A review of the Tampa Bay Partnership’s (TBP) 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 tax returns shows a 35% decline in membership dues in just three years. In the last year, it dropped 11% from the year before, despite a deep restructuring of the organization in 2016.
The TBP is a non-profit 501(c)(6), which is the same tax exempt structure that chambers of commerce use. Its members are almost exclusively large organizations that can afford its $50,000 a year membership fee.
The TBP was formed in 1994 and has supported three sales tax takes to pay for transit in this decade alone. The first two failed at the ballot box, and the third one is on the ballot of Hillsborough County voters in November.
In June of this year, the TBP contributed $150,000 to All For Transportation (AFT), a political action committee. Through a citizen petition initiative using paid petition gatherers, AFT has placed a 14% hike in the Hillsborough County sales tax rate on the November ballot.
Rick Homans, CEO of the TBP, told the Guardian that the governing body of the TBP “voted unanimously to contribute $150,000 to All for Transportation to assist in securing the signatures to place the transportation referendum on the ballot in November. As the effort was successful, we believe our involvement was effective.”
“While we support the ballot initiative, our primary motivation has been to put the transportation tax before the voters for a decision,” Homans continued. But their contribution to AFT comes at a time of declining revenue for the TBP, increasing administrative costs and a 64% trouncing of a transit tax in Democrat-heavy Nashville just last May. Should the November Hillsborough measure also fail, the TBP’s members may questions its effectiveness after three failed efforts.
The TBP used to accept public funds and it made up 1/3 of its revenue. But criticism grew from across the political spectrum over the spending of public funds on an organization that donated large sums to political campaigns. There was also concerns about a lack of transparency, as the TBP argued that it wasn’t subject to either the open meetings law or the public records law.
“In June 2016, the TBP adopted a new mission and leadership structure…and eliminated multiple membership levels and all public funding from the organization.” Homans said. “We intentionally – and very publicly – restructured the organization.”
Overall revenues dropped 54% in three years, and there was a 35% decline in TBP membership dues in just 3 years. Even after the restructuring Homans mentioned, the membership dues declined 11% in one year.
In its 2016 tax year, which ended 9/30/2017, officer and key employee compensation was 43% of total revenue. The previous high was 38%.
The total payroll costs were $908,038, which is 60% of the total revenue of $1,504,299.
USF president Judy Genshaft is listed on the TBP’s website as a member of its “Council of Governors” (CoG), the TBP’s governing body. USF is a public entity, but Homans told us that “payment for President Genshaft’s seat on the CoG is paid with private funds.”
That payment raises question of who made the payment, with what objective, and if the transactioncreates ethical conflicts for Genshaft and USF. According to the TBP’s own web site, an annual $50,000 payment to TBP is required in order for an entity to have a seat on the CoG.
As for declining membership dues, Homans said that as part of its 2016 restructuring, the TBP “reduced the number of investors to only include a highly respected group of CEOs.” Since 2014, the TBP has lost Duke Energy, Jabil, Seminole Hard Rock Casino, and Verizon as members of their CoG. They have added Tech Data, Ashley Furniture, Columbia Restaurants, and Fifth Third Bank, to name a few.
When asked if TBP membership revenues are up in its current tax year, Homans said “we have intentionally reduced the quantity of investors and, instead, pay more attention to the quality of the leaders around our table. ”
Homans also said that the TBP has “aligned the operating budget with our program of work. We have continued to operate a financially strong organization, and have maintained a very healthy reserve fund.” However, as the organization has shrunk, so has its balance sheet, down 25% in three years.
The TBP’s mission, as given on its tax returns, has changed in each of the last three tax years. Here’s how it has changed.
2014 – “To market the region nationally and internationally, and to conduct research to influence business.”
2015 – “To create a more unified, diverse and prosperous region.” [emphasis added]
2016 – “To create a more unified, competitive and prosperous region.” [enphasis added]
If the transit tax hike in November fails, will the TBP conclude that its present strategy is simply not effective? Homans did not answer that question in our e-mail to him, nor did he indicate if membership revenues have gone up in the current tax year when invited to do so.
Citizens will just to wait and see, either until after Election Day or until the TBP’s next tax return.
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