In this time of economic uncertainty, the Tampa Bay Builders Association is concerned about anti-growth policies pushed by the three Hillsborough County commissioners who are elected countywide: Pat Kemp, Kim Overman and Mariella Smith. Advocating for extended moratoriums and policies that refrain from investments in public infrastructure for the foreseeable future is a dogmatic political posture that will worsen our economic crisis.
Making matters even worse -- and for the second time in just three years -- these same commissioners want to double impact fees on retail, housing and commercial development. These fees will go from $13,000 to at least $26,000 for an average new home. This is a thinly veiled new tax on consumers, businesses, renters and home buyers, many of which will be forced to move or take their business to Manatee, Pasco or Polk counties.
The simple truth is that congestion is the problem, not growth and prosperity, and our community deserves much more thoughtful leadership during these unprecedented times. De facto moratoriums and new tax increases fail to serve the two-thirds of our citizens who choose suburban lifestyles. Rather, we should focus on grid lock and traffic and spend more than two cents of every property tax dollar on transportation. Frankly, we should be working with, not against, the building, development and related industries since they represent 20 percent of our local economy and led us out of the Great Recession.
The builders association already supported doubling transportation (2017) and school impact fees (2020). But this commission has all but excluded the public and trade organizations like ours from these recent complex and technical discussions.
If there had been true public outreach on the current proposed policies, we would have shared our experience that anti-growth strategies make congestion worse, particularly when the businesses are already paying their fair share. You have only to look at California, Denver or Portland to see that new residents do not stop coming or commuting; they simply push sprawl further out and the cycle of congestion continues.
As unnecessary and unused taxes and fees escalate housing prices, property taxes will increase; homeownership and housing affordability will decline. Further, it is well documented that increased housing prices scare away new industry and new job creators. Regardless of political rhetoric, at-large commissioners simply cannot – with intellectual honesty – advocate for affordable housing then double impact fees with no plan for public investment in infrastructure in the county.
We ask these county commissioners to reconsider the dire consequences that moratoriums, defacto or otherwise, onerous fees and other anti-growth measures have on our economic prosperity. We ask everyone to insist that congestion be addressed with greater public investment as well. These commissioners should serve their county constituents with as much vigor as they do their city constituents.
Jennifer Motsinger is executive vice president of the Tampa Bay Builders Association.