The Bay and the 'Burg Archives - Page 4 of 588 - SaintPetersBlog

Senate unanimously supports pollution notification rules change

The Florida Senate unanimously approved legislation Tuesday requiring the Department of Environmental Protection to inform the public within 24 hours after a spill occurs.

Senators passed SB 532 on its third and final reading.

Sponsored by Manatee County Republican Bill Galvano, the bill was filed in the wake of Gov. Rick Scott‘s request for new public notification rules and legislation to ensure the public is kept informed of incidents of pollution that may cause a threat to public health and Florida’s air and water resources. The push came after a sewage spill last fall in St. Petersburg and Mosaic’s sinkhole in Mulberry that sent toxins in the drinking water supply.

The DEP filed suit, issuing an emergency rule requiring those responsible to notify the public within 24 hours. After business groups had challenged the rule, an administrative law judge rejected the rule, saying the department exceeded its rule-making authority.

SB 532 also requires DEP to develop and publish a list of substances that “pose a substantial risk to public health, safety or welfare.” If any company fails to notify the Department of an incident involving one of the published substances, it could face civil penalties of up to $10,000 per day.

“People have a right to know, and it’s at the heart of public safety,” Galvano said.

All eyes are now focused on the legislation is being carried in the House (HB 1065) by Pasadena Republican Kathleen Peters. If it passes there, it goes to Scott’s desk.

Hot on the trail: The best of the rest from St. Pete City Council races

Candidates for St. Petersburg City Council faced a Monday deadline for filing reports showing finance activity through March 31.

Inside these finance reports are some interesting tidbits of information. Here are five data points which stood out.

— Although District 2 candidate Brandi Gabbard spent more than she raised in March ($3,185 vs $4,060), the most important takeaway from her report is that powerful state Sen. Jack Latvala donated $500 to her campaign via his political committee, Florida Leadership Committee. State Rep. Chris Latvala also contributed $500 through his political committee.

— Gabbard’s report also indicates she has hired the well-regarded Gregory Wilson as her consultant and Shannon Love as her campaign manager.

— Gabbard’s opponent, Barclay Harless, raised a healthy $6,585 in March with notable contributions from former CFO Alex Sink, former state Rep. Bill Heller, County Commissioner John Morroni, lobbyist Shawn Foster (via Sunrise Consulting), developer Darryl LeClair, attorney Dave Punzak, and Kriseman administration staffer Dave Flintom.

— District 4 incumbent Darden Rice proved again she is a strong fundraiser, pulling in $19,060 in March. She picked up checks from a coalition of mostly progressive donors, including the police union, SEIU, County Commissioner Ken Welch, fellow Councilmember Karl Nurse, Tampa Councilmember Charlie Miranda, former state House candidate Jennifer Webb. Rice also received contributions from former state education commissioner Betty Castor and Tampa Bay Rays president Brian Auld.

— Here’s something I didn’t know until I scanned the campaign finance reports: liberal activist Jim Jackson is running for City Council District 6. Jackson, who previously ran for the Pinellas School Board, filed earlier this month for the seat currently held by the term-limited Karl Nurse.

P.S. — Hey Matt Florell, on March 21 Rick Kriseman’s campaign paid for a poll conducted by Tom Eldon. Didn’t you receive a call around that time? If so, what were the questions?

 

Hillsborough Citizen Advisory Committee proposes $3B budget savings, possibly spent on transportation

A new report issued by the Hillsborough County Citizens Advisory Committee identified potential savings in 14 specific areas could save more than $3 billion over the next three decades, which could be spent on transportation, infrastructure and/or tax cuts.

The 13-member committee has met twice a month since July analyzing the budget before handing off its list of recommendations to the BOCC last week.

“We determined you don’t have to have a sales tax to raise this amount of money,” says Spencer Kass, a member of the committee who was selected by Commissioner Sandy Murman. “There’s also no cuts to police. No cuts to fire.

That’s an important note because a year ago some county officials said a referendum was needed to fund transportation projects. They said there simply wasn’t enough in the general budget without making major cuts to other critical agencies.

Then the commission approved a proposal last month to spend $812 million on transportation over the next decade (though critics note almost all of that funding is on roads, and not transit).

Among the more controversial proposals on the proposed list of savings is eliminating the funding of a number nonprofits which made financial requests to the BOCC. The proposal calls for a developing a “rigorous, proactive process” that would first identify the basic needs of the county, and then issue requests for proposals to fund them. The plan calls for phasing out support of nonprofits the county funds within the next five years.

Currently, the Seminole Tribe contributes unrestricted dollars to Hillsborough County under an agreement with the state. The CAC advises how to reallocate those dollars to the general fund for transportation, which they say would be worth $60 million over 30 years.

The CAC also proposes eliminating paid contributions for disability and one sick day, a projected savings of over $189 million over 30 years.

“The County currently pays for these benefits, which is out of line with what is typically offered in the private sector,” the document reads, adding that the plan may “negatively impact the ability to attract and retain talent.”

After a yearlong impasse, the Hillsborough County Tax Collector’s office and Airbnb announced last year that the county would collect taxes on each night booked through the San Francisco-based company’s online portal. The CAC says that money could be used for tourism purposes, free up at least $9 million over 30 years to spend on transportation projects.

The CAC also is calling for the elimination of the county’s vast public relations department, and instead have county departments respond individually to the press and public. That would save $60 million over the next 30 years.

CAC member Eric Seidel (an appointee of Al Higginbotham) said that these proposals are extremely conservative, with the advisory council intentionally underestimated the savings.

“All the cuts are from things that are great to have, but at some point, if you’re saying you’re going to say your priority is to put in money into transportation, you’ve got put your money where your mouth is,” Seidel adds.

Kass celebrated the fact that the group of liberals and conservatives could come together on a plan.

“I was dealing with the most liberal of liberal people, and we were able to come up with something that every member was able to get behind,” he says.

Kass also says the fact that the volunteer group was able to find so much money in the budget for transportation should silence those who believe a referendum is the only way to raise money for transit.

“We have debunked that. We have proven that’s flat out not true,” he says.

The other members of the CAC include: Barbara Aderhold (selected by Kevin Beckner); Kay Doughty & attorney Adam Bantner (Stacy White’s appointees); Joseph Caetano and Ron Govin (Victor Crist’s appointees); Linda Porter and Wendell Duggins (Les Miller’s appointees); Lee Lowry and Joseph Pullara (Ken Hagan’s appointees); Joseph Wicker (selected by Higginbotham) and Cristan Fadal, Commissioner Murman’s other appointee.

Tie score in Legislature could leave Tampa Bay Rays big winners

In sports, a tie means no one wins. No one loses, either.

Sometimes, in politics, ties can turn out to be victories.

On Monday, the Florida Senate essentially handed the Tampa Bay Rays a win with a tie, after the Commerce and Tourism Committee voted 3-3 on a bill from Thonotosassa Republican Tom Lee, which prohibited pro sports facilities from using taxpayer funds.

With that, Lee’s bill was officially called out on strikes this Session.

Supporting Lee (who is not on the committee), were Tampa Republican Dana Young, Elkton Republican Travis Hutson, and Miami Democrat Jose Javier Rodriguez.

Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala voted against the bill, joined by Tallahassee Democrat Bill Montford and Panama City Republican George Gainer. Montford is committee chair; Gainer is its vice-chair.

Lee calls using state funds for sports facilities a “giveaway program.” He is looking to repeal the Sports Development Program, established in 2014 to help construct or improve structures.

Despite being a state law, the Legislature has yet to appropriate any funds for the program. Lee sought to get rid of a law that, as he sees it, has set aside $394 million for future use.

If Lee’s bill had somehow made it through (or manages to do so next year), the Rays have no choice but to begin looking even harder for a new home outside Florida.

For those claiming “millionaire, billionaire” owners can build their own stadiums, they can one day see how the Rays are doing in Charlotte, Buffalo, Las Vegas or wherever.

Stadiums are funded a penny at a time, not with $700 million checks. On rare occasions, stadiums are built with private funds.

A rare example is the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams, where owner Stan Kroenke appears to be going into hock to the tune of $1 billion.

No one in Florida is going to do that for the Rays. No one.

St. Petersburg, Tampa and Clearwater combined cannot come anywhere near the market and TV money flowing in Los Angeles. The Rays, the local community, and the state represent a three-legged stool necessary as a foundation for a new home to keep the team.

Passing Lee’s bill would have removed one the stool’s three legs, as well as any real chance for the Rays to remain in Florida.

Stuart Sternberg and his partners cannot privately fund a new stadium, nor can they continue to operate in a 20th-century facility. It’s that simple.

Monday’s vote keeps alive a chance this team can get a facility that lets them, at a minimum, remain financially competitive with rivals. Pulling the state out of the process sends an unmistakable message to Major League Baseball that Florida’s elected leaders, especially those from Tampa Bay, cares little about baseball in the region.

While the final score was 3-3, there will be no extra innings this year, at least not for this bill. The Rays left the field as big winners.

And the Rays left the field big winners.

Senate advances plan for new Tampa Bay-area transit agency

Legislation to reconfigure the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA) was approved Monday by the Florida Senate Commerce Committee.

However, the bill passed with changes taking some power from the agency and giving it to the state.

Sponsored by Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala, SB 1672 would change TBARTA to a transit agency (no longer transportation) and would encompass just four counties — Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco and Pinellas Counties. It’s been a top priority of the Tampa Bay Partnership this Session.

However, two other Bay-area Republicans — St. Petersburg’s Jeff Brandes and Brandon’s Tom Lee, neither of whom as considered enthusiasts of light rail — added an amendment that would create additional obstacles if the newly configured TBARTA ever opted to pursue a light rail project.

The amendment calls for a majority vote by the MPOs of each county impacted by any proposed rail projects before the authority can pursue any real related contract. It would also require the authority to conduct a feasibility from an independent third party before pursuing any rail-related project, and require the authority to receive approval of the entire Florida Legislature before pursuing any rail project.

The amendment does restore more local control in one aspect; it removes the appointment of authority members by the Speaker and Senate President. Instead, those appointees will be named by representatives from the four counties.

Plant City Republican Dan Raulerson is sponsoring the companion bill in the House.

Over 18K ballots returned so far for St. Pete’s Al Lang referendum

Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark has posted the vote by mail numbers for the St. Petersburg Special Referendum election Tuesday, May 2.

As of Monday morning, of the 66,840 mail ballots sent, just over 26 percent – 18,072 – have returned.

The SOE website says there are 168,145 registered voters eligible to vote in this election: 46,658 Republicans, 77,825 Democrats and 43,662 No Party Affiliation/other. The City of St. Petersburg will not conduct early voting as provided in Florida Statute.

Residents will decide whether to allow the City Council to approve extending the Al Lang Field lease with the Tampa Bay Rowdies for up to 25 years, part of a plan by the Rowdies to attract a Major-League Soccer expansion team.

According to the referendum language: “These conditions include but are not limited to: term not exceeding 25 years; primary but not sole purpose is a home field for a Major-League Soccer expansion team; and City funding shall not be used for stadium upgrades or expansion proposed in bid for expansion team or required for award of expansion team.”

Rowdies owner Bill Edwards is also paying for the referendum itself.

Mail ballots must be received by 7 p.m. election day at one of the Pinellas elections offices: 315 Court St, Room 117, in Clearwater; 13001 Starkey Rd, Largo (Starkey Lakes Corporate Center) and 501 1st Ave. N (5th St. N Entrance), St. Petersburg. Office hours are Monday – Friday: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Election day hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

 

Pinellas County staff to answer questions on Penny for Pinellas program Monday

Pinellas County staff will be on hand at Monday’s meeting of the Council of North County Neighborhoods to talk about the Penny for Pinellas program.

Staff will discuss the one-cent sales tax, give a presentation on past projects funded by the program, and answer questions about projects being proposed for funding.

Ideas for capital improvement in North Pinellas County are also welcome.

The one-cent sales tax has been around since 1990 and is split between the county and the 24 cities to fund long-term projects such as roads, parks and fire stations.

The tax must be reapproved by voters every 10 years and will be on the ballot in November. If it passes, the program will run through 2030.

The Council of North County Neighborhoods will be held at the East Lake Woodlands Clubhouse at 1055 East Lake Woodlands Parkway in Oldsmar starting at 7 p.m.

More information on the Penny for Pinellas program can be found on the Pinellas County website, while more information on meetings for the Council of North County Neighborhoods can be found at cncpc.org.

Tom Lee not backing down on claim of questionable spending at Tampa International Airport

Tom Lee insists he never wanted to air any “dirty laundry” about Tampa International Airport when he attempted to introduce an amendment to the Florida Senate’s budget last Wednesday that would have the airport independently audited.

But the Brandon Republican says that there are too many unanswered questions about how the airport is being run for him to stand silent.

“When you’re presented with this information, and you’re a member of the Florida Legislature, and you don’t act on at least an innocuous audit of status of the airport expansion project, that’s a pretty irresponsible disregard of your public duties,” Lee said Sunday.

The Senate rejected Lee’s amendment on a voice vote, but airport officials have stated that they would have no issue with such an audit, if one ultimately took place.

Tampa Republican Dana Young objected to the process by which Lee introduced his amendment, asking him on the floor why he couldn’t have done so when the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation (which Lee chairs) met last December.

Lee told Young and Jack Latvala, who also objected to the late-filed amendmentthat it was only because of recent media reports that he was compelled to do his own due diligence about the airport’s finances, specifically referring to a report from WFLA News Channel 8.

That story, which aired on March 1, reported that phase one of the airport’s $1 billion master plan expansion was running four months behind schedule.

A story that Lee didn’t mention on the Senate floor, but which he confirmed with FloridaPolitics.com, was a crucial source for him was reported approximately a year-and-half ago by WTSP’s Mike Deeson. That story relied on quotes from two Hillsborough County Tea Party activists who questioned the spending at the airport, as well as excerpts of memos written by former Hillsborough County Aviation Authority member Martin Garcia to board members years earlier. Garcia has been a frequent critic of TIA executive director Joe Lopano and his spending plans at the airport ever since Garcia abruptly left the agency after less than a year of service in May 2014.

Lee says that he “stumbled across” Garcia after he had done some initial research on the airport’s finances, and says that the former Aviation Authority board member “put some meat on the bones” of those reports.

Garcia is the head of a Tampa-based investment firm and served as Pam Bondi’s campaign manager for her successful run for Attorney General in 2010. Lee says he knew of Garcia from local GOP circles, but not well before the recent conversation about the airport.

During those discussions, Lee stated that Garcia told him that he was in possession of documents that referred to the extent of which airport management had “gone out of its way to conceal some of the facts and had refused to proceed in a fiscally irresponsible manger with these independent feasibility studies.” But when Lee asked him if he could share that information with him, he said Garcia told him he would not do so “without a subpoena.”

A call to Garcia for comment was not returned.

Garcia also told Lee about his issues with Gigi Rechel, the Aviation Authority’s former attorney who Garcia encouraged the Florida Bar to investigate regarding text messages she had sent to him that could not be recovered.

In February, the Florida Bar ruled that Rechel did not violate the state’s Sunshine Laws.

Lee admits that other various other media reports about other incidents about the airport have inspired his zeal for an audit. One of those incidents was a report about an alleged security breach and questionable business practices by staffers in the IT department. Two of those staffers ultimately resigned, and a business consulting firm found no security breaches.

Lee says that his request for an audit was a “perfunctory” request, and says he remains surprised that it has become such a major story. But while he insists he doesn’t have a “settled opinion” on whether improprieties are happening with the airport’s finances, Lee also injected the arguably inflammatory words “potential public corruption at the airport” early in his discussion of the debate on the Senate floor last week.

He defends those comments, saying it came later in the public debate after Young challenged him.

“The airing of the dirty laundry on the Senate floor is not my doing,” he maintains, saying he did everything he could to avoid that conversation and said that there had already been ten minutes of discussion off the floor of the Senate before he made that comment (You can watch the debate on the Senate floor, beginning at the 5:30:45 marker here).

Lee also says that Young was advised by lobbyists for the Aviation Authority not to challenge him on the floor because they knew that it could result in exposing “dirty laundry.”

(FloridaPolitics.com reached out to Young and the two lobbyists working for the airport to confirm the accuracy of the claim. None immediately responded).

Acknowledging that an internal state audit could be time-consuming, Tampa Airport officials say that they would welcome such a review because they have nothing to hide.

“If an audit turns up any findings, we certainly would adjust practices as necessary,” says airport spokesperson Janet Zink, “but we feel really comfortable with the way the project has been managed.”

Zink says the Aviation Authority provides monthly updates to the Florida Department of Transportation and has their internal auditing team reviewing the project on a regular basis, as well as producing an annual audit with an external auditor.

“There is a lot of monitoring going on, and we’ve been really, really diligent and careful in the way that we’ve managed the project,” she says.

Lee says that he also is concerned that there hasn’t been much public discussion about phases II and III of the ultimately $2.6 billion master plan. However, Zink says that there will be a board workshop at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Aviation Authority’s boardroom on Phase II of the Master Plan (public notice was the first week of April). There will also be an open house April 27 at 6 p.m. in the boardroom for more people to get information about the project.

Over the weekend, FloridaPolitics reached out to two Aviation Authority members for comment; neither Mayor Bob Buckhorn nor Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist chose to respond. Crist initially responded to a request to talk, but later returned a subsequent message.

Vern Buchanan requests more aid for red tide

Noting the dangerous threat toxic algae poses to humans, marine life and the economy, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan announced today he has requested increased federal funding to combat red tide.

Red tide, also known as Karenia brevis algae, has lingered along Suncoast shores on and off for several months now, killing thousands of fish and discouraging potential visitors from taking in some of the country’s best beaches. Karenia brevis algae produces a toxin that can harm and kill a variety of animals, including birds, fish, sea turtles and marine mammals such as dolphins and the already endangered Florida manatee. In fact, the toxins from red tide blooms killed nearly 300 Florida manatees in 2013.

In a letter sent to the chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies, Buchanan requested increased funding to combat harmful algal blooms. Buchanan said the specific focus should be on red tide, within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The Congressman stressed the critical need for federal support as harmful algal blooms, including red tide, are occurring with “increasing frequency and severity across the country.”

Harmful algae blooms cause $82 million in economic losses to the seafood, restaurant and tourism industries each year in the U.S., according to NOAA.

“We need to use every tool at our disposal to safeguard the public and protect marine life and fragile coastal ecosystems,” Buchanan wrote. “Not only do harmful algal blooms deter tourists and upset related industries, they can be dangerous to humans as well.”

Human consumption of shellfish contaminated from red tide areas can cause serve illness and even lead to death in certain circumstances. Additionally, people who swim in red tide or inhale the toxins while near the water can suffer from severe respiratory issues, skin irritation and rashes. The state’s health department even advises that people with severe or chronic respiratory conditions like asthma are especially vulnerable and should steer clear of red tide waters.

Buchanan has an extensive record of preserving Florida’s waterways and pristine coastline. Earlier this year he co-chaired a bipartisan meeting of the 29-member Florida congressional delegation focused on combating red tide, toxic algae and examining other water quality issues. The Congressman also is a longtime opponent of drilling off the Gulf Coast. Last month Buchanan expressed his opposition to the Trump administration’s proposal to open up more than 70 million acres off the coast of Florida to oil and gas drilling over the next five years starting this August. He also backed legislation, signed by President Obama in 2016, that would protect estuaries, including Sarasota Bay.

Full text of the letter can be found below.

The Honorable John Culberson                                       The Honorable Jose Serrano
Chairman                                                                          Ranking Member
Committee on Appropriations                                          Committee on Appropriations
Subcommittee of Commerce, Justice,                              Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice,
Science, and Related Agencies                                         Science, and Related Agencies
H-309, the Capitol                                                            1016 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515                                                    Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Culberson and Raking Member Serrano,

Harmful algal blooms, including red tide, are occurring with increasing frequency and severity across the country. The toxic bacteria, which can cause respiratory problems and has been linked to acute liver failure, is particularly harmful to coastal communities dependent on clean water.

This threat to humans, marine life and the economy deserves our attention.

As you being your work on the fiscal year 2018 Commerce, Justice, and Science funding bill, I respectfully ask that you include robust funding to combat these harmful algal blooms, with a specific focus on red tide, within NOAA’s National Ocean Service.

HABs are a growing national concern because of the widespread and lasting damage they cause to not only the health of humans, marine life, and coastal ecosystems, but to our local economies as well. In fact, due to its impacts on public health, tourism, seafood and other related industries, HABs occurring in U.S. marine waters are estimated to cost the U.S. over $80 million a year.

Currently, however, there is no effective method to combat some of the most challenging and devastating HABs, such as red tides caused by Karenia brevis algae, without severely affecting our marine ecosystems. Red tide outbreaks, which have affected the Gulf of Mexico since the 16th century can kill or sicken turtles, seabirds, and marine mammals, and even leads to massive fish kills. They also lead to widespread closures of shellfish beds from Florida trough Texas every year.

Perhaps most concerning, however, are the negative consequences HABs and red tide specifically have on people. Not only do harmful algal blooms deter tourists and upset related industries, they can be dangerous to humans as well.

People can become ill with Neurotoxic Shellfish Poisoning (NSP) or even die as a result of consuming contaminated shellfish that has been exposed to HAB toxins. People who swim in red tide or inhale the toxins while near the water can also suffer from severe respiratory issues, skin irritation and rashes.

We need to use every tool at our disposal to safeguard the public and protect marine life and fragile coastal ecosystems.

I would also encourage you to collaborate with local and state partners and non-profit marine research institutions and universities to better utilize emerging technologies and cutting edge approaches to fight back against harmful algal blooms. Thank you for your consideration of this request, and for your leadership on the committee.

HART introducing cutting-edge vehicles to HyperLink connection with Innovation Alliance

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) will announce next week a partnership with the Tampa Innovation Alliance to enhance transportation options in the USF area. The plan is to introduce a small fleet of cutting-edge Tesla vehicles into the local market.

Since its implementation last year, HART’s HyperLink program has allowed riders to book a ride through a smartphone app to and from bus stops in three designated areas: North Tampa, Brandon, and Carrollwood. It’s designed to solve the “first mile/last mile” issue by picking people up from home or work and taking them directly to their nearest bus stop.

The Innovation Alliance will now be the fourth area to get the HyperLink program. The Innovation Alliance is the region anchored by USF, University Mall, Florida Hospital, Busch Gardens and the Moffit Cancer Center.

“If you’re on (the USF) campus and you want to get somewhere off campus somewhere in that radius, you’ll be able to book a trip, and it will take you there,” says Cesar Hernandez, government relations specialist for HART.

Hernandez says the pickup spot on the USF campus will probably be at the Marshall Center. The service connects riders within a 3-mile zone, which at USF would be close enough to take passengers to HART’s University Area Transit Center on 131st Avenue, where students (or anyone else) could then take a HART Metro Rapid bus into downtown or elsewhere.

The new fleet of cars that will take them there will consist of four Tesla Model X’s and one MV-1 model that seats seven and can be used to accommodate the disabled. The five cars will be utilized exclusively in the Innovation District surrounding the campus and will by operated by TransDev, the private-sector operator that is working with HART on the HyperLink program.

Hernandez says if there’s a need, TransDev will have other vehicles ready to roll out.

The Tampa Innovation Alliance is the public-private agency charged with redeveloping the University area of North Tampa that was formed in January of 2015 and is led by former County Commissioner Mark Sharpe.

“HART HyperLink is incredibly important to the Tampa Innovation Alliance, and we are proud to be the first place in the United States where this kind of partnership between rideshare and public transit is taking place,” Sharpe said. “We are tackling real challenges for the people in our community and technology and innovation.”

Sharpe and Hernandez raised funds to deploy the Teslas in the district. He calls their partnership “serendipitous,” and praises Hernandez as having a “facet for innovation.”

Along with former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, Sharpe was the leading politico championing the Moving Hillsborough Forward transit tax initiative that went down to an ignominious defeat in 2010. He continued to fight for transit during his years serving on the HART board, but grew frustrated with the direction of the agency when it was led by Philip Hale, at one time accusing the former CEO of “uninspired, unimaginative leadership.” But he has nothing but praise for Hernandez and Hale’s successor, Katharine Eagan.

“When I was leaving (the agency) she came to the fore and took over and really kind of transformed HART into the agency that I wanted to work with, so it’s great what they’re doing,” he says.

Meanwhile, at Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young’s request, Sen. Jeff Brandes included a $500,000 appropriations request in the Florida Senate’s budget for an expansion of the HyperLink program into downtown Tampa.

Brandes’ advocacy led to the Department of Transportation giving HART the $1.2 million in startup capital for HyperLink, which was then bid out to TransDev.

Hernandez says if and when autonomous vehicles come online, “We’re set in place to be able to adopt to that technology because those vehicles will have the capacity to do so.”

Among those helping sponsor the program is Tampa Electric Company, Northern Technologies Group, Nitro Solutions, Diamond View Studios, entrepreneur Roberto Torres with the Blind Tiger Cafe and former county commission candidate Tim Schock’s firm, Lightning Capital Consulting.

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