Wednesday, August 15, 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
Transportation activists hope to pave over past referendum defeats

Transportation activists hope to pave over past referendum defeats

TAMPA ó The group behind a sales tax transportation initiative used hundreds of volunteers and spent at least $550,000 on a petition-gathering firm in a frantic six-week dash to qualify for the Nov. 6 General Election ballot.That may have been the ea...
Published: 08/11/18
Troubled SunPass vendor could have to pay $1.7 million, but Florida isnít asking for it

Troubled SunPass vendor could have to pay $1.7 million, but Florida isnít asking for it

The vendor responsible for recent problems with the SunPass tolling system could be on the hook to pay the state at least $1.7 million based on a review of documents obtained by the Tampa Bay Times.But the Florida Department of Transportation hasnít ...
Published: 08/08/18
Updated: 08/09/18
Petition succeeds, Hillsborough voters set to decide on sales tax hike for transportation

Petition succeeds, Hillsborough voters set to decide on sales tax hike for transportation

TAMPA ó As if there wasnít enough riding on the mid-term elections, a plan to raise the sales tax to pay for transportation projects is now set to go before Hillsborough voters.The Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections confirmed Wednesday that ...
Published: 08/08/18

Flooding closes WPA Road in Brooksville; Rackley, other roads still closed

BROOKSVILLE ó Flooding on Wednesday led the Hernando County Department of Public Works to close WPA Road just south of its intersection with Mondon Hill Road.More than a foot of water is covering part of the road, east of downtown Brooksville, accord...
Published: 08/08/18
Ferry project waves goodbye to $4.7 million federal grant

Ferry project waves goodbye to $4.7 million federal grant

TAMPA — If the long-awaited commuter ferry service between south Hillsborough County and MacDill Air Force Base ever happens, it will likely be without federal money. Leaders of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit authority acknowledged Mon...
Published: 08/06/18
Updated: 08/07/18
High-speed rail firm scouting land for station and development around proposed Rays ballpark site

High-speed rail firm scouting land for station and development around proposed Rays ballpark site

TAMPA ó Brightline, the firm behind the passenger rail system between Miami and West Palm Beach, doesnít yet know if it will win a state bid to build a high-speed rail link between Tampa and Orlando.But the company is already scouting sites for a ter...
Published: 08/04/18
Southbound I-275 ramp to northbound 75 in Manatee County to close for 10 months

Southbound I-275 ramp to northbound 75 in Manatee County to close for 10 months

People who travel from Pinellas County to southern Hillsborough using the interstates may want to build in some extra time.The Florida Department of Transportation has shut down the ramp that shuttles motorists from southbound Interstate 275 in Manat...
Published: 08/01/18
Waterborne transportation a fact of life in other cities; why not Tampa Bay?

Waterborne transportation a fact of life in other cities; why not Tampa Bay?

Mark Hubbard, the owner of Hubbard’s Marina on John’s Pass, has watched two decades of uncertainty over the future of waterborne transportation play out in Tampa Bay. Just when it seems that Tampa and St. Petersburg have figured out how ...
Updated one month ago
One Florida agency rejected the troubled SunPass vendor three years ago. Hereís why.

One Florida agency rejected the troubled SunPass vendor three years ago. Hereís why.

When Florida wanted to consolidate its tolling systems into what drivers now know as SunPass, regional expressway agencies in Tampa, Orlando, and Miami were ready to work together. But when Xerox spinoff Conduent State & Local Solutions was chosen as...
Updated one month ago
Uber says ride app funnels $1.1 billion a year into Florida’s economy

Uber says ride app funnels $1.1 billion a year into Florida’s economy

There’s no question that Uber has changed the way Floridians travel and spend money, but until now it’s been hard to quantify just how much. A new study paid for by the popular ride share app says it has contributed about $1.1 billion an...
Updated one month ago