HART Board Mulls Transit Tax Ballot Language

03/01/10 Kate Bradshaw
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The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Board today mulled over how it will propose a sweeping transit overhaul to voters in November. The ballot question will ask Hillsborough voters whether they want to fund the multi-billion dollar project which includes light rail, bus line and road improvements with a one percent sales tax increase.

Supporters say this would change the way Tampa Bay commutes - possibly good news for a region recently voted worst in the nation for commuters. HART board members and Hillsborough commissioners weren’t sure how detailed they should get on the ballot limited to 75 words. Board member Steven Polzin, who represents Tampa, said the future is too uncertain for specifics.

“I get nervous about the more specificity we put in the details of the spending plan. I realize you need to paint a picture for the public; I understand that but these are extraordinarily dynamic times,” Polson said.

Details listed in the proposed text include expansion of the bus system to more than 560 buses and splitting the funding 75 to 25 percent for rapid-transit and road projects, respectively. Local rail is also mentioned though it had previously been pulled. Polzin cited the buses as another example of what shouldn’t be included on the ballot.

“Even the reference to 560 buses. It would take us years to house, purchase, procure, receive. ... Nobody knows how many buses we have today, anyway,” he said.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner said the 75-25 clause might be too restrictive in the future. The intricacies of a transit overhaul should be included in policy documents not on the ballot he added.

“To put a 75-25 on a referendum that might tie the hands of future governments, I don’t know if I would advocate that because things change over time,” Beckner said.

Beckner said detailed referendum language was no substitute for educating the public on the issue before the election.

“You can’t get the entire educational piece of what this is about in ballot language in 75 words. ...We can’t expect that every single detail about the referendum is going to be contained in 75 words,” he said.

Board members hope to finalize the ballot language by May. County Commissioner Mark Sharpe is scheduled to hold a meeting today to address all remaining questions on the penny transit tax issue. He will also take up the issue at Wednesday’s Board of County Commissioners meeting.

Previous WMNF coverage of the proposed transit tax overhaul: Hillsborough Commissioners agree on city-county split for transit tax funds.

Previous WMNF coverage of the proposed transit tax overhaul: Hillsborough County Transportation Task Force on transit funding.

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