NAACP leader opposes Hillsborough sales tax hike for transportation

The president of the Hillsborough chapter of the NAACP has come out against the one penny sales tax plan for transportation. Yvette Lewis said the proposed tax would hit low-income families hard. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
The president of the Hillsborough chapter of the NAACP has come out against the one penny sales tax plan for transportation. Yvette Lewis said the proposed tax would hit low-income families hard. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published October 24 2018
Updated October 24 2018

TAMPA — The leader of the Hillsborough NAACP has announced her opposition to a plan that would raise the sales tax to buy more buses, transit and road improvements.

Chapter president Yvette Lewis said Tuesday she fears that the penny on the dollar tax hike would hurt poor families and that a committee to oversee how the tax is spent would have no representatives from the black community.

Meantime, the transportation plan has received the backing of the Tampa Bay Sierra Club, the environmental group that refused to back the 2016 Go Hillsborough plan it said had too little mass-transit.

RELATED: Here’s how money from a sales tax hike would improve transportation in Hillsborough

But the failure to secure endorsement by the NAACP is a setback for All for Transportation. Its leaders met last week with the NAACP and faced tough questions about how it helps Hillsborough’s black community.

There was also criticism that too much of the tax proceeds would be spent on downtown Tampa projects and that deep-pocketed All for Transportation donors, including Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Sykes Enterprises chief executive Chuck Sykes, don’t do enough for the black community.

"We don’t trust the elected officials and we don’t trust the people who are have endorsed it and promoted this," Lewis said.

Hillsborough voters will decide the issue in the Nov. 6 election.

RELATED: As ballots start coming in, All for Transportation makes uits case for a sales tax hike

The county’s black community, which tends to vote overwhelmingly Democratic, is expected to be a key constituency in the vote on the tax. That’s especially true in low-income areas like East Tampa where people rely on buses.

The new tax would cost the average household about $120 per year. It would raise about $276 million per year, $124 million of it for bus and transit.

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit authority, which in 2017 cut routes to save money, would be able to add at least 10 new routes, 150 new buses and increase the frequency of at least four bus routes to every 15 minutes.

That did not satisfy Lewis, who said low-income black neighborhoods are also in need of affordable housing and jobs.

"Our community needs more than just buses," she said.

The NAACP did not formally oppose the plan since there has been no vote by its chapter board. Lewis said that is unlikely to happen before the general election.

Her criticism stands in contrast to the support the plan has received from other black leaders, including Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller, state Sen. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg and former state Rep. Ed Narain of Tampa. All are Democrats.

The measure also was endorsed by the Florida Sentinel Bulletin, a newspaper that serves the African-American community.

Rouson said it may not be too late for an NAACP endorsement. He offered to serve as a broker.

"As vice chair of the transportation committee in the Florida Senate, I understand what this transit tax will do," he said. "I balance that against the concerns of the NAACP."

Rena Frazier, a Brandon attorney who volunteers with All for Transportation, said the plan provides more than just bus service.

It will pay for pedestrian crosswalks, streetlights and projects to reduce traffic congestion on roads like Hillsborough Avenue, Busch Boulevard and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Frazier said.

"We’ve been talking with groups throughout the county," she said, "educating voters on the All For Transportation plan and how everyone will benefit no matter where they live and that includes residents in neighborhoods like East Tampa, Progress Village and the university area."

The endorsement of the Sierra Club shows the group sees sufficient investment in transit, including expanded bus service and a mass transit system connecting the university area, downtown Tampa and Westchase. That could be a combination of rail, light-rail, streetcars or bus rapid transit.

"This is what we wanted a few years ago," said Sierra Club chairman Kent Bailey. "We’re very happy to see robust funding for public transportation and also funding for pedestrian and bicycle safety, which are key issues in Hillsborough County."

Contact Christopher O’Donnell at codonnell@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.

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