Hillsborough Transit Tax Hangs on Deceptive Ballot Language

 


Ballot language author Kevin Thurman

By Sharon Calvert, from Eye on Tampa Bay

 

All for Transportation (AFT), promoters of the Hillsborough County $16 billion transit tax, carpet bombed voters last year with glossy mailers claiming it had a transportation plan to cut traffic congestion over the 30-year life of the tax.

The ballot amendment passed with 57 percent of the vote.

But as previously reported, when AFT spokesperson Kevin Thurman, one of the authors of their $16 Billion transit tax hike, was challenged on that traffic claim about a week before the election, he was forced to admit that congestion would actually get worse.

AFT understandably refused to debate anyone who opposed the tax hike before the election as its deceptive use of exaggerated claims would be exposed.

AFT was formed by developer and former hedge fund manager Jeff Vinik.  Thurman is employed by Vinik.

While deceptive political campaigns may not be illegal, what about deceptive ballot language?

The ballot summary language stated the massive tax hike would fund road improvements. In fact, AFT included improving roads and bridges first in the list of projects to be funded  – as if to tell voters that funding road improvements was the highest priority use for the billions in new tax revenues.

Voters reading the ballot summary language can reasonably and logically construe the billions would fund new road capacity.

The definition of road improvements includes “construction of new roads or improvement or expansion of existing roads…”  Common knowledge, and common sense would conclude that transportation projects to “improve roads” includes transportation projects to add new road capacity.

Except for AFT.

In the fine print of the 5 page AFT charter amendment “improve roads” was redefned as to mean improvements to intersections of existing roads.

The ballot language includes funding to “improve intersections” as a totally separate and different group of projects to be funded by the AFT tax hike than “improve roads”.

If that is not confusing enough, not only did AFT intentionally not fund transportation projects to widen roads and add new road capacity, it specifically prohibited the use of  tax proceeds to fund new road capacity in Hillsborough County for 30 years – when the county’s population is expected to grow by 700-800K.

The ballot summary language may have serious conflicts with what AFT specified and prohibited in the five-page  charter amendment.

It appears AFT intentionally used deceptive and misleading ballot language so voters would logically conclude the $16 Billion tax hike funds much needed new road capacity in Hillsborough County over 30 years.

The ballot language is the only piece of text every voter is guaranteed to see and it is the last bit of information voters encounter before casting their ballots.

Therefore, is the use of misleading ballot language legal?

The Florida Supreme Court tossed state Amendment 8 off the ballot last year stating the language was misleading. The Tampa Bay Times, who wrote editorials in support of the AFT tax hike and was all in for the AFT tax, weighed in on Amendment 8 with an editorial stating (emphasis mine)

Voters should know what they’re voting on, which is why the Florida Supreme Court was entirely correct to strike the deviously worded Amendment 8 from the Nov. 6 ballot.

Voters relied on the AFT ballot summary language that was at least as equally misleading.

Hillsborough County commissioners and county staff admitted at a February workshop that it is AFT’s fine print mandating how the tax proceeds must be spent that is creating chaos and confusion. If the agencies receiving the tax proceeds are confused, it is reasonable and logical to assume voters were too.

As posted here, AFT’s big mess is putting the county between a rock and a hard place. Some county commissioners, including those who supported the AFT tax hike, now want to raise the gas tax and take more money from taxpayers.

All the commissioners were warned about the serious flaws with AFT’s transit tax hike before the election. They refused to inform their constituents and remained silent about the issues except for Commissioner Stacy White.

It was White who filed a lawsuit in December  challenging the constitutionality of the AFT tax hike charter amendment.

Recently AFT spokesperson and chief architect of the transit tax hike Kevin Thurman posted this comment on a Times article about the tax.

Thurman is not a transportation expert or a traffic engineer; he is an operative who works on rail/transit advocacy campaigns.  His comment confirms the tax hike was never intended to fund road widening or new road capacity.

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