Election 2018: The Koch Brothers Lost Big in Tampa Last Night

Tampa's All for Transportation won big last night. Photo: Christina Barker
Tampa's All for Transportation won big last night. Photo: Christina Barker

The Koch Brothers’ shadowy anti-transit network lost big to grassroots transit advocates Tuesday night in Tampa, where voters overwhelmingly approved a 1-cent sales tax to pay for transportation infrastructure, including a network of trails, sidewalks and a greatly expanded transit system.

The victory comes after a persistent campaign by All for Transportation, which had twice before tried and failed to win approval for a transit expansion plan.

“In Hillsborough County, we have some of the most dangerous streets in the country and we have next to no options for people who don’t have a car,” Christina Barker, volunteer activist who helped lead the effort, told Streetsblog. “This funding is really going to transform the city of Tampa and the county around it.”

The one-cent sales tax hike will raise $276 million a year, 45 percent of which will be devoted to transit. The local transit agency, HART, will add 10 bus routes and 150 buses, increasing service frequency to 15 minutes on four routes. About a third of the transit money is earmarked for some sort of fixed guideway transit line — whether it is bus rapid transit or light rail. An appointed commission will decide.

“These projects are really going to transform the way people move about the county and the region,” said Barker.

Meanwhile, 55 percent is dedicated to road projects aimed at improving safety and reducing congestion. Twelve percent of the funding is earmarked for biking and walking.

“We’re talking about making sure that there are crosswalks in front of schools and that there is a comprehensive network of sidewalks and bike lanes,” said Barker.

Barker and a group of five other transportation advocates had proposed a transit expansion package unsuccessfully in 2010 and again in 2016.

Frustrated with local leaders,  the group hired professional petitioners and brought the expansion plan to the ballot themselves earlier this year. They were joined in the campaign by major local philanthropists, most notably, Jeff Vinik, owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who donated $700,000 and was a major spokesperson. The group raised about $4 million to support the campaign.

“These kinds of local initiatives that are bubbling up from the people saying, ‘We’ve had enough,'” said Barker.

It’s a winning formula. A substantially similar plan passed in Broward County, Florida — Fort Lauderdale — on Tuesday night as well.

But Tampa had serious Astroturf opposition as well. The Koch Brothers-backed group, Americans for Prosperity, which has been fighting local transit investment around the country, tried to use the same tactics that sank a transit referendum in Nashville this year, even down to the same moniker: notaxfortracks.com. The billionaire industrialist Koch Brothers are known for financial support of far-right causes. And in recent years have taken to attacking local transit initiatives, most recently in Phoenix.

In a concession interview with the Tampa Bay Times, the group — disingenuously — compared itself to David (vs. Goliath), complaining about the “billionaire” local transit backers.

  • TakeFive

    It’s not about “bogeyman” Koch Bros or Americans for Prosperity; rather it about creating a smart plan that appeals to voters.

    Clearly the 54 percent to road projects and safety enhancements were key. While bus ridership had been cratering the county did have great success with their new MetroRapid routes.

    In Nashville a transit expert created a great transit plan that appealed to a minority of voters including minorities distrust of gentrification. It’s core area focus did not appeal to the greater Nashville area voters. Pretty straightforward failure tbh.

  • defuncted up

    You’ve been brainwashed by Americans for Prosperity to think any conclusive transit plan that isn’t 100% perfect is somehow inferior to unmitigated highway expansion.

  • TakeFive

    With respect to transit “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” – Jarrett Walker

    Since I’ve never read any of AfP’s propaganda I can’t help you with that.

  • Scott Avers

    Typical of these shadow conservative groups that hide like cowards to avoid who they are. It’s called “Dark Money” and conservatives in Montana got busted when it was revealed who was funding all these fake groups.

  • Kevin Thurman

    The boogeyman is real, and took real organizing to overcome. As an example you did just weirdly quote a right wing propaganda outlet that posts from people active and funded by their constellation of organizations regarding our transit ridership that didn’t note the route cuts.

    But you’re right about a smart plan and combining transit with bike walk and safety. Atlanta did the same in 2016. It’s good model in sunbelt areas that built dangerous roads and a key compliment to transit. All and all at least 66% of the money goes to complete streets, bike/walk or transit.

  • TakeFive

    Thinking there won’t be opposition is silly. Doesn’t matter where it comes from if it makes more sense to voters then the initiative is in trouble.

    Are you saying the Sunshine State News is conservative? I wouldn’t know but I only referenced facts as opposed to any philosophical, political arguments.

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