After reading the Tampa Bay Times’ Feb. 23 editorial, “Leading the way on transportation,'' I was struck by how it seemed long on rhetoric but short on facts. As a commissioner who was mentioned by name, allow me to present some further comments and provide the facts surrounding the “back-up” tax plan.
The voters of the county deserve to know the structural details of this “back-up” plan, which, outside of our Board of County Commissioners meetings, have not been comprehensively discussed. As an elected official, I firmly believe the voters of this county are more than capable of analyzing the facts and making a decision on whether this is a roads investment or a mass transit investment, but they need to see the entire picture.
Much like the previous surtax, 40 cents and 1 cent of every dollar of this tax levy, respectively, would go to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization, with the remaining portion split between unincorporated Hillsborough County and the three cities according to a population-based formula. Accordingly, there would be – at most – 44 cents of every dollar spent on roads capacity projects (i.e., road widening or building new roads) that benefit unincorporated Hillsborough County.
The plan allows the commission to allocate more of its share than the dedicated 40 cents of every dollar to HART. The commission could also spend a portion of its share on things like road resurfacing, bicycle lanes and sidewalks. This means that it’s possible for unincorporated Hillsborough County to receive less than 44 cents of every dollar for added road capacity. If this tax is viewed as an investment, that’s a return on investment of 44 cents on the dollar for road capacity projects in unincorporated Hillsborough County – and potentially much lower.
Plant City residents would see little more than 1 cent of every dollar of this tax go toward transportation projects within their city. That’s not a penny of every dollar spent by taxpayers, but a penny of every dollar of the tax placed into the government coffers. That equates to paying the tax on two $50 restaurant tabs for Plant City residents to see just 1 cent spent on projects in their city. It’s also important to note that Plant City does not participate in HART and, therefore, does not receive services from HART. Unless this is changed before the election, it would be unfair to definitively tell Plant City residents they will receive services from HART.
The crux of this is whether the plan is a roads investment or a mass transit investment, and, if the latter – does this mass transit investment go from Lutz to Fort Lonesome? If the citizens of this county are presented with a lawful referendum this November and express that they are happy with the returns on investment listed above by passing it, then so be it. But the citizens should be armed with the objective facts, fair and square.
Stacy R. White is a Hillsborough County commissioner representing District 4, which is comprised of east and south Hillsborough County.