Tuesday, July 17, 2018
Transportation

Carlton: Hillsborough's transportation tax plan is not perfect. Pass it anyway.

It's been two years of hard road leading to tonight's Hillsborough County Commission vote on a half-penny sales tax for transportation, a decision so big a couple of hundred citizens might just show up to share their thoughts.

So here's the current buzz from all sides on the battered proposal known as Go Hillsborough:

It's too much to ask of taxpayers.

It's not nearly enough to get the job done.

It's tainted by a since-debunked pseudo-scandal cooked up by anti-tax detractors.

It doesn't focus on future needs for a county already behind and isn't bold enough to ride us into the coming decades.

So at least on this everyone can agree: This transportation proposal is not perfect.

But it's a start. It's a foot on the gas pedal. And commissioners should step past the politics and vote this onto the November ballot for taxpayers to decide.

Go Hillsborough, already.

Tonight's public meeting caps a long ride, given an electorate that previously killed similar efforts in both Hillsborough and Pinellas. The current incarnation, Go Hillsborough, would generate $117.5 million yearly for road, bus and streetcar improvements, raising $3.5 billion over 30 years.

It's taken hits all around. Some, me included, were disappointed it was whittled from a full penny tax, given the enormity of our transportation needs. It takes political courage — leadership, you could call it — for public officials to ask the people who elect them to look ahead via a tax.

Meanwhile, tea partying anti-taxers managed to turn "rail" into a word so scary it sends certain politicians scrambling madly backward like they just spotted a giant spider coming across the kitchen floor. Apparently the anti-tax crowd is content with us sitting in traffic for the next few decades or so, one person per car, with roads that need widening the minute they're built.

From that faction also came a big distraction: Did connected PR consultant Beth Leytham help steer a Go Hillsborough contract to a client that then hired her? A sheriff's investigation found no crime, no misconduct, no influence, no there there. If the naysayers thought this would be a black eye for Go Hillsborough, turns out a recent poll found only 22 percent of citizens surveyed knew of the investigation.

What 97 percent of those polled did know: Traffic around here is not good.

And commissioners concerned about what business interests think surely noted the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce's recent and enthusiastic endorsement of Go Hillsborough.

Will they vote to go forward? Some on the board are talking up a 10- or 20-year tax that would be more palatable to voters, even though 30 years is what's needed to make real inroads. That's where the aforementioned leadership might come in handy.

Commissioners would not be passing a tax, but putting the matter on the ballot to give the people who elected them a voice in how we will (or won't) get around in the future.

They would be letting voters say where Hillsborough goes next.

Sue Carlton can be reached at [email protected]

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