Column: Hillsborough commissioners should act on transportation

Published June 7 2016
Updated June 7 2016

Editor's note: Sandy MacKinnon, a former chairman of the Tampa Chamber of Commerce and husband of the late Hillsborough County Commissioner Dottie Berger MacKinnon, has written this open letter to commissioners in advance of their Thursday vote on whether to place a proposed transportation tax on the November ballot.

In 2002, I stood in front of the Hillsborough County Commission as chairman of the Tampa Chamber of Commerce on this issue. The chamber's request was to allow a referendum for a sales tax initiative to support the growing needs of this community for improved transportation. Commissioner Ronda Storms, who took the lead in the discussion, said that "Hillsborough County did not have a transportation issue and getting around in our community was a nonissue.''

The vote on the referendum failed.

We had a transportation issue then, and today we have a far worse and more expensive problem than we did 14 years ago. The hand-wringing and continual dialogue that produces nothing needs to stop. We need solutions desperately today and not on somebody else's watch. The time to act is now.

I am reminded of my late wife, Commissioner Dottie Berger MacKinnon. During her tenure, the Community Investment Tax came to a vote. The tax was partially to save the Tampa Bay Bucs, who would leave Tampa unless a new stadium was built. New schools were needed to avoid half-day sessions. Police cars, fire trucks and ambulances were breaking down on the way to emergencies. Dottie and others, including Mayor Dick Greco, led the charge to get it on the ballot and campaigned furiously to get voters to pass it. Certain activists warned that she would not be re-elected, but she stayed true to her convictions and held tightly to her hopes and dreams to make this community better. She stood tall for what she believed in and what the community needed to keep moving forward. She would not be bullied by certain activists or individuals who believed you don't need infrastructure enhancements to grow a great community.

If Dottie were alive today, she would tell you she did the right thing for the right reason, and you need only look at the improvements that continue to be made because of the investment tax vote. Raymond James Stadium took less than 10 percent of the money that has flowed from that investment tax vote but transformed this community in its attitude, quality of life, pride and standing around the country. Just imagine if the Bucs had left.

I encourage you to follow Dottie's example. Don't be intimidated by those who threaten your re-election. Go into your commission chambers to find solutions to our growing needs. Leave your political aspirations at the door and take a leadership role to see the entire program, whatever it is, through to completion. Once you put the referendum on the ballot, work to get it passed. We need your leadership on these issues.

As the owner of a business in Florida and Georgia with five locations, I know we are falling behind in Hillsborough. I have employees trying to get to work every day and more than 50 delivery vehicles and service vans on the roads. Customers and manufacturers are refusing to pay travel dollars because of elongated travel costs that are growing because of congestion.

I urge you to be bold, do what's right for this community and begin to leave a legacy like Dottie did. The price she paid at the voting booth was devastating to her, but the legacy she left will live on for years.