The two candidates running for the heavily Democratic Hillsborough County Commission District 3 race met in a virtual candidate forum hosted by the Tampa Tiger Bay Club this afternoon.
Democrat Gwen Myers and Republican Maura Cruz Lanz outlined their visions for the eastern Hillsborough district, especially the future of the county’s contested transportation sales tax.
Both candidates said transportation and affordable housing are among the biggest issues facing their community. And both offered different visions for how to approach them.
Myers, a Democrat and former contracts administrator for the County, said she’d champion adding another referendum for a transportation sales tax to a future ballot in Hillsborough.
“I want us to pass the transportation tax so that we can take care (of) all of our construction projects, our infrastructure projects that are needed here in Hillsborough County,” Myers said.
Hillsborough residents voted overwhelmingly to approve the one-percent tax in 2018, but County Commissioner Stacey White sued to block it. A court ruled in favor of the tax, but White appealed to Florida’s Supreme Court. Commissioners are still waiting for the court’s decision, but the tax continues to be collected.
Cruz Lanz said she does not support the tax, even though constituents in District 3 overwhelmingly supported it.
“I pay a lot in sales, in property taxes and we need to see where that money’s going,” she said. “The County has been collecting this money and depending on what the Supreme Court decides, what’s gonna happen with that money that has been collected? We don’t know.”
Moneys collected from the tax are currently being held by the county, but can’t be used until the Supreme Court makes its decision. If approved, the funds are supposed to be divided between Hillsborough Area Regional Transit, transportation projects approved by the county and the cities of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City.
Myers maintained citizens made clear they want the tax and it should be put back on the ballot.
“When the constituents all have spoken that they want to tax themselves for transportation we must make it happen because this is what the citizens of Hillsborough County want,” she said.
Part of the goal of the tax was ease congestion as Hillsborough grows by funding road projects and enhancing public transportation.
However, Cruz Lanz, said she doesn’t think it’ll work in Tampa because people like their cars too much.
“I wasn’t in favor of the penny and a half sales tax and I didn’t vote for it,” Cruz Lanz said. “I do believe we have a lot of congestion but I also believe that people are too attached to their automobiles and I don’t see a way for it to work in Tampa.”
If Cruz Lanz wins in November, the first-generation Cuban American would be the first non-Black representative of District 3 since 1982. However, she faces a tough race against Myers, a Black Democrat, in a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly five to one.