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Hillsborough OKs $700,000 education campaign for transportation tax

The Nov. 8 referendum asks voters to consider a 1% sales tax for transportation.
Hillsborough County commissioners approved a nearly $700,000 work order with HNTB Corp. Wednesday for a public education campaign in advance of the November referendum on a 1% sales tax for transportation. Shown are privately funded mailers from the 2018 campaign. TIMES (2018).
Hillsborough County commissioners approved a nearly $700,000 work order with HNTB Corp. Wednesday for a public education campaign in advance of the November referendum on a 1% sales tax for transportation. Shown are privately funded mailers from the 2018 campaign. TIMES (2018).
Published Jun. 15|Updated Jun. 15

TAMPA — A public education campaign in advance of Hillsborough County’s November transportation sales tax referendum is sparking some jousting in a separate campaign.

Hillsborough County Commission candidate Josh Wostal, a Republican, recently turned to Twitter to criticize commission chairperson Kimberly Overman over the nearly $700,000 expenditure authorized by commissioners Wednesday.

“It is surreal that my opponent is trying to use $700,000 of YOUR taxes to pay for propaganda to develop a playbook to ‘educate’ YOU to tax YOURSELF more money because ‘she needs more,’“ Wostal tweeted last week. “The level of ridicule they have for your family unit in Hillsborough is maniacal at best.”

Wostal is one of two Republicans running for the countywide District 7 seat held by Overman, a Democrat, who is seeking reelection. Wostal and Chase Harrison are slated to face off in the Aug. 23 GOP primary.

Overman brushed off the critique from Wostal.

“We’re looking for a way to make sure people understand what we spend the money on. It’s critically important that we invest in our infrastructure,” she told the Tampa Bay Times. “His comment is a clear indication that he has no understanding how governments work.”

The $699,958 work order calls for engineering firm HNTB Corp. to provide “support for transportation community engagement efforts” prior to the Nov. 8 referendum on a proposed 1% sales tax for transportation.

The work will include holding community meetings, developing and distributing printed material, answering inquiries from news media and the public and preparing public presentations and content for social media and the web. The firm also will coordinate with the cities of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and the Hillsborough Transportation Planning Organization on the public information campaign.

The commission approved the work order by a 5-1 margin. Commissioner Stacy White dissented, and Commissioner Ken Hagan was out of the room for the vote.

Overman noted previously the HNTB contract is just about half of the $1.35 million the county spent to gauge public interest in a transportation sales tax proposal six years ago. The effort, dubbed Go Hillsborough, never made it to voters after a then-commission majority declined to put the tax question on the November 2016 ballot.

The new public education campaign is not without its critics.

“Wouldn’t it be better to spend that $700,000 to fix our roads?” asked Catherine Starnes of Plant City during public comment.

If voters approve it, the tax is projected to raise $342 million in its first full year. It calls for 45% of the proceeds to be earmarked for the transit authority. The county and the cities of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City would divide 54.5% based on their populations, and 0.5% would be set aside for the Hillsborough Transportation Planning Organization.

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