Hills. County Commission to Adopt Transit Tax Ballot Measure

11/04/09 Kate Bradshaw
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The Hillsborough County Commission voted 5-2 to move forward on getting a referendum on next year’s ballot that would allow funding for a massive overhaul of the area’s public transit system. The move does not mean a mass transit referendum is imminent, but it does bring the taxpayer-funded project one step closer to the ballot. Commissioner Mark Sharpe is one of the strongest advocates of creating a penny tax that would raise billions of dollars over the next three decades for the project.

The penny tax, which would bring Hillsborough County’s sales tax from seven to eight percent, comes during what Commissioner Rose Ferlita called a “daunting economy.” It would fund a number of projects that would ease congestion in the Tampa Bay area. These include a light rail system, upgraded bus lines, pedestrian trails and work on existing roads.

Commissioners Al Higginbotham and Jim Norman did not support the move. Norman called the plan fragmented and questioned whether Transportation Task Force had not completed a feasibility report when developing its recommendations. Higginbotham said that the referendum would serve as an agreement between the county and voters, who have been let down by government in the past.

Commissioner Kevin White said that the county should move forward on this despite the troubled economy.

Community activist Gerald White, who spoke during the public comment session, said that he wants the county to treat the African American community fairly in its transit plan.

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, who has been a key advocate of the penny tax, said that contrary to Commissioner Norman’s claim that the transit project appears fragmented, the system is cohesive.

Mayor Iorio told WMNF that a solidified plan and political will make this the perfect time to act on the public transit overhaul.

Today’s vote authorizes the county attorney to draft language of a referendum that would appear on the 2010 ballot. The county will discuss the matter further on December Second. Community meetings to gather public input on the project would then follow in January and February of next year.

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