Iorio focuses on economy and transit in State of the City address

03/23/09 Seán Kinane
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Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio gave her annual State of the City address this morning to an overflow crowd made up mostly of city workers at the Tampa Convention Center.

Iorio focused on progress that has been made in the city since she was elected in 2003 in areas such as mass transit, infrastructure, and economic development.

Even though Tampa has been through economic downturns before, Iorio says that the current situation “is different than a typical recession.” Local governments have less and less revenue, and according to Iorio, the State of the City of Tampa in some way reflects the state of the nation. …

“Which we have to be honest is not good on a national level. And in some part it reflects the state of our state. Which to be honest is not good on many levels. But our city stands strong. We will continue to make investments that will enhance the quality of life of our citizens and our visitors.”

Iorio pointed to progress in neighborhoods -- including a declining crime rate – and to progress in economic development, in the arts, and in mass transit. Iorio calls light rail the “key to our economic future” because it will produce jobs and reduce unsustainable sprawl.

“Because where light rail goes, so does private investment. And it will bring in an era of smart growth that will finally recognize the need for us to build our infrastructure in the urban core and not go out further and further and further with the destruction of our environment and creating a situation where people can not get to work unless they rely on their automobile. That is not 21st Century thinking. And if the Tampa Bay area is going to get out of this economic situation that were in, we’ve got to think differently. Because thinking like the past won’t cut it.”

2009 is a “critical year” for light rail in the region, Iorio says, because before the end of the year the Hillsborough County Commission will make the decision of whether to place a referendum on the 2010 ballot to increase sales tax by one cent to pay for transit. If it passes, the first rail lines to be built would link downtown Tampa to USF and to Tampa International Airport, with future expansion into Pasco and Pinellas Counties forming the core of the region’s transportation backbone.

“Because if the majority of the County Commission agrees to put this issue on the ballot, then the voters can decide, in November of 2010, what kind of community they want. And I think the voters have been way ahead of the public officials on this issue for a number of years.”

City Council member Linda Saul-Sena says Iorio’s administration has been “pragmatic, straightforward, and transparent.” Saul-Sena appreciates that in her speech, Iorio pressed the Hillsborough County Commission to place a penny for transit referendum on the ballot.

“The Mayor very clearly said we have put the work together and it’s up to the County Commission to allow the voters to vote. It’s not like they’re supporting it, it’s like they’re allowing the community to speak. Ten years ago as I served on the MPO we were at the same point. We had $300 million in federal money waiting for us to match and we weren’t able to move ahead because the County Commission at that time – led by Rhonda Storms – wouldn’t allow us to have the voters speak. I am so pleased that here we are, in a much, hopefully, more progressive and enlightened place, recognizing that the Commission needs to allow the voters to weigh in on a transit system.”

But Iorio says she does not consider her remarks a challenge to the County Commission, rather that light rail is already part of the community dialog.

“All seven members of the County Commission are well aware that this issue is coming before them at the end of this year, so I didn’t mean it in any way as a challenge. This is a cooperative venture and the County Commission, I think, has really shown a lot of leadership on this issue. And they will address it at the end of this year and hopefully will place it on the ballot for 2010. But I want to work in cooperation with the County. I’m just one partner out of many. I happen to, as you know, passionately believe in light rail … but in no way should it be interpreted as any challenge. The Commission – we work together on this on a regular basis.”

Other members of the Tampa City Council appreciated Iorio’s emphasis on transit. Joseph Caetano said he is in favor of the referendum to fund transit with a sales tax increase in part because it would alleviate what he calls “nightmare” traffic in his north Tampa district.

Charlie Miranda says Iorio “gave a great speech.”

“I believe that the County Commission has a responsibility that they will put it on the ballot. After all, it’s going to be voted on by the citizens themselves whether they want to pass an additional penny sales tax. And it would not be in the best interest of any elected officials not to put that on the ballot.”

Because of three years of decreasing revenue, Tampa will have to lay off city employees. During her speech, Iorio said she would try to eliminate vacant positions first, which pleased Joseph Caetano.

“There’s going to be some cuts, and these will be jobs that are in existence, but they’re not filled. So the money is there so those jobs will most likely be cut. I don’t think she wants to cut any employees who are physically working every day. There may be some instances that has to take place, I don’t know.”

Earlier this year, the Pew Research Center released results of a survey noting that only three cities finished ahead of Tampa for the metropolitan area that Americans would like to move to. Iorio says that, despite the economy and the city’s budget concerns, she will try to provide people with what they want in a community.

“When people want to relocate to another community, they want to see a modern transit system, they want to see a strong educational system, and they want to see cultural institutions that are diverse. And they want a winning football team, too. … Once we get all that, well, we’ll be unbeatable.”

There is speculation that Iorio may run for U.S. Senate, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, or for Governor in 2010, depending in part upon whether the current Governor and CFO decide to run for re-election.

Mayor Pam Iorio

City of Tampa

video produced for the State of the City address

Tampa City Council

Pew Research Center survey

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