Commissioner says it's bad time for transit tax
April 16, 2010
County Commissioner Jim Norman lambasted his commission colleagues Thursday for wanting to put a 1-cent transportation tax on the ballot when the local economy is staggering from record bankruptcies, foreclosures and unemployment.
Norman, speaking at a workshop on transportation, said his fellow board members were "out of touch" and a "laughingstock" in communities where the economy is an ever-present worry.
"You're wrong in everything you're doing, and I plead that a different direction can be taken," Norman said.
Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, who attended the meeting but did not speak publicly, fired back afterward, saying Norman was the one out of touch for not seeing that a modern transit system is vital to reviving the economy. She suggested Norman is stuck in an outmoded way of thinking.
"That kind of talk is, frankly, the kind of talk that has gotten us in a fix in this community," the mayor said. "Same old, same old: status quo, build out in the hinterlands, don't think about long-term economic development, don't think about smart growth."
Norman and Commissioner Al Higginbotham consistently have opposed the transit tax as it has gone through several procedural votes on its way to the ballot. There was no indication Thursday that the majority supporting the referendum has cracked, although past supporters Mark Sharpe and Rose Ferlita were not at the meeting.
On Wednesday, the commission will vote to schedule the final public hearing on the tax referendum, after which commissioners will vote on putting it on the Nov. 2 ballot. The hearing tentatively is scheduled for 6 p.m. May 13.
Also at the meeting, commissioners were updated on changes to an interlocal agreement among the county, Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace regarding spending of tax receipts.
One change involved restrictions on the use of the tax for road projects that are supposed to be funded in part by developers. Six such projects were on the original list of road improvements that the county's Transportation Task Force approved for tax funding. Four of the projects involved Newland Communities, developer of South County housing projects such as FishHawk Ranch, MiraBay and Waterset.
The six later were removed, and Commissioner Kevin Beckner pushed for safeguards to make sure they are not put back. The adopted changes require a supermajority vote by commissioners and approval by an oversight committee before the money could be used for developer-funded road projects. The developers also would have to post a bond or other security instrument.
Beckner said the language was necessary so the "public understands they are not funding a bailout for one specific developer."
If the tax is approved, 75 percent would go to mass transit including light rail, buses and smaller transit vehicles. The remaining 25 percent would go to road and bridge improvements as well as some walking and biking trails. About $383 million in road improvements are scheduled for the first 10 years after the tax passes.
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