Friday, May 25, 2018
Transportation

Carlton: They play politics while transportation goes nowhere

Allow me a comparison between two very different issues that have come before our elected officials.

Recently, certain Hillsborough County commissioners — faced with the decision to move a Confederate statue from a public courthouse to a more appropriate private family cemetery — actually brought up putting the question to voters in a referendum.

Instead of, you know, doing the job they were elected to do and dealing straightforwardly with the honest-it's-all-about-history-and-not-slavery faction.

Commissioner Sandy Murman suggested the ballot initiative. Commissioner Victor Crist, who was not at the meeting, later said he too would have supported handing it off to voters.

Luckily, other commissioners declined to pass the buck and voted to move the monument.

Now for the comparison. This is the same commission — and specifically, two of the same commissioners — that last year refused to put a referendum on the ballot for voters to decide one of the issues most critical to the future of our region: a sales tax for badly needed transportation improvements, including buses and roads.

Moving a monument that a lot of people find offensive? Drop that hot potato and let someone else decide!

But letting citizens make up their own minds on transportation? The anti-tax crowd won't like it — can't risk that.

Sigh.

Ours is not a pretty picture when it comes to transportation. We spend much less on transit than any other major metropolitan area.

Bring up the kind of rail that operates efficiently in other cities and it's like you're suggesting that we poison the drinking water. We have far fewer public buses than comparable cities, and those who use them can spend three, four, five hours a day getting to and from work. Our lack of transit options factors in big-time in attracting fresh talent here — or not.

This week came more bad transportation news: HART, Hillsborough's mass transit agency, was forced to cut almost 20 percent of its current bus routes, a grim necessity given its dismal funding. Eighty percent of riders will get more frequent stops and direct routes, HART contends, but overall, it's an unhappy turn.

Attempts for Tampa (and also Orlando) to get a city transit tax referendum died in the Legislature yet again this year. Too bad, because city dwellers tend to get it.

And yes, you can credit Hillsborough commissioners for agreeing to put more than $600 million over the next decade toward roads, bridges and sidewalks. But that won't mean additional money for transit, or to pay for all the road work that's needed.

The anti-tax crowd would remind us that a penny sales tax for transit referendum was in fact rejected by Hillsborough voters back in 2010.

To which I would point out that such initiatives can get a thumbs-up from taxpayers on subsequent tries, as has happened in Phoenix and Denver.

It's called progress, an idea certain elected officials might want to consider.

When commissioners rejected the idea of a transportation referendum last year, Murman called the vote "premature." Sure.

Why rush into anything when you're already this far behind?

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