Time is winding down on a petition drive to get a public transportation referendum on the ballot in Hillsborough County, but a significant infusion of dollars continues to fuel the effort.
All for Transportation has through this Friday to submit about 49,000 valid petitions to place an initiative on the Nov. 6 ballot.
“We’re getting a lot of enthusiasm,” said Tyler Hudson, chairman of All for Transportation. “People feel a bit powerless about transportation as this big engineering thing. But with this, people like feeling they are not really powerless. People power is the genesis of a lot of what we are doing.”
As of Friday, 14,432 petitions have been validated by the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections office and another 19,048 awaiting processing (a regularly updated report is available here). Presuming 70 percent of the waiting petitions prove valid, that means the group likely needs some 21,000 additional valid petitions this week.
While the campaign would not disclose how many petitions it gathered this weekend, Hudson expressed confidence the group would hit its goals by the end of the week, if not sooner. That’s good news to supporters of getting the measure on the ballot.
“I’m praying they get enough signatures before the deadline,” says Hillsborough County Commissioner Lesley “Les” Miller. “I’ve known it was going to be tough for them from the beginning because of the late start.”
But one thing the effort isn’t hurting for is financial resources. All for Transportation launched its efforts in early June, and since, it has pulled in more than $601,000 in cash and in-kind contributions.
But the bulk of that comes from four donors — the Tampa Bay Partnership ($150,000), Coastal Construction Services ($150,000), Lightning owner Jeffrey Vinik ($150,000) and philanthropist Frank Morsani ($150,000).
So far, the group has spent $250,000 on petition gathering services from Revolution Field Strategies, a Massachusetts-based political organizing and consulting firm.
If the initiative makes the ballot and voters approve it in November, the countywide sales tax in Hillsborough will jump up by one percent, to eight pennies per dollar spent.
Opposition to the referendum is mounting as well. Local blog Eye On Tampa Bay dismissed the petition drive as “astroturf,” and says a new tax would only benefit wealthy elites.
“The public no longer is hoodwinked by multimillion-dollar fairy dust and unicorn advocacy false advertising campaigns for massive tax hikes,” writes Sharon Calvert on the blog.
Hudson, though, says the campaign is raising money at all levels and expects to see a steady flow of support once the measure gets placed on the ballot.
“We think the base for transportation improvements is broad and deep,” he said, “and what we are going to do in the next phase of the campaign is communicate our message to voters in every corner of the county.”
Hillsborough County commissioners two years ago voted against putting a similar measure, Go Hillsborough, on the ballot in 2016. Miller, who supported that effort, hopes voters get the chance to weigh in on a tax this fall.
“I’m hoping it gets put on the ballot and I’m hoping the people understand as this county grows we need all the transportation help we can get,” Miller says.