No one can disagree that traffic in Hillsborough County presents a dangerous hellscape. Traffic fatalities here are at an all-time high and the average Tampa metro commuter spends more than 200 hours per year in traffic. We finally have another chance to do something about it in November. The All For Transportation ballot initiative team–Tyler Hudson, Christina Barker, and Kevin O’Hare– joined us to discuss the new referendum that will appear on the November ballot seeking approval for a 1% sales tax for 30 years to fund transportation improvements in Hillsborough County. They are urging citizens to vote to pass this referendum and to make this investment in improved roads, safer roads, more and better bus service, bicycle infrastructure, and more transportation options throughout the county.
In 2018 the citizens of Hillsborough County approved a citizen ballot initiative seeking a 1% sales tax to fund transportation projects throughout the County. A lawsuit by Stacy White, a Republican County Commissioner from Eastern Hillsborough County, then challenged the authority of citizens to set forth transportation priorities in a ballot measure and the Courts agreed, finding that only the County Commission had the authority to set transportation spending priorities. The sales tax was enjoined and the funds already collected have been held by the State until the legislature determines how to return them to Hillsborough County.
With a change in the County Commission to a Democratic majority in the election of 2018, the new Commission has used its authority to place the same 1% transportation sales tax on the ballot again. Now, the All For Transportation team is “getting the band back together” to educate the community and solicit their votes to approve the transportation sales tax again on the November ballot.
Why Do We Need A 30-Year Local Sales Tax? Where Are Our Federal Tax Dollars?
Tyler Hudson explained to MidPoint listeners that the Federal government requires communities to prove that they can absorb the cost of maintaining transportation projects that the Federal government funds through grants. Without a steady and long-range income stream, such as this 30-year tax would provide, Hillsborough County has not been able to compete for Federal dollars to fund its transportation priorities, and many available Federal funds went to other cities that could demonstrate an ability to fund maintenance and utilization costs over time. It is past time for Hillsborough County to receive its fair share and put those dollars to work here.
What Will We Get For Our Tax Money?
According to the All For Transportation team, the plan, a 1% sales tax over the next 30 years, includes $183 million in road improvements annually. Road funding will touch every corner of Hillsborough County and its three cities, Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City. Hillsborough County and Tampa will each spend 28 percent of the funding to improve and repair existing roads and bridges, 26 percent to reduce congestion, 27 percent to make safety improvements aimed at reducing accidents, and 12 percent on network improvements like building and fixing sidewalks, crosswalks, bike lanes, and trails.
The remainder will be distributed to Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART), which will double local bus service, greatly increase bus frequency and reliability, explore new options such as bus rapid transit on major corridors, and add circulator service in places like Westshore, south county, the USF area, and downtown. It will also help HART recruit, train and retain bus operators to provide these increased services.
The local business community is strongly behind this transportation tax because it recognizes the needs of its employees for better transportation alternatives. Transportation improvements will allow people to move about the county more easily, more safely, and with greater transportation options.
The campaign to pass the transportation sales tax is kicking off tomorrow evening at the All For Transportation office in Ybor City at 2109 E Palm Ave Suite 103, Tampa, FL 33605-3915, from 5:30 to 7:30. The public is welcome to attend and learn more about the transportation tax and the transportation priorities it will fund.