TAMPA — Voters in Hillsborough County will get to decide whether future ballot initiatives should include a financial impact statement telling them how much it will cost if approved.
The county's Charter Review Board, in its final meeting Monday, voted 11-3 to place a question on the 2012 ballot that, if approved, would require an impact statement for future local ballot questions. The state has a similar provision for proposed constitutional changes placed on the ballot.
"We're just trying to bring Hillsborough County up to the 21st century and say, hey, people want to know what things cost," said engineering consultant and activist Joe Robinson, who serves on the charter board and has been pushing the issue.
The local ballot question was sought by tea party activists who fought against the November transit tax referendum, which did not include a financial impact statement. Voters defeated the initiative, which proposed raising the sales tax by a penny to pay for rail, buses and road work.
Charter Review Board members debated how to quantify the potential costs of a referendum — should it be over 20 years, five, or two? In a move that potentially waters down the effect of the initiative, the review board agreed to a two-year time horizon.
That's significant. A 20-year financial impact statement on the November transit initiative would have put the cost of taxes diverted to transit in the neighborhood of $4 billion. If the proposal approved Monday had been in place, the impact statement would have put the price tag at closer to $400 million.
Sharon Calvert, a co-founder of the Tampa Tea Party who advocated for the cost disclosure statement, said she is happy the board gave voters the chance to require some form of estimate.
"If nothing else, it puts it out in front of people and they can ask more questions," Calvert said. "At least they have a reference to a time."
If it is approved, the county's budget director would be in charge of preparing the financial disclosure statement. Board member Ralph Fisher unsuccessfully sought to allow citizens who are pushing a ballot initiative to craft their own estimate.
Fisher and board member Rochelle Reback and James Tokley Sr. voted against the ballot question.
Bill Varian can be reached at (813) 226-3387 or [email protected]