A public records inquiry by 10 Investigates revealed how Hillsborough County could attempt to raise public funds for the construction of a new baseball stadium, which could cost taxpayers more than $300-million.
The inquiry found that one way the county could raise money is through the expected increase in bed taxes, from 5 to 6 cents on the dollar.
While it had been assumed that revenues generated through bed taxes are limited in their uses — an idea forwarded by Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, in an attempt to carve out revenues for a Rays’ stadium — those revenues could pay for other necessities. In turn, many other entities (both public and private) could pose a challenge to Hagan, much to his chagrin.
“It can’t be used for law enforcement or fire-rescue or libraries,” Hagan had said previously. Yet he wasn’t being entirely honest. Noah Pransky (Shadow of the Stadium, 10 Investigates) intimated that the revenue generated can be sought after and used for other things like the marketing of hotels and aquariums, funding for performing arts centers, beaches, tourist-attracting festivals and more.
In fact, since nobody else bothered to look, I found at least $550,000 a year earmarked in the county’s general revenue budget to help promote major Tampa Bay Sports Commission (TBSC) events, such as NCAA championships, writes Pransky. While the TBSC doesn’t use all of the funds every year, those expenditures could be funded by the bed tax, which would allow the county to spend that half-million-or-so dollars on general revenue items such as schools, sewers, or roads. A $25,000 annual general revenue subsidy for the Tampa Bay Black Heritage Festival would also appear to be eligible for bed tax funding.
Annnnnnnd, the state legislature just allowed cities to spend that money on even more things!
Moreover, the Tampa Bay Times reported about a bill that was headed to the governor’s desk, which could present an obstacle for Hagan … yet one that would benefit the two largest counties in the region.
HB-7087 would allow for destination counties, like Pinellas and Hillsborough, to use bed tax money on “transportation and sewer projects that benefit tourists and the tourism industry.” The bill would allow for $1-million to be used by the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority (TBARTA) to produce a regional transit development plan for the Tampa Bay area. It would also be a step forward in bringing intercounty rapid bus service and new circulators to downtown St. Petersburg and Tampa.
HB-7087 does not come without the trappings of irony, as Rays Principal Owner had mentioned on many occasions that in order for the team to be successful in the region, the area’s mass transportation system must be improved.
In the end though, one can’t help but wonder if Hillsborough County leaders will vote to give the Rays the $6-million per year that soon will be raised via bed taxes, or whether they will commit that money toward critically important, yet underfunded, infrastructure projects.