Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner latest to pitch his own transportation funding plan

The Hillsborough commissioner proposes a 10-year, half-cent sales tax.
Published February 25 2016
Updated February 25 2016

TAMPA — Add yet another transportation plan to the pile of proposals accumulating in Hillsborough County.

County Commissioner Kevin Beckner at a budget workshop Wednesday revealed his vision of a 10-year, half-cent sales tax that would fund transportation improvements.

It joins an ever-growing list of proposals:

Go Hillsborough, the 30-year, half-cent transportation referendum that would raise $117 million annually for a total of $3.5 billion to fund transit, road, bike and pedestrian improvements. It was endorsed by the county's elected leaders in November after they spiked a proposed full-cent plan. Those leaders have not yet decided to put Go Hillsborough on the 2016 ballot.

Commissioner Sandy Murman dropped her own plan — implementing a gas tax, increasing developer fees and reallocating funds like the county's share of BP oil spill settlement money — as an alternative to the county's official plan just days before leaders voted on Go Hillsborough.

The Tampa Bay Sierra Club also called for increased developer fees and instituting a county gas tax in a plan it has been circulating for months. Unlike Murman's plan, the Sierra Club wants to see a greater percentage of dollars go toward transit instead of roads.

Beckner's plan is a mix of these proposals, but on a shorter time frame. He calls for putting a half-cent sales tax on the November ballot, but one that spans only 10 years. It would raise $121 million annually and a total of $1.2 billion in a decade. That would be supplemented by increased development fees and reallocating millions in the county's existing budget to create a transportation trust fund.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the Beckner plan "threw the cities under the bus" and negates 2½ years of effort, including nearly 100 public meetings that led to the drafting of Go Hillsborough. That plan, originally supported by Hillsborough's mayors and a majority of county commissioners, has faced a series of setbacks in addition to critiques from the tea party.

"The vast majority of us were willing to take that risk and not back down in the face of three tea party bloggers sitting in their underwear in their basements in Ruskin," Buckhorn said. "That's not leadership."

Beckner, a Democrat, said he's had to deal with opposition to Go Hillsborough from his side of the political aisle, as well.

"This is more than opposition from the tea party," he said. "I got opposition coming from my own Democratic Party, saying, 'We don't like this plan. It doesn't invest enough in transit.' "

Beckner's plan would allocate nearly 47 percent of the money raised — or about $560 million over 10 years — to transit, bike and pedestrian projects. Those include the expansion and maintenance of downtown's historic streetcar, bus rapid transit in Brandon and southern Hillsborough, a ferry from south county to MacDill Air Force Base and additional funding for the Hills­borough Area Regional Transit Authority. It also lists a potential "rail project."

The other 54 percent — or nearly $650 million — would go toward road-based projects, including resurfacing and intersection improvements.

But Buckhorn said it's "impossible" to fund the premium transit options the city is considering under Beckner's plan.

"It kills any option for mass transit, particularly rail in the urban corridor," Buckhorn said. "Without a 30-year time frame, I can't go to the bond market to issue debt. You can't do major, major infrastructure projects like rail without issuing debt."

The Hillsborough County Commission is expected to vote in April whether to put a sales tax for transportation on the November ballot. It's unclear what iteration of which plan the board will ultimately vote on.

Beckner stressed that his proposal "is not building a new plan" but molding the existing one to better fit the desires of his constituents.

He also notes that during the 10-year period, the county commissioners can ask voters to extend or increase the tax.

"My vision is within that time frame we will go back to the people with a checkup and say, 'Listen, this is what we've accomplished in the last 10 years and here's our plan for the future,' " Beckner said. "At any time, we can go out and say we would like to extend it."

Contact Caitlin Johnston at cjohnston@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3401. Follow @cljohnst.

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