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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

For now, Tampa and Hillsborough officials are on parallel transit paths



While Hillsborough County officials work to organize a summit on transportation options in the next six weeks, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has been lobbying state legislators to allow cities like Tampa to hold their own transit-related sales tax referendums.

The change could give the city a chance to reboot the kind of transit tax proposal that in 2010 went down to defeat in Hillsborough County even as it won support from precincts inside the city. Buckhorn describes it as putting a conservative principle — letting people make decisions for themselves — in action. And the idea has won support from members of the Urban Partnership, which consists of the mayors of Tampa, St. Petersburg, Orlando, Miami, Hialeah, Jacksonville and Fort Lauderdale.

So is there a disconnect here, with the city going one way and the county another?

Buckhorn thinks not.

The mayor said he told County Administrator Mike Merrill that he would be a “willing and enthusiastic participant” in any county talks. He’s also told Merrill he will continue to urge legislators to consider a city-only referendum bill, and said Merrill did not object.

Buckhorn expects that if the Legislature acts on the proposal, it could come at the end of this year's session. “We’ve been assured we’ll be given a fair shot,” he said.

Meanwhile, the county’s move to explore the issue "is a good starting point," Buckhorn said. "This discussion needs to take place."

If Tampa were to get the authority to hold its own referendum, that could accelerate the discussion, though Buckhorn thinks the city would be “hard-pressed” to get the issue on the ballot in 2014.

Consequently, he said, "we still need to deal with transportation on a countywide basis. The city is not an island, and we need the county and the other cities to be partners with us."

Even though Temple Terrace and more specifically Plant City might not benefit from light rail in the short term, they could benefit from the improved roads or new bus rapid transit that could come with a transit improvement program, he said.

"This is not just a rail discussion," Buckhorn said.

[Last modified: Thursday, March 21, 2013 11:09am]


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