The date is set: Hillsborough will debate transportation sales tax on June 9
TAMPA -- Hillsborough County commissioners will meet June 9 to debate a sales tax hike to fund transportation projects for 15 years, they decided Wednesday.
It will be the second time the county will hold a public hearing to examine raising the sales tax by a half cent to pay for $117.5 million a year in road improvements and transit projects. The last hearing, on April 27, ended with commissioners voting 4-3 against tax increases of 20 and 30 years.
The June 9 hearing, set with a 6-1 vote initiated by Commissioner Les Miller, will be to consider raising the sales tax from 7 percent to 7.5 percent for a period of 15 years, though the length and cost of the tax could be amended at that public hearing. If approved, it would go to Hillsborough voters in a referendum in November.
While the board overwhelmingly agreed to move ahead with the meeting, there was still considerable dissent and lack of consensus on the best path forward.
For example, Commissioner Sandy Murman said a gas tax increase was a “no brainer” that needed to be considered, and that the county lacked a modern, technology-based transit plan.
But she still voted to set the public hearing. She also asked county staff for information on how much a sales tax hikes of a half cent and a quarter cent could generate and fund for five, 10 and 15 years.
“If we have to do this one more time to get to the same result we got to last time then we’ll do it,” Murman said. “Because at that point then we can force ourselves to look at the budget.
Commissioner Victor Crist said commissioners and an independent task force should comb the budget for savings that could fund road and transit projects. He voted for it but said he didn’t know if he would support it on June 9.
The strongest opposition came from Commissioner Stacy White, who voted against setting the public hearing date and was critical of any new revenue for transportation.
He also put his fellow commissioners on notice if they vote to put the sales tax hike on the ballot. White called it the equivalent of the “board going to the voters with its hand out.”
“Support of this referendum is support for a tax hike,” he said.
That drew a strong rebuke from several commissioners, who didn’t appreciate White’s characterization of the vote.
“This is about our future and the one thing we must realize as elected officials in this county is that we as elected officials should not be repressing the vote of the public,” Miller said. “By not allowing them to do that we’re suppressing the vote. We should let them decide if they should tax themselves a half cent for 15 years.”