Penny tax for transit nears ballot
December 3, 2009
A proposed November 2010 referendum on a one-penny sales tax for light rail and other transportation improvements advanced Wednesday when five of seven Hillsborough County commissioners supported placing the matter before voters.
The decision adopts a resolution indicating commission support of holding the referendum. But another vote, scheduled for the spring, will be needed to place the ordinance on the ballot.
Commissioners Al Higginbotham and Jim Norman voted against Wednesday's motion, as they did in a Nov. 4 vote requesting the county attorney draft the resolution.
"I said in the beginning, a penny tax ... a 13-percent increase in sales tax, is going to put Hillsborough County at the highest rate in the state," said Higginbotham, who also offered an unsuccessful motion to table the issue until a public hearing could be scheduled.
Higginbotham called it the wrong time for a tax increase, when families already are burdened by the economy.
"I've made it very well known how I feel about this," Norman said. "It's a fragmented system; it won't work."
Norman also questioned revenue projections. "I want to validate we're on sound ground financially on what will be promised to taxpayers."
The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority issued a statement Wednesday applauding the commission, saying it has moved "one step closer to empowering the citizens of Hillsborough County to fund a plan which will reinvigorate our economy by offering solutions to our transportation problems that will create more mobility choices, new revenue streams and jobs."
About a dozen people addressed the matter at Wednesday's commission meeting.
Representing the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, Henry Gonzalez III called transportation improvements "critical for a more economically competitive community." The referendum "will empower residents of our county to have a say in development of our region," he said.
David Caton, head of the Florida Family Association, said the proposed "largest sales-tax increase in the history of this county" is backed by a study of "grossly overstated" projected revenue and ridership figures. He said the "extravagant, wasteful expense" will burden economically challenged residents.
Some speakers at Wednesday's meeting said the plan needs to be tweaked to eliminate those road improvements they deemed "pork."
George Niemann of Dover was among those carrying a "No pork in the penny" placard. "Before you even ask for a sales tax increase we citizens want a commitment from you that you will make growth pay for itself," Niemann told commissioners. "You've rubber-stamped growth all these years and now you want us to pay for what developers should have paid for."
Kelly Cornelius of Lithia praised the commission for allowing voters to decide the issue, but added, "Cut out the pork and it'll be a lot easier to support."
The Transportation Task Force plan recommends 75 percent of the tax proceeds go to mass transit, including improved bus lines and a light rail system linking downtown Tampa with the University of South Florida and the West Shore business district. The balance would go for roads, bridges, bicycle paths and trails.
According to the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization, the annual cost of a 1-cent, or 1 percent, sales tax would be $142 for a typical family household, and $85 for a single-member household.
Commissioners Mark Sharpe, Kevin White, Rose Ferlita, Kevin Beckner and Chairman Ken Hagan voted for the resolution.
In other action, commissioners:
•Voted unanimously to spend $20 million for 1,673 acres in the Brooker Creek corridor, using Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program bond funds.
•Voted unanimously to adopt an amended red-light camera ordinance. The revised law streamlines the process of issuing violations but retains the $125 fine.
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