onto the ballot by exploiting a very shortened petition initiative and short campaign cycle. They used millions of dollars from wealthy special interests donors to do it.

AFT refused to debate NoTaxForTracks, who was AFT’s formal opposition, or anyone who opposed their transit tax last year. AFT refused to go head to head with anyone from the other side.

Public debate and public scrutiny during the campaign would have highlighted AFT’s legal issues that Commissioner Stacy White, NoTaxForTracks and others raised last year. It would have been much harder for local media to avoid those issues if they were brought up publicly in a debate.

AFT could not afford to risk such scrutiny. The pro transit tax local media willingly complied by ignoring the issues and never reporting about them.

AFT was like a “fake news” story – fraudulent.

AFT falsely claimed they were “grassroots”. AFT used millennials as their public face and window dressing to front the older wealthy special interests donors who funded them. AFT was emboldened to make exaggerated claims with no evidence to back them up by shielding their illegal transit tax from all public scrutiny.

Reality is AFT was crafted, in the dark and with no transparency, through political insiders, influential power players, and wealthy special interests donors who stood to benefit from the transit tax.

How did it all begin?

The All for Transportation “Bad Tax” charter amendment was written by transit advocates, including Kevin Thurman and Brian Willis, who were previously associated with the now defunct local transit advocacy group Connect Tampa Bay (CTB).

CTB had previously publicly announced their proposed one cent rail/transit tax hike proposal in 2014 they named “Go Hillsborough”.

Ironically, “Go Hillsborough” later became the name that a local crony PR firm, who was paid gobs of taxpayer dollars, branded Hillsborough County’s 2016 “Go Hillsborough” tax hike debacle. We have no idea whether CTB was paid by that PR firm to use plagiarize that name but there appears to be some connection.

Connect Tampa Bay was abruptly dissolved in April 2016 after it was reported by the Tampa Bay Guardian that Connect Tampa Bay never filed any federally required tax returns.

Baggage-laden Vinik plays Tampa voters for suckers with help from the Tampa Bay Times

When “Go Hillsborough” failed to get on the ballot in 2016, Thurman stated that crafting a citizen led referendum was the only way to move “transit” forward in Hillsborough County.In this April 2016 article, the Times reported Thurman was “keeping open the option to amend the county charter by petition” and that if a progressive business community would fund it, he would do it.

Kevin Thurman, community organizer
From public records received, it appears Thurman began shopping his “how to get a transit tax on the ballot in 2018” political strategy to select inside power players in 2017.
Ali Glisson, Vinik VP
Thurman had access to power players through his wife Ali Glisson. Glisson, formerly Mayor Buckhorn’s spokesperson, was hired by Jeff Vinik in 2015. Glisson is currently Vinik’s VP, Marketing and Communications for his real estate development company.
Vinik became AFT’s largest donor who sunk over $800K into AFT’s coffers according to AFT campaign filing reports.  A downtown light-rail system would save his flailing Water Street Project, years behind its original schedule.

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