Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hillsborough rail defeat reverberates in Pinellas

Hillsborough voters' resounding rejection of a sales tax for light rail has forced Pinellas officials to rethink their strategy for bringing trains here.

Supporters in Pinellas hoped to use the passage of a 1-cent sales tax in Hillsborough as a springboard for a similar measure as early as next year. Instead, 58 percent of Hillsborough voters rejected it.

"It knocks a wind out of our sails — that wasn't even competitive in Hillsborough County," said County Commissioner Neil Brickfield.

A task force of Pinellas business leaders and officeholders will meet Nov. 15 to decide what to do next, including whether to delay a decision. The group ultimately will make a recommendation to the Pinellas County Commission, where a majority vote is needed to put a sales tax increase on a ballot.

"I would probably not be a big supporter for going out for a rail vote in Pinellas without a tax in Hillsborough," said task force member Alan Bomstein, a Clearwater contractor.

The Hillsborough defeat resolves two issues the Pinellas task force had been debating, said Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch.

To make it more palatable to voters, the county needs to reduce or eliminate the property tax paid to Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority. The swap to a sales tax also could be necessary for the commission to approve a ballot measure.

The rub, however, is that some transit planners say the financials won't work without keeping both taxes.

Pinellas also needs to finish a major study of proposed routes before taking the issue to voters.

In Hillsborough, the absence of detailed routes played into voters' dissatisfaction, said Ronnie Duncan, who is chairman of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority. No one will buy something without knowing what they're getting, he said.

"We're still on the same track, in my view," said Welch, a member of the transportation task force. "I think the key difference is that we will have a plan in place to present to voters."

Lobbyist and lawyer Ed Armstrong wasn't as optimistic. He suggested the disappointing outcome in Hills­borough might mean a vote needs to wait for better economic times.

While the defeat was disappointing, Duncan noted that rail referendums often fail on their first try.

A regional approach with sales tax measures in Hillsborough and Pinellas in 2012 may still be an option, he said. But it would again mix a local sales tax referendum into an election with national politics.

A toxic reaction to government spending spilled over to the Hillsborough vote.

Tuesday's election also made it tougher to win over a majority of the Pinellas commission.

Voters ousted County Commissioner Calvin Harris, a rail supporter, in favor of antitax candidate Norm Roche.

Harris advocated for it as part of plan that included a possible new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays in mid Pinellas.

"I think it is doable in Pinellas if the groundwork is done correctly. You don't have so much organized opposition in Pinellas like you had in Hills­borough," Harris said, noting the county's previous support of taxes for construction projects and teacher pay increases.

Roche said late Tuesday he's not against the idea of rail on its own, but he has yet to see legitimate documentation to back up the need for trains before bus service is improved. He has opposed increasing the sales tax.

"It's certainly not helpful," Welch said of Roche's election. "But I think from my perspective I haven't heard Norm say he's totally opposed to light rail. I just look forward to having some dialogue with him during our meetings and discussions."

Roche will join Commissioners Nancy Bostock and Brickfield, providing at least three members who are reluctant to move forward with rail and a tax increase.

Bostock called the Hillsborough vote a caution, but not a setback to improving services. She said the county needs to focus more on planning and improving its existing transit system.

"Rushing out to build a very expensive rail system at this point is not something that I think the citizens of Pinellas want," Bostock said.

David DeCamp can be reached at or (727) 893-8779.


Hillsborough transit tax supporters will study the failed vote to plan their next steps. 4B

Hillsborough rail defeat reverberates in Pinellas 11/03/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 3, 2010 10:02pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. FWC: Polk man tried to sell gator tail


    A Lakeland man faces charges after he killed an alligator, cut off its tail and tried to sell the meat to neighbors, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

    Shaun Sparks, 33, and Christy Michelle Vincent, 27, both of Lakeland, face charges after trying to sell an alligator tail that Sparks had cut off. [Photos courtesy of the Polk County Sheriff's Office]
  2. Watch Round 3 of Feeding Tampa Bay's Epic Chef Showdown


    TAMPA — Round 3 of the third annual Epic Chef Showdown to benefit Feeding Tampa Bay is Monday night, and you can watch it live right here.

    Chef Richard Bergendale of The Mill restaurant and Sous Chef Jeff Thornsberry of Locale Market competed in Round 1 of the Epic Chef Showdown. [Epicurean Hotel / Feeding Tampa Bay]
  3. Fishing crew catches 926-pound shark off New Jersey coast


    BRIELLE, N.J. — A fishing crew has reeled in a 926-pound Mako shark, and New Jersey officials say it's the biggest shark catch in the state's history.

    A photo provided by Jenny Lee Sportfishing shows a 926-pound Mako shark reeled in by the ship's crew. From left, Mark Miccio, Mark Miccio, Matt Miccio and Steve Miccio pose with the shark at Hoffmann Marina in Brielle, N.J. Environmental officials say it's the biggest shark catch in the state's history. [Jenny Lee Sportfishing via AP]
  4. VIDEO: Obamacare is "death,' President Trump says


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Monday made a late-hour appeal to senators — targeting members of his own party — to move forward with debate over faltering Republican legislation to overhaul the Affordable Care Act.

    President Donald Trump speaks about healthcare, Monday, July 24, 2017, in the Blue Room of the White House in Washington.[Alex Brandon | Associated Press]
  5. Dragon ride in Harry Potter section of Universal closing for new themed ride


    Universal Orlando announced Monday that it will close Dragon Challenge for a new "highly themed" Harry Potter ride to open in 2019 — sending wizard fans into a guessing game with hopes for a Floo Powder Network or the maze from the Triwizard Tournament.

    Universal Orlando announced Monday that it will close Dragon Challenge on Sept. 5 for a new "highly themed" Harry Potter ride to open in 2019. The ride, originally the Dueling Dragons roller coaster, was renamed and incorporated into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter when the hugely popular area opened in 2010.