Tampa Chamber discusses light rail
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09/08/09 Mitch E. Perry
WMNF Drive-Time News Tuesday

As Hillsborough County Commissioners get closer to approving language putting a one cent sales tax proposal for mass transit on the 2010 ballot, one Commissioner expressed more forcefully why the County is taking the wrong approach.

As members of the County Commission and the Tampa City Council joined up with the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce for their quarterly luncheon, the transportation measure was front and center.

The Chamber officially is ‘supportive’ of the concept, but has not yet given its full fledged support – something that City Council Chairman Thomas Scott said was critical if the proposal was going to be successful next year.

Mike Griffin is with Verticle Integration, and is the Public Policy Chair for the Chamber. He said from his group’s perspective, it’s not a question of whether the Chamber should support the referendum.

Although many heads seemed to nod in approval as Griffin spoke, there was one self acknowledged ‘skunk’ in the room. Commissioner Jim Norman has consistently been critical of the process by which Hillsborough County is taking the lead on a possible light rail system that, if successfully, will ultimately cut through seven Bay Area counties.

Hillsborough Commissioner Mark Sharpe has been one of the leading advocates for a light rail system. He disagreed with Commissioner Norman, saying that in other successful efforts to get funding for light rail across the country, a ‘stepped’ approach has been the way to kick start plans. And he said such a system will bring great economic rewards to the County.

But Commissioner Norman countered, saying the system that should be implemented is the regional model as exemplified by Tampa Bay Water, which includes member governments of major cities and counties for Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough.

And Norman said that the County should only put a half cent tax up for a public vote, not a full penny.

Tampa City Councilman John Dingfelder said what Norman said about regionalism would be ideal, but isn’t practical.

And Commissioner Mark Sharpe went further in rejecting Norman’s comments that now is not the time to hit up Hillsborough taxpayers.

Also at the Chamber luncheon, the proposals for health care reform being discussed by President Obama were referenced.

Commissioner Norman asked Commissioner Sharpe, who sits on a task force that works on the health care plan, if any proposal in Congress passes that would expand coverage for lower income people, it could in its own aid the County’s Indigent Health Care Plan.

President Obama will discuss the status of the health care plans floating around at a joint session of Congress tomorrow night.

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I have visited in Salt Lake City many times and before the 2002 Winter Olympics, They insatalled a light rail for mass transportation and it worked out great for them. It traveled through the downtown area to the outlying suburbs and did a lot to reduce automobile congestion. If you haven't seen one working you might try to contact SLC chamber and ask them how thiers is working for them. I hope this will give you some insight to the benefits of a light rail system. Dan Miller Antwerp, Oh

Right on Jim

Another penny makes Hillsborough the highest taxed county in Florida. We will lose more jobs! There is no guarantee that any of these other counties will kick in and will be stuck with the bill. Go slow and grow smart. Sharpe is another tax and spend Liberal!