Advertisement
  1. Transportation

Carlton: From Go Hillsborough to No Hillsborough, scoring your elected officials

Published Apr. 28, 2016

Three long years, endless meetings, some bare-knuckle politics and one debunked scandal later, Hillsborough County remains stalled on a road to nowhere.

In a decision Wednesday night critical to the county's transportation needs, commissioners voted 4-3 to deny voters the right to decide on a half-penny sales tax for roads and other transit fixes — a hard-fought proposal called Go Hillsborough.

So now a little Friday morning quarterbacking on our failure to move forward, commissioner by commissioner.

Star of the show had to be Republican Victor Crist, who seemed to enjoy a tad too much his role as swing vote on access to $117.5 million a year for buses, roads and streetcars. Crist lamented no matter which way he went, half the room wouldn't be happy.

So why not let them decide for themselves by putting it on the November ballot?

Crist said he ultimately voted no based not on actual data or anything he heard, just on "old-fashioned intuition." Facts, apparently, are for fools.

Democrat Les Miller remained a steadfast proponent of the tax that would have raised $3.5 billion over 30 years for a county already woefully behind, and did not acquiesce to a watered down, less effective tax over fewer years.

The most disappointing player had to be Republican Sandy Murman, who showed some spunk with some apparent initial support, then ran scared in the face of a cooked-up controversy alleging cozy connections in the awarding of a contract. Despite the best efforts of the anti-tax faction to fan that into a bonfire, a sheriff's investigation found nothing wrong.

In apparent tailspin, Murman came up with a patched-together plan of her own, losing the confidence of colleagues who declined to return her to the job of chairwoman. Wednesday night, it just got squirrelly. Previously a no, Murman briefly supported a 30-year tax with some sort of oversight board, then said she could not stomach asking voters for a 30-year blank check. In the end, she voted no.

Democrat Kevin Beckner supported a tax, but muddied the waters with suggestions of late-in-the-game changes.

Ken Hagan who appears to have undergone a personality transplant since his early darker and quieter years on the commission — emerged as a vocal leader on the need to get moving. He was the only Republican voting yes, or hell yes had that been an option.

Stacy White's steady-from-the-start vote of no might have been short-sighted in terms of the greater good of the county, but points for not being namby-pamby. Not so fellow Republican Al Higginbotham, who worked against a previous transportation initiative, but later in a close race for a countywide seat, indicated he'd support what a leadership group came up with — Go Hillsborough

Once elected, the alleged scandal gave him cover to go back to that nice, safe no vote.

And don't forget the anti-tax tea party, and powerful Republican campaign contributor Sam Rashid, who sometimes seems like the eighth commissioner. They won the day, plus a whole lot of gridlock. But don't worry — the County Commission unanimously agreed to hold another transportation workshop real soon.

Sue Carlton can be reached at carlton@tampabay.com.