Transit Tax Hike Petitions Turned In Without Payment to SOE To Start Validating Them

By Sharon Calvert, from Eye on Tampa Bay

Is there something  odd with the transit sales tax hike petition effort in Hillsborough County?

A citizen (not grassroots) petition effort funded by deep pocketed downtown special interests, including Jeff Vinik and Frank Morsani who also own part of the Tampa Bay Times, is underway.

This is another effort to put a massive unnecessary 30 year 14+% transit sales tax hike referendum on the November ballot.

The special interests funded PAC orchestrating the effort is All For Transportation.

The effective start date of this tax hike petition effort from the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections was 6/15/2018 and the last day to turn in petitions is just 3 weeks away on 7/27/2018.

The PAC plans to gather and tun in about 70K signed petitions by 5pm on July 27th to try to get the required 48,745 valid petitions to put the massive transit tax hike on the November ballot.

The SOE then has until August 27th to complete all the petition validations and certify whether the required number of petitions was reached to get on the November ballot. Petitions must be collected proportionally in at least 2 of the 4 county commission single districts.

It was reported by local media that the special interests funded PAC had already turned in about 5K petitions last week. The Eye went to the SOE office yesterday to inquire about their process for validating the petitions and wanted to know the current status of those 5K petitions. We were told each petition must be validated – the cost is 10 cents per petition. However, the SOE must first be paid upfront to start the validation process. That makes sense.

But surprisingly the validation process had not even begun for the 5K petitions handed in because the PAC has not provided a $500 check to the SOE to start the process. Until a check is received, the SOE does not consider the petitions “received”. Therefore, the petitions must be sitting in boxes somewhere in the SOE’s office. How comforting is that?

The SOE had not updated their list of active petition initiatives since January even though this latest petition effort was given a start date by the SOE of June 15th. This is the list where the number of petitions received and validated are transparently tracked by the SOE.

We were able to get the SOE to update their active petition list to include this latest petition effort even if the number of petitions received is “zero” (because no payment has been received).

SOE Active Petition List tracking
(Click to enlarge)

We were told by the SOE that no observers like poll watchers are allowed to observe the validation process. How comforting is that?

A public records request can be made to get access to the petitions.

While at the SOE, the Eye witnessed a stack of petitions being brought in for the Marijuana petition effort number 16-02. They provided a check to get them validated because the SOE’s active petition list was updated to reflect that 650 had been received and are in the process to be validated. But the petition effort for the massive 14% transit sales tax hike misnamed “Funding for Countywide Transportation and Road Improvements” (post for another day) still currently shows ZERO received.

It is very odd that the PAC, which has raised over $300K, cannot (or intentionally did not) write a $500 check to cover the cost of validating the petitions they have turned in. We asked the SOE if the PAC could just keep dropping off thousands of petitions with no check and then wait until the last day on July 27th to provide a check to start the validation process for all of them. We were told they could though the SOE preferred that did not happen. Could the SOE even validate 50-70K petitions within the required 30 days?

The normal timeframe provided by the SOE for a citizen petition is 6 months but this effort is trying to cram their effort into 6 weeks. This petition effort could have been started last year or at the first of this year for November. Hmmm…

Did an alternative transportation funding proposal that requires no massive sales tax hike that was presented to the county commissioners in April cause panic with the transit tax hike crowd? The county commissioners voted unanimously (except for Ken Hagan who walked out and refused to vote) on June 6th to ask the Citizens Advisory Committee to look at the proposal and provide an advisement.

While the local media fawns over another attempt at a massive Tampa centric transit tax hike for costly trains, they refuse to report about any other funding plans – even a proposal the commissioners took action on.

We’re left wondering what kind of games may be being played by those orchestrating this effort.

The PAC hired Revolution Field Strategies to help direct and manage the petition effort. The PAC was expecting to hire 100 petition gatherers to hit the streets but no one has seen them anywhere with only 3 weeks left to gather and turn in petitions.

Note that petitions gathered by paid petition gatherers must be reported accordingly on the petition form itself after the signature at the end of the form.

All petitions gathered by paid petitioners must
complete this section at end of petition form

From comments we found online from those supporting this petition effort, they are extremely optimistic that they will get the required 49K valid signatures to put this massive tax hike on the November ballot.

If the PAC and their supporters are so confident, why aren’t they paying the SOE to start the validation process? With deep pocketed special interests funders, the PAC can certainly afford to pay the $500 to start the validation process.

Does something not smell right? Why hasn’t the local media picked up on this part of the story?

Potential for issues with this petition process?

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