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Hillsborough light rail foe seeks 'to seal the coffin'

TAMPA — Hillsborough County voters killed light rail last year, but a conservative activist worries it isn't sufficiently dead.

"I want to seal the coffin on this issue," said David Caton, a well-known activist who fought November's transit tax vote.

So over the past few months, Caton has been quietly floating an idea: a proposed amendment to the county charter to prohibit spending county money on rail.

His idea is short on details, but he said he thinks the best way to get the amendment on the countywide ballot is by a citizen petition drive.

He said he started pushing the idea because he thinks conservative political candidates in 2012 could feel pressured to support rail just to appeal to certain voters. His proposal, he said, could erase that as an issue.

One person to whom he pitched the idea is County Commissioner Mark Sharpe.

But Sharpe said he wouldn't support such a move to tie future commissioners' hands. What if one day in the future, he speculated, a private group wants to team up with the county to pay for light rail?

"You don't want to have a reactive referendum like that," said Sharpe, a rail proponent. "I just don't think that's how you make public policy."

In November, voters defeated the transit initiative, which proposed raising the sales tax by a penny to pay for rail, buses and road work.

Sharon Calvert, co-founder of the Tampa Tea Party and a rail opponent, said she has not been working with Caton on his idea.

She has, however, played a role in pushing other rail-related initiatives.

One of those proposals is on its way to voters next year after getting the blessing of the county's Charter Review Board in February. That proposal would require a financial impact statement for future local ballot questions.

November's transit tax referendum did not include such a statement.

Calvert said she and others also pushed to require a super-majority vote for public referendums. That one did not get far, she said.

"Unfortunately, we couldn't get as much traction with the charter review board," she said.

Caton, meanwhile, predicted that a citizen-led petition drive to put his proposal before voters would garner plenty of support if it moves forward later this year.

"I know that it will hit fertile ground. There's no more fertile ground than right now," he said. "We have the momentum at all levels of government."

Reach Jodie Tillman at jtillman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3374.

Hillsborough light rail foe seeks 'to seal the coffin' 06/07/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 7, 2011 9:56pm]
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