TAMPA — The public is about to get its chance to weigh in on a proposed Hillsborough County transit tax referendum.
After years of discussion by elected and civic leaders, county commissioners voted 4-2 Wednesday to hold a public hearing on proposed ballot language.
The hearing is set for 6 p.m. May 13. Afterward, they are expected to formally place the question on the November ballot. Anticipating a large crowd, commissioners voted to hold the hearing at the county's All Peoples Life Center at 6105 E Sligh Ave. in East Tampa, which has a more room than County Center downtown.
"I think we've done our work and it's time for the public to do theirs," said Commissioner Mark Sharpe, a leading advocate of the initiative. "Let the great debate begin."
Commissioners Jim Norman and Al Higginbotham, consistent critics of the measure, voted against the public hearing. Both kept their comments brief.
Norman said he wouldn't repeat his rationale for opposing the measure, which he has previously said will hurt the economy and should be pursued as a regional transit system instead of Hillsborough County going it alone.
"I guess I once again would plead that common sense prevail," he said.
Higginbotham said, as Norman also has, that a vote by commissioners to put the measure on the ballot is a vote in favor of a tax increase. He said his opposition does not stem from a lack of forward thinking, as some of those who support the initiative have suggested.
"It's just the wrong time," Higginbotham said.
Commissioners are considering asking voters if they support increasing the sales tax by one penny to pay for light commuter rail, expanded bus service and road construction. A transportation task force created by commission Chairman Ken Hagan unanimously recommended that course after nearly three years of study.
Hagan said that while he expects the initiative to fail, he said he believes the public wants an opportunity to vote on it.
Bill Varian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org (813) 226-3387.