The billionaires are entitled. They buy off the media. They bankroll a deceptive advertising campaign for a massive tax hike that never mentions the word “tax”. They want to shut down any debate about their $16 billion rail tax boondoggle.
Jeff Vinik’s Water Street Tampa development was given special powers by the state Legislature in this year’s session, including revenue-raising power. A bill passed creating a special taxing district for Water Street to provide “upscale” amenities and infrastructure in Vinik’s Water Street development.
That was not enough.
We posted here how the Vinik Times is all in on the Vinik tax hike.
The Times is not the only local media tax hike cheerleader. There’s an entire rail tax local media cheerleading team -- bought and paid for by special interests.
Janelle Irwin, who was working for the Tampa Bay Business Journal (TBBJ) and had worked for Peter Schorsch before, was suddenly hired back by Schorsch. Irwin was initially cheering at TBBJ for the tax hike. Suddenly Schorsch hired her back for a short term contract to rah rah for the Vinik rail tax at his Florida Politics.
Irwin writes her pro-tax cheerleading opin...uh...articles for Schorsch’s Florida Politics without contacting those who oppose the tax hike. She not only refuses to contact formal opposition PAC NoTaxForTracks, she decided to dismiss them. In her poorly written opin...uh...articles, Irwin determines what is true or not about the rail tax without ever speaking to anyone from the opposition. That is not reporting. That is not journalism. That is propaganda.
Another media member of the rail tax cheerleading team is Tampa Bay Business Journal (TBBJ).
In 2010 TBBJ hosted a head to head debate with both sides. Back then TBBJ was at least open to having voters hear both sides.
Not so, this rail tax go-round.
With formal opposition NoTaxForTracks.com on record, TBBJ was approached if they were interested in hosting a panel discussion or debate. Their response was no. They then told us about their “Business of Transportation” event held Thursday.
The Tampa Bay Business Journal brings together a panel of industry experts to discuss current issues and opportunities facing the region's diverse transportation industry. Business owners and company leaders in sector-affiliated organizations are provided a forum to network and discuss the matters most important to their organizations' ongoing success.
We were referred to TBBJ’s website when we asked TBBJ who was on its panel of “experts”.
The featured speaker at the event was Joe Lopano, CEO of Tampa International Airport. While Lopano is a leader, the airport is not our transportation problem. The problem is getting to the airport in time for your flight.
TBBJ’s transportation industry panel included the following:
- Christina Barker, vice president of community partnerships and policy at Vinik Family office and a volunteer leader of the All for Transportation referendum effort
- Laura Everett, a planner for transit projects
- Bob Frey, Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority
- Ben Porritt, Brightline
Christina Barker is no transportation industry expert. She was a former aide to Mayor Buckhorn who is one of the biggest cheerleaders for costly rail in Tampa Bay. With her masters degree in political campaigning, Barker was conveniently hired away by Billionaire Jeff Vinik two weeks prior to when the transit tax hike petition drive funded by Vinik began June 15.
Barker’s political campaign “success” includes working on the campaign of the overwhelmingly defeated (62 percent to 38 percent) Greenlight Pinellas in 2014.
Jeff Vinik is not in the transportation business or industry and is not a transportation expert. All for Transportation is a political committee with Vinik as its largest donor pushing the rail tax.
Barker is participating on the TBBJ panel on behalf of All for Transportation and Vinik. That confirms Vinik and the All for Transportation PAC are one entity.
Vinik and his wealthy allies are bankrolling the 30-year, $16 billion rail tax hike. They are publicly fronting their tax hike with transit advocate millennials who are their campaign workers, not transportation experts.
When TBBJ was asked if NoTaxForTracks political committee could participate and have equal time at their event Thursday, they were told they could not.
We expect to see an in-kind donation to All for Transportation from TBBJ in their campaign filing reports.
TBBJ politicized their own event by including the pro-rail-tax political committee All for Transportation and excluding the opposing side, NoTaxForTracks. TBBJ confirms how billionaires buy access.
All For Transportation is afraid to debate anyone who opposes their $16 billion tax hike. They were asked to speak at the Tiger Bay Club in Tampa and they had agreed to speak ... until ...
All for Transportation found out someone from Americans for Prosperity, who is also formally opposing the tax hike, would be speaking as well. All for Transportation immediately backed out.
NoTaxForTracks.com has offered to debate All for Transportation any time, any place.
But All for Transportation does not think the public deserves to hear both sides. All for Transportation does not want to debate. They do not want to be challenged on what is in their five pages of fine print regulations for 30 years.
All for Transportation does not even want to tell voters their transportation “plan” is a tax hike. Not one of their deceptive glossy mailers hitting voters' mailboxes every day says one thing about a tax hike.
Instead, the billionaires bankrolling All for Transportation bought off local media to cheerlead for the $16 billion tax hike that will benefit them. “They” want to shut down debate.
“They” are the entitled ones.
And “they” are banking on ramming their $16 billion tax hike through before most voters ever know what’s in it.
Sharon Calvert is a conservative activist and with her husband, Mark, writes the blog Eye on Tampa Bay.