The many faces of transit backers
May 15, 2010
The microphone was open Thursday night to everyone who wanted to say anything about the proposed transit referendum.
All the major arguments for or against were expressed in every conceivable way in three hours of civil if at times passionate public testimony.
In a well-reasoned decision, a majority of the Hillsborough County Commission agreed to put the question of a 1-cent increase in the sales tax on the November ballot.
This newspaper has supported better transit for years, so we were biased observers. But it is fair to say the debate was won by the diverse crowd of transit backers and others who may not support the plan but want a chance to vote on it.
With the referendum set, the question now becomes whether a tax increase to improve buses, begin a rail system and improve selected roads is worth a tax increase. Most folks did speak directly to that.
The two sharpest differences of opinion concern jobs and trust.
Some anti-transit voices said higher taxes would kill jobs. We were more convinced by Stuart Rogel of the Tampa Bay Partnership, which represents 165 companies throughout the region. He and others who are in daily contact with employers predict the plan will create jobs and help the county thrive.
The other big issue was whether government can be trusted. Obviously government does make mistakes, but so does private enterprise - witness the BP oil spill.
The best answer to the trust question came from a USF student who said that under the anti-government logic, he would have to pay $40,000-a-year tuition for a private education because government couldn't be trusted to run a university.
Many other arguments were made against the plan. Here is our summary of most of them:
The price is too high. Federal and state governments can't afford to help pay for it.
Roads are all we need. Users should pay for it, not taxpayers. Trains will run empty and block traffic.
The plan won't help me personally. Cars will still be necessary. Families can't afford more taxes, especially during a recession.
Revenue estimates are too optimistic. The plan is incomplete. Growth has been poorly managed.
Voters will be uninformed and misled by confusing ballot language.
Those favoring the plan were far more convincing. They represented a wider slice of the county, including builders, real estate agents, transportation experts, regional advocates, business leaders, commuters, bicyclists, the disabled, the elderly, university students and environmentalists.
Here is our summary of their comments:
Tampa is one of the 10 worst areas for mobility. No one wants to live in a backward city. The plan will promote transit-oriented development and reduce sprawl.
It will be the first phase of a regional system and make the county a better place to live.
People will have a chance to live without a car. Congestion will decrease.
Other cities have gotten our federal transit money. Transit upholds conservative principles of efficient use of taxes.
The county has thousands of blind and disabled residents who depend on transit.
There is no alternative plan.
Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio called the vote the most significant public policy decision of the century and she's right.
We congratulate Commissioners Kevin Beckner, Ken Hagan, Rose Ferlita, Mark Sharpe and Kevin White, who trust voters to make the right decision. The more they learn about the plan, we predict, the more most voters will like it.
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