Transit tax discussion puts debate in overtime<
April 23, 2010
If the audience's scattered applause and polite whispers Thursday were a true measure, skeptics of a proposed 1-cent sales tax for light rail and other transit projects were in the majority.
But with 10 minutes to go in a scheduled two-hour debate between two Hillsborough County commissioners at Sun City Center, rail pushed the session into a 20 minute overtime by raising two points.
Does Hillsborough have balanced transportation options, which appear to contribute to other cities' quality of life and economic development prospects? Also, if the current proposal is rejected, what plan do opponents suggest?
Commissioners Al Higginbotham, who opposes the proposed tax surcharge, and Mark Sharpe, who backs the tax and rail option, agreed on one thing: Continuing to widen roads is not a sensible strategy.
Their differences during the amicable face-off could preview how issues are framed in a debate likely to gain momentum until the expected referendum on Nov. 2.
Unlike rancorous town hall meetings over the health care overhaul, the debate added a measure of clarity, if not consensus, to local transit issues.
Higginbotham prefers bus system improvements to rail plans but not the sales tax increase, which would go to improve bus service.
"Before we spend billions on rail, we need to ask how we can expand and use our bus system," said Higginbotham, who displayed the pass he bought for his frequent trips on Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority buses.
Sharpe, who is up for re-election this year, said, "The other side doesn't have a plan." He said rail could reduce dependency on foreign oil and that he did not trust OPEC, which Higginbotham said might be inclined to offer rational oil prices.
"I'm clearly not (backing rail) because I think it's great for my political career," Sharpe said, drawing widespread laughter.
Both commissioners agreed no time is good for raising taxes. Sharpe, however, said current low construction costs and 25 years of transit debate make the present the ideal time to move forward.