Transit tax plan moves forward in Hillsborough

By Bill Varian, Times Staff Writer

Published Wednesday, December 2, 2009

TAMPA –– A proposed sales tax to pay for mass transit in Hillsborough County is one step closer to the ballot.

County commissioners voted 5-2 Wednesday to proceed with a series of public hearings and workshops that could lead to a 1-cent tax increase being put before voters next November.

Commissioner Mark Sharpe said county officials should move swiftly on the public meetings with the idea of taking a final vote on the ballot language as soon as possible.

Commissioners Al Higginbotham and Jim Norman voted against moving forward, the same position they took during a preliminary vote last month.

Commissioners who supported the resolution said they're not advocating a tax increase, noting that voters will ultimately decide the merits of the plan.

"I think putting it on the ballot and listening to voters, that's going to be the right test," Commissioner Rose Ferlita said.

A vote on ballot language is not likely until at least February, after the board debates how the tax proceeds would be used.

The increase would raise billions of dollars to build and run a rail system, double the county bus fleet and widen roads.

Three-fourths of the money would go toward the rail and bus system, which would include new express and regional routes. The rest would go primarily for roadwork, particularly in areas not near proposed rail lines.

Money for rail would initially pay for two main lines. One would link downtown to the University of South Florida area. The other would connect downtown to the West Shore business district.

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