Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Transportation

Tampa again comes up short in quest to hold city-only sales tax referendum for transit

TAMPA — For the fifth year, the Legislature adjourned this spring without giving Tampa and Orlando something each city wants — the ability to hold its own sales tax referendum to help pay for better mass transit.

But at least this time, it was more interesting.

"We've never been as close," said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who has worked on the idea with other big-city mayors since the 2013 legislative session.

The idea made it out of the Senate as an amendment to a transportation bill. Buckhorn and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer sounded out Gov. Rick Scott and came away encouraged.

But the proposal never made it to the fiercely anti-tax House of Representatives.

"The House had zero interest in tax increases of any kind," House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, said in a statement this week.

So the Senate stripped the amendment out of the bill before it went to the House.

Countywide sales-tax referendums to support transit have failed in Orange County in 2003, in Hillsborough in 2010 and in Pinellas in 2014.

Still, inside their respective counties, Buckhorn and Dyer said the transit measures won healthy support from city precincts that would have benefited from expanded transit systems.

The amendment inserted in the transportation bill in the Senate Appropriations Committee would have authorized Tampa and Orlando to hold their own referendums on whether to raise the sales tax up to 1 cent on the dollar to support expanded bus systems, rail or new roads and bridges.

"I wouldn't have had a problem letting other cities participate," Dyer said Monday. "We were just, as a strategy, thinking the narrower we kept it, the more palatable it might be to the House."

Buckhorn said the governor indicated he wouldn't oppose the measure as long as it had a referendum associated with it. Supporters also hoped the Legislature's 2016 decision to let Jacksonville hold a referendum on using a half-cent sales tax to plug a gaping hole in its city pension would bode well for the city-only transit idea.

"I don't mind (local officials) having a shot at it," said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee. What the amended bill would have done, he said, is give the two cities the chance to make the case to their own communities. The bay area needs better mass transit, he said, and if voters approved, a piecemeal approach in Tampa "is better than nothing at all."

Buckhorn and Dyer both said they'd be back. In Orlando, a local-option referendum is seen as a way to pay for a third phase of the SunRail passenger rail system. That phase, going to Orlando's airport, could cost an estimated $200 million.

In Tampa, Buckhorn said the money could help extend and modernize the TECO Line Streetcar — an idea the city and the Florida Department of Transportation are now evaluating, and something Buckhorn says could be a first step toward an expanded transit system that includes rail. The money generated by a sales tax increase for transit also could help city officials put together a local match for the kind of federal transportation grants that play a key role in funding transit expansions.

"Transit is the one missing piece," Buckhorn said. "It's a piece we've got to resolve at some point. You can't keep your head in the sand and say that building more roads is our only option."

Richard Danielson can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times

Comments
Investigators insist MH370 crash was an accident, not a mass murder-suicide by pilot

Investigators insist MH370 crash was an accident, not a mass murder-suicide by pilot

A despondent Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah, troubled over the end of his marriage or some other unbearable sadness, was the only person awake on the doomed plane full of unconscious people, one theory goes. The suicidal pilot disabled communications on Ma...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Florida has a gem of an idea to move traffic on and off I-75. It's called diverging diamonds

Florida has a gem of an idea to move traffic on and off I-75. It's called diverging diamonds

TAMPA — Driving on the wrong side of the road isn’t just for the British any more under an innovative plan for moving traffic through three local Interstate 75 interchanges. Construction will soon begin on a $37 million, three-year proje...
Published: 05/21/18
More parking for the Straz Center? So far, the proposal is getting little traction

More parking for the Straz Center? So far, the proposal is getting little traction

TAMPA — Parking has been a problem at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts since downtown began to emerge from the recession nearly a decade ago.The crunch looks likely to continue.A Straz plan to expand parking at its arrival plaza ...
Published: 05/18/18
More St. Petersburg residents using bike-share program on a regular basis

More St. Petersburg residents using bike-share program on a regular basis

ST. PETERSBURG — Cycling downtown on a blue basket bicycle has proven to be a popular pastime, according to the first yearly report provided by the Coast Bike Share. In an update presented to the St. Petersburg City Council, Coast announced that 45,6...
Published: 05/16/18
Co-pilot sucked halfway out of plane after windshield cracks over China

Co-pilot sucked halfway out of plane after windshield cracks over China

Getting sucked halfway out of a plane window is the stuff of movies and nightmares and it happens extremely rarely.But in mid-April, a female passenger died after being partially sucked out of a Southwest Airlines flight when one of the aircraft’s en...
Published: 05/16/18
MH370 experts think they’ve finally solved the mystery of the doomed Malaysia Airlines flight

MH370 experts think they’ve finally solved the mystery of the doomed Malaysia Airlines flight

All but one of the 239 people on the doomed Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 had probably been unconscious — incapacitated by the sudden depressurization of the Boeing 777 — and had no way of knowing that they were on an hours-long, meandering path to th...
Published: 05/15/18
Pasco buries tunnel proposal at U.S. 41 and SR 54

Pasco buries tunnel proposal at U.S. 41 and SR 54

DADE CITY — Transportation planners are burying the idea of tunneling under U.S. 41 to ease traffic congestion at the road’s intersection with State Road 54 in central Pasco.Even with the conceptual cost dropping $300 million, Pasco’s elected county...
Published: 05/11/18
Updated: 05/13/18
Florida Supreme Court: Cameras a legal way to catch red light runners

Florida Supreme Court: Cameras a legal way to catch red light runners

TALLAHASSEE — Traffic cameras are a legal way to catch red light runners, the Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday in a verdict that likely marks the end of a class-action lawsuit seeking refunds for ticketed motorists.In a unanimous verdict, Supreme...
Updated one month ago
Southwest plane with cracked window diverted to Cleveland

Southwest plane with cracked window diverted to Cleveland

CLEVELAND — A cracked window on a Southwest Airlines plane forced a plane heading from Chicago to New Jersey to land in Cleveland Wednesday, just two weeks after a jet engine blew apart and broke a window in a deadly accident aboard another Southwest...
Updated one month ago
No tolls for I-275, FDOT decides, but now its focus switches to I-75

No tolls for I-275, FDOT decides, but now its focus switches to I-75

TAMPA — A plan for express toll lanes on Interstate 275 north through Bearss Avenue is officially dead.But the Florida Department of Transportation is now giving more weight to the prospect of toll lanes along stretches of Interstate 75.Local DOT sec...
Updated one month ago