Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Transit tax plan moves forward in Hillsborough

TAMPA — A proposed sales tax increase to pay for mass transit in Hillsborough County inched closer to the ballot Wednesday.

In a 5-2 vote, county commissioners resolved to put the issue on the November 2010 ballot. The board action was little surprise, as the same split of commissioners tentatively agreed to do as much last month.

While the vote is not binding, it cleared the way for commissioners to begin holding public hearings and debating details. That discussion will lead to creation of specific ballot language, which commissioners will take up early next year.

"I think the work that the board has done has been enormously important to our community," said Mark Sharpe, a leading advocate of the initiative.

He said he welcomed the vigorous community dialogue that has already begun and will continue.

"It's going to be a tough sell," Sharpe said. "It should be."

The resolution passed Wednesday lays out the broad framework for the start of discussions. It calls for asking voters if they would approve increasing the sales tax by 1 cent, to 8 cents.

The tax would have no expiration date, as the proposal stands now. Three-fourths of the money would go toward the rail and bus system, which would include new express and regional routes. The rest would go primarily for roadwork, particularly in areas not near proposed rail lines.

Money for rail would initially pay for two main lines. One would link downtown to the University of South Florida area. The other would connect downtown to the West Shore business district.

Commissioners will debate those details, some of which could change, over the coming months. They'll also discuss who will oversee the transit system and how it could link with other, prospective regional rail systems.

Their discussion Wednesday, and public testimony preceding it, gave a glimpse into the political battle ahead.

Supporting commissioners said they are merely giving voters a chance to vote on whether to tax themselves to address transit needs. And that's who should be making the decision, not commissioners, they said.

"I think putting it on the ballot and listening to voters, that's going to be the right test," Commissioner Rose Ferlita said.

Commissioner Jim Norman, who along with Al Higginbotham voted against moving forward, rejected that characterization. He said commissioners who support the initiative should be prepared to get accused of supporting a tax increase.

"You support the tax if you vote to put it on the ballot today," he said. "You wouldn't put it on the ballot if you didn't support it."

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, who has championed the initiative though she has no power to put the measure on the ballot, praised commissioners for their leadership.

Iorio said she respects their resolve in the face of a decision for which some commissioners may face political heat. She said she believes voters respect politicians who take principled stands, rather than doing what's safe.

"Frankly, I think voters today want courageous people in office who are willing to make a darn decision," Iorio said. "By gosh, we need more of that in this country."

Commissioners have been besieged with hundreds of e-mails in recent days voicing opposition to the rail proposal. Many came as form letters disseminated by the Florida Family Association, whose executive director, David Caton, has been an early opponent of the tax proposal.

He urged commissioners to block a tax increase that he said would do little to ease traffic congestion.

Most of the nearly dozen or so public speakers at the meeting voiced at least qualified support for the ballot initiatives. However, opponents said their speaker cards were passed over during the limited time slot for speaking.

A handful of speakers urged board members to eliminate most of the suburban road projects included in the plan, wearing placards that read "no pork in the penny."

Bill Varian can be reached at varian@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3387.

Transit tax plan moves forward in Hillsborough 12/02/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 2, 2009 11:30pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Relative 'devastated' after shooting kills 8 in Mississippi

    Nation

    BROOKHAVEN, Miss. — Head in hands, his voice strained, Vincent Mitchell sat outside his little yellow home and tried to make sense of how a family dispute led to a rampage that killed eight people, including the deputy who tried to keep them safe.

    Christianna May-Kelly, center, is supported by family members as she cries after answering reporters questions outside her parents' home in Brookhaven, Miss., Sunday. May-Kelly said her parents and mother were among the people gunned down during a shooting in rural Mississippi Saturday night. [AP photo]
  2. Forecast: Sunny, clear Memorial Day ahead of increased rain chances throughout the week

    Weather

    If you're planning on heading outside today for Memorial Day activities, the weather shouldn't get in the way.

    Tampa Bay's 7 day forecast. [WTSP]
  3. North Korean missile launch may be testing rivals, not technology

    World

    SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea's latest missile test Monday may have less to do with perfecting its weapons technology than with showing U.S. and South Korean forces in the region that it can strike them at will.

    A woman watches a TV screen showing a file footage of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, at Seoul Train Station in Seoul, South Korea, Monday,. North Korea fired a short-range ballistic missile that landed in Japan's maritime economic zone Monday, officials said, the latest in a string of test launches as the North seeks to build nuclear-tipped ICBMs that can reach the U.S. mainland. [AP Photo/Lee Jin-man]
  4. PolitiFact: Fact-checking Samantha Bee on Florida felonies

    State Roundup

    Comedian Samantha Bee traveled to Florida, where she says "retirees and democracy go to die," to shed light on how the state makes it difficult for felons to regain the right to vote.

    Samantha Bee hosts Full Frontal with Samantha Bee on TBS. Bee portrayed some of Florida’s felonies as not so serious on her show.
  5. For some, Memorial Day comes around more than just once a year

    Military

    ST. PETERSBURG — It is shortly before nine on a Friday morning, and the heat is already approaching unbearable levels at Bay Pines National Cemetery.

    Iles carefully digs up the St. Augustine grass so that it will continue to grow when it is placed back on the gravesite. He tries not to disturb the root base.