Can a hand-picked cabal, unaccountable to voters, earmark one dollar, let alone $16 billion, of public funds for projects that were created to primarily benefit the wealthy and influential?
It’s a question that should be asked throughout Florida, not just in Hillsborough County where a sales tax boost was passed under the most disingenuous motivation and manipulation.
Earmarks in government are set aside for a specific purpose, but more often than not, are associated with pork-barrel projects, handouts and wasteful spending without due diligence.
The All For Transportation (AFT) can of worms infests Hillsborough County well after November’s transit referendum. While the mainstream media continue to ignore what is actually in the AFT-inspired charter amendment (see it by clicking the blue "download" link beneath this story), and all the issues swirling around it, we will continue to print the facts.
AFT knew its transit tax hike did not fund any existing transportation plan. The AFT tax hike is not just a tax hike referendum; it is an appropriations bill full of earmarks.
AFT, a political committee accountable to no one and funded by wealthy special interests led by developer Jeff Vinik, concocted its own mandated earmarks behind closed doors and beyond public scrutiny.
AFT knew if it inserted specific earmarks into their five-page tax hike charter amendment and it passed, transportation plans would have to then be created to match those earmarks for 30 years.
As is stands, taxpayers have little to no recourse except to repeal the charter amendment. Taxpayers have no one to hold accountable for AFT’s mandated appropriations.
Dictating earmarks with no planning or transportation plan is the poster child for wasteful spending and is risky business. Forcing taxpayers to fund AFT’s mandated earmarks for 30 years is also risky business. AFT’s attempt to do an end run around the rule of law is risky business.
Can anyone, including those accountable to no one, appropriate and mandate earmarks? Floridians outside of greater Tampa should also be asking that question.
AFT spent almost $4 million making exaggerated claims, deceitfully not calling their initiative a “tax” and misleading the public about its massive $16 billion tax hike. While AFT’s deceptive, untruthful and misleading campaign rhetoric is not illegal, it smells to high heaven.
However, using language in any ballot initiative that is deceptive, misleading and/or confusing can be illegal.
The Tampa Bay Times jumped on the bandwagon to get a proposed constitutional amendment tossed from last November’s ballot. In an editorial, the paper wrote, “Voters should know what they’re voting on.”
Language in any ballot initiative that violates any state statute, federal law or the Constitution is illegal.
Citizen-initiated amendments to the Florida Constitution must go through a validity review by the Florida Supreme Court before the amendment can be placed on the ballot. But there was no validity review done by anyone for AFT’s citizen-initiated charter amendment, written by a few transit advocates over drinks.
AFT’s charter amendment was not legally vetted by any local governing body receiving the tax proceeds or their legal counsel. To date, AFT has provided no evidence that they had their charter amendment legally vetted by anyone.
Unfortunately, issues brought up prior to the election about confusing and misleading ballot language and even potential legal issues with the charter amendment language, were ignored and not considered “newsworthy” by local media.
The Vinik-inspired tax must be resolved.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White’s lawsuit is challenging some of the questionable language in AFT’s charter amendment. His public comments at a January commission meeting regarding the transit tax amendment were never reported.
His dialogue relates to the mandated earmarks included in AFT’s tax hike charter amendment. The video/closed caption transcript of the entire meeting can be found here. Go to about 3:15 in the video to hear White’s dialogue.
White asks if the allocations in AFT’s charter amendment “both with the percentage breakdowns and categories of funding are based upon any formally adopted transportation plan.” County Administrator Mike Merrill replies “not that I’m aware of inside the four walls of this building”.
Numerous questions about how AFT’s mandated appropriations impact the county commission and a county commissioner’s ability to govern were also raised. White asserted that AFT’s mandated appropriations do not merely impact the current county commission but all future boards and county commissioners for 30 years.
He also questions how any governing board of any agency receiving AFT’s tax proceeds can handle a changing governmental, economic, and technological climate over 30 years. Failure to deal with exchange puts taxpayers at huge risk.
Any of these changes could cause an issue or “disrupt” how AFT decided to appropriate tax proceeds for 30 years. Only a few short years ago, Hillsborough County did not have ridesharing, which exploded nationwide.
White’s lawsuit is much bigger and broader than just Hillsborough County. Can anyone appropriate sales tax proceeds in Florida?
Can anyone, including political committees accountable to no taxpayer, create their own spending earmarks and use wealthy special interests to get their earmarks on the ballot?
No one, including Jeff Vinik and his cabal, should be empowered to create local policies, legislation or governance that violates the Constitution or state or federal law.
Sharon Calvert is a conservative activist and with her husband, Mark, writes the blog Eye on Tampa Bay.