TAMPA — The Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections on Friday approved petition language that will let a new group of transportation advocates begin gathering the 48,000 signatures they need to get a sales tax initiative on the Nov. 6 ballot.
All for Transportation wants voters to approve a charter amendment raising the sales tax by one penny, from seven cents on the dollar to eight cents, for a 30-year period beginning in 2019. The tax would pay for road projects, improved bus service and some form of mass transit.
The group, which has the backing of Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, cleared a first hurdle Friday with the approval of its petition. It includes more details on how the tax, expected to raise about $280 million in its first year, might be spent.
Just over half of the money would go to Hillsborough’s four local governments — Tampa, Temple Terrace, Plant City and Hillsborough County — to spend on road projects.
Here’s a breakdown of how that share of the money would spent: at least 26 percent on projects to relieve rush-hour bottlenecks on existing county and city roads, 27 percent for projects to make roads safer, such as intersection improvements; 20 for repairs and maintenance of roads and bridges to fix problems such as potholes; and 12 percent for sidewalks, bike lanes and other measures to make roadways safer for pedestrians and bicyclists.
The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority would get 45 percent of the tax proceeds. Most of HART’s share would go toward expanding bus service while 35 percent would be spent on transit systems that "utilize exclusive transit right of way." That could be a bus rapid transit, light rail or traditional rail using existing CSX tracks.
The priorities are based on a long range transportation plan that was developed four years ago by the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization, based in part on responses to a survey of more than 6,000 people.
The plan includes more frequent resurfacing and repair of potholes, increased use of intelligent transportation systems like traffic signals that can change cycles to reduce congestion, and an expanded bus network. A transit system that connects downtown Tampa with West Shore and the University of South Florida is also listed but not what form it would take.
No money has been allocated to the MPO’s long-range transportation plan but that would change if All for Transportation succeeds in its campaign.
"It’s really exciting and desperately needed," said Beth Alden, MPO executive director.
All for Transportation is taking advantage of a rarely used process known as charter amendment by petition to get the initiative on the ballot.
It normally allows citizens up to six months to reach a threshold of signatures, a number based on 8 percent of the vote in the most recent presidential election. But with plans to get on the ballot just four months from now, the group must submit the signatures by July 27 to meet a deadline set by the Supervisor of Elections office. The office must verify the petition.
A roughly equal number of signatures must be collected from all four single-member districts that cover Hillsborough to ensure widespread support for the initiative. It would need only a simple majority in the election to pass.
All for Transportation leader Tyler Hudson said his group will have hundreds of volunteers out with petitions. He did not rule out hiring a petition-gathering firm.
"It’s going to be a grass-roots, volunteer driven effort," Hudson said. "We believe this is such an acute crisis that the response will be positive in all corners of the county."
Contact Christopher O’Donnell at [email protected] or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.