By Scott Myers, Contributor
On May 15, 2018 Jeff Eakins, Hillsborough County School District Superintendent, announced that he would be exploring a tax referendum to increase revenues for the Hillsborough County School District.
On June 15, 2018 the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer certified a petition and established a deadline for 49,000 signatures by July 27 in order for a referendum to appear before voters in November, 2018. This petition was filed by a group of private citizens known as ‘All for Transportation’ (Jeff Vinik being the most notable member) which proposes an additional one cent sales tax for the next 30 years in Hillsborough County to fund transportation needs.
Everyone agrees that more needs to be done for transportation, however, “All for Transportation” should be renamed, “All for Continued Subsidies for Land Development” because Vinik and his cronies are trying to convince taxpayers to pay more in subsidies for impacts not paid by land developers over the years.
It’s time to hold the land developers accountable for the costs of resulting transit impacts. It’s time to have those that caused the impacts to pay the costs. It’s that simple. The transit tax promoters need to get with reality and stop trying to penalize the average taxpayer. We’re all willing to sign a petition to rightfully start billing the land developers but the All for Transportation petition is a travesty.
Questions that should immediately come to mind for any citizen concerned about education and good governance in Hillsborough County are:
1. If the transportation sales tax petition makes it to referendum and passes, what chance is there of a tax referendum for public education passing? The answer is ‘slim’ and ‘none’, and ‘slim’ just left the building.
2. If the transportation sales tax petition makes it to referendum and passes, what existing revenue streams of the county are freed up, how much money would that be, and to what purposes will that money be redirected? Should not these questions be fully answered before asking anyone to sign the petition and/or vote on the referendum?
3. Why the rush with the transportation sales tax petition? Is it to make sure no additional funds go to education and to make sure funds are freed up to build the Rays stadium?
4. If additional funds are indeed needed for transportation, are there not less regressive ways to raise those funds than by increasing sales tax? For example,
a. The yearly sales tax for new and used vehicles in Florida is $2.968 billion, which is currently at 6%, translates to $49.5 billion in sales. A 1% hike in the sales tax would yield $495 million additional revenue. With 7% of the state’s total population, Hillsborough county would collect an additional $35 million per year with this new tax. This tax would impact the well-to-do much more than the 46% of households that live paycheck to paycheck, which is a much fairer way to go.
b. Implement a carbon footprint tax for folks who own residential houses of 10,000 square feet or more.
c. Implement a carbon footprint tax for folks who own cars that cost more than $50,000 and get less than 20 miles to the gallon.
5. If this new sales tax goes into effect, it will generate $280 million in revenue the first year of 2019. By year 30, assuming 1.2% per year population growth and 2% inflation, it will be bringing in $725 million. The 30-year total will be a whopping $14.3 billion! Wow! $14.3 billion for transportation and we could not even come up with $17 million to pay our school teachers their promised raises! What is the probability that cronyism, waste and corruption won’t creep into the process of spending these funds?
So the worst case for us citizens is that we will be paying an additional 1% sales tax come January 1, 2019, hundreds of millions of other tax dollars will have been diverted to Rays’ owner Stu Sternberg and public education will continue to be callously neglected. Impact fees for developers would remain low and paid for on the backs of a regressive tax that hurts low income families, the working poor, and those on fixed incomes.
Best case is the transportation sales tax never makes it to referendum, or it if does, it is voted down, and an education referendum on a future ballot is passed.
This would do far more for Hillsborough County residents and make the area attractive to emerging businesses and entrepreneurs.