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AFP Florida fires salvo at Hillsborough transportation referendum

Americans for Prosperity-Florida launched 15-second television and radio ads Friday calling on Hillsborough County voters to reject a 1 percent sales tax increase for transportation and transit projects. Americans for Prosperity is a nationwide tax watchdog group that has chapters throughout the country.

“Plans for a $230 million tax increase would give Hillsborough County the highest sales tax in Florida,” the ad begins. “It would cost families hundreds of dollars every year to pay for wasteful spending.”

The ad then goes on to describe the increase as a transit tax.

The ad is in response to Hillsborough County Referendum No. 2 known as All for Transportation. The 1 percent sales tax increase would raise $230 million a year and $9 billion over its 30-year lifespan.

While the Americans for Prosperity ad calls the referendum a transit tax, only 55 percent of the revenue generated would be earmarked specifically through transit projects by being allocated to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority. Most of the remaining funds minus 1 percent for oversight would go to Hillsborough County and the three municipalities located within the county to fund transportation improvements including road enhancements and repaving.

Other allowable uses include transportation technology to improve traffic flow and reduce congestion as well as safety enhancements including crosswalks and pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements.

In a press release, Americans for Prosperity-Florida describes the proposed sales tax increase as regressive and harmful to “hardworking families” and one that would hit “the community’s least fortunate the hardest.”

“Hillsborough families already rejected an unnecessary sales tax hike in 2010,” said AFP-FL coalitions director, Demetrius Minor referring to the failed Moving Hillsborough County Forward initiative. “The burdens of addressing Hillsborough’s critical infrastructure needs shouldn’t fall on our least fortunate and hardworking families; elected leaders should be solving these problems responsibly, not asking them to dole out more of their hard-earned money to pay for a plan with more holes in it than Big Bend Road. We urge Hillsborough voters to oppose this harmful tax increase.”

Sales tax is considered regressive because it disproportionately affects the lowest earners who can least afford the increased cost. However, supporters of the All for Transportation plan note that the tax burden would be partially absorbed by tourists visiting the county and the benefits would compensate low-income residents by providing better transit access.

The 2010 referendum focused almost exclusively on transit and was criticized for lacking details and oversight. Because of its focus on transit, supporters also struggled to show value to residents in areas that don’t rely on public transportation like Brandon and rural areas.

All for Transportation gathered more than 50,000 petition signatures from voters throughout the county to place the referendum on the November 6 ballot and has since earned endorsements from the Greater Tampa, South Tampa and Upper Tampa Bay chambers of commerce as well as Visit Tampa Bay and the Tampa Bay Times.

All for Transportation launched its own television ad this week.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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