TAMPA, Florida - There are few people more involved in Hillsborough County politics and business than long-time county commissioner Ken Hagan. But there are also few politicians less willing to answer questions about those public dealings than Hagan.
Over the past year, 10News has investigated at least five controversial stories involving Hagan. However, the commissioner ignored more than a dozen interview requests from 10Investigates related to those stories.
Recently, 10Investigates caught up with Hagan at a public event to discuss the topics he was unwilling to talk about:
PRIVATE RAYS NEGOTIATIONS
Ever since his 2010 election, Hagan has been Hillsborough County’s biggest cheerleader for a new Rays stadium in Tampa. His fellow commissioners allowed him to become the county’s lead negotiator with the team, and but details of the discussions – including how many hundreds of millions of dollars may come from tax coffers – have been largely secretive.
Hagan said in 2010 he did not support “public dollars” for a baseball project. But the Republican has since changed his tune, saying he did not support “new” tax dollars for a stadium in 2014, and most recently saying he supported raising hotel taxes – and possibly rental car taxes – but “hopefully” only for infrastructure to support a stadium.
10Investigates asked Hagan about his evolving stance:
The commissioner also said a new stadium could cost upwards of $500 million, with the Rays paying between $200 million and $250 million. The Rays chose not to comment on this story.
Regarding where the talks currently stood, Hagan said, “there's no new update...nothing substantive.” He said the Rays have not given the county “any real metrics” regarding financing needs yet, focusing solely on finding a perfect location for now.
10Investigates also asked Hagan about several other recent claims he made regarding taxes, bed tax allocations, and his promise that “there will never be another Raymond James sweetheart deal” for a pro team in Tampa Bay:
Hagan has said bed tax revenues can only pay for capital projects like new stadiums and marketing for the county. But his claim is off-base since bed tax dollars are also used to promote tourism-driving events.
In fact, 10Investigates 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. While the TBSC doesn’t use all of the funds every year, those expenditures would appear to be eligible to be paid 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.
As for the “Raymond James Stadium ‘sweetheart’ deal” Hagan frequently references, the county may never pick up 100% of a stadium tab again, but the public cost of a Rays stadium could surpass the public cost of the Bucs’ home.
Raymond James Stadium cost Hillsborough taxpayers $168 million in 1998; adjusted for inflation, it’s $250 million in 2017 dollars. However, Hagan has floated numbers that suggest the public may need to help pick up a $300+ million gap in potential funding for a new Rays home.
DISAPPEARING TEXT MESSAGES
When 10Investigates exposed the close relationships between Hagan and his political consultant/lobbyist friend Beth Leytham, the commissioner denied texting Leytham about county business, even though public records showed Leytham frequently used text messages and was in near-constant contact with Hagan as she was seeking a lucrative county contract regarding an planned transit referendum.
10Investigates’ stories led the sheriff’s office to investigate as well, and a 1,974-page report concluded Hagan was one of several commissioners who could not produce the text messages detectives were looking for.
County commissioners voted to provide themselves with county-owned phones so their text messages could be auto-archived and records regarding county business would be preserved. But 10Investigates found Hagan – and his legislative aides – were still forwarding government messages to his private phone and he was not using his county-paid phone at all:
Hagan admitted, “I need to do a better job” of using the county phone.
FREE STADIUM TICKETS
10Investigates showed how the Tampa Sports Authority, which Hagan sits on the board of, regularly provides suite tickets to well-connected local leaders, business people, and politicians. But there was little transparency from ticket recipients as to the value of those freebies, or whom they were bringing to the game.
Hagan said he wasn’t aware of any campaign contributors who may have received his tickets, and he said he would provide a list to 10Investigates. That list was never provided.
TAX BREAKS FOR FILM FRIENDS & MISLEADING STATEMENTS ABOUT JOBS
Hagan is a big supporter for expanding local businesses, and isn’t afraid of using cash incentives to advance the goal.
But 10Investigates has questioned why a well-connected Hillsborough County film company was getting tax dollars to shoot films in Hillsborough County.
“I support any type of financial incentive when you show a strong return of investment.”
However, a 2014 report from the State of Florida’s lead economist suggested the return on investment for state film subsidies was just 43 cents on the dollar. Hillsborough County has not conducted a similar report to investigate return-on-investment for local incentives.
Hagan has also thrown out impressive job numbers related to the film and sports industries, but seldom provides any source to back up those numbers.
“It’s because of financial incentives that we have Amazon, we have USAA, we have Citi, we have Johnson & Johnson,” Hagan said. “When financial incentives are properly structured, then there’s a strong return on investment.”
Several economists told 10Investigates that isn’t true, and tax dollar return on investment requires much greater analysis and consideration.