Hillsborough Commission will allow transit tax question on ballot
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05/14/10 Kate Bradshaw
WMNF Drive-Time News Wednesday

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After letting more than 160 people put in their two cents, the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners decided to let the voters choose whether they want to raise the sales tax by one cent in November.

The tax would fund a transit overhaul that includes light rail. It has been an issue that has divided the commissioners. Commissioner Mark Sharpe, one of the major proponents of the measure, said before the hearing that despite the wide range of opinions represented, he didn’t think any minds would be changed among the commissioners.

One could easily tell where many of the 550 people in attendance stood. Those in favor of the transit referendum for the most part wore green. Those who were against it, many of whom were from the Tampa Tea Party and 9-12 projects, mostly wore red. Stacey Snow-Feiler wore a candy-apple-red skirt suit. Her resemblance to Sarah Palin was uncanny, glasses and all. She said the county had a rosy view in its prediction of the project’s costs.

Commissioner Kevin White said the plan is never going to be perfect, but you have to start somewhere.

Some speakers reminded the commissioners that it’s not about transit, at least not right now. Sandy Moody, former director of Bay Area Commuter Services, was one of several individuals who said it should be up to taxpayers to answer the question of a transit tax.

Commission chair Ken Hagan, a Republican, said that while he doesn’t agree with the plan, he thinks it should be up to the voters to decide.

Still, many who gave testimony focused on the pros and cons of the referendum. A quarter of the revenue from the tax would go toward road projects while 75% of it would fund public transit systems, including light rail. Local government officials have been kicking around the idea of rail for decades. Mary Bright asked the commission how different things would be if they had opted for trains in the 1970's.

Much like the debate over offshore drilling, the issue of transit seems to transcend party lines. Patrick Leduc, a Republican, said the spirit of the referendum question is right in line with conservative principles.

Tim Curtis, a conservative Democrat running for the District 11 US Congressional seat, said the County needs to address a bigger issue before it tackles rail.

Joe Rosenberg told the commission he was against the measure, which opponents like to point out would raise the sales tax by more than 13%, for very concrete reasons. But he did say he wants the chance to vote it down.

College student Sarah Thomas has equally concrete reasons for her support of the measure.

Commissioners Jim Norman and Al Higginbotham cast the two dissenting votes. Both have been staunch opponents of the transit tax referendum.

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