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Hillsborough County Commission to vote on putting half-cent tax for 15 years on ballot on June 9

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Less than a month after the issue of a transportation tax seemed off the board for 2016, the Hillsborough County Commission will take a second vote on whether to put a sales tax referendum on the ballot next month.

The new vote will take place after a public hearing on June 9.

On April 27, a four-hour public hearing that would place the Go Hillsborough half-cent tax referendum on the ballot went down to defeat when Commissioner Victor Crist cast the decisive “no” vote, seemingly ending the debate with the board opposing the placing of the measure on a 4-3 vote.

That measure would have been a half-cent for 30 years. The proposal voted on next month will be for 15 years. The vote Wednesday passed by a 6-1 margin, with only Commissioner Stacy White dissenting.

White said that a vote to put a tax before the voters were the equivalent of approving a tax hike, a notion that receiving withering criticism from his colleagues.

Commissioner Sandy Murman said she wasn’t “crazy” about having another public hearing, and expressed more negativity toward the idea, while backing support for the hearing. Murman said she feared that if the referendum was approved this fall, it could preclude any future funding for one of the four different transit studies currently or about to take place — the premium transit study by the Florida Dept. of Transportation, a study extending and modernizing the 2.7-mile streetcar line that runs from the Channel District to Ybor City, a study looking at converting CSX freight tracks to a commuter rail system, and the Tampa Bay Express project. She also said since the proposal only lays out projects for ten years, the length of the tax should only be for ten years, not 15.

“I am not going to look forward to another defeat at a public hearing,” Murman said. “Until we change our attitude about how we address this problem, I don’t think anything’s going to change.”

She then asked county staff for information on how much a half-cent and quarter-cent sales tax could generate for five, 10 and 15 years.

Although the original proposal was for 30 years, the plan of various transportation projects that could be built was capped at ten years. County Administrator Mike Merrill said that pushing it to last 15 years would include allowing him to bring both Bus Rapid Transit and the high-speed ferry project back into a proposal. It would not allow for putting anything in regarding light rail, however, because he says that would require a commitment of 30 years to get federal money (and a reason why Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn was adamant against reducing the proposal from 30 years). He pushed back against Murman’s notion regarding ongoing studies, saying that it was still compatible.

Crist continued to maintain that the county could pay for transportation projects without a sales tax, simply cutting by 2.5 percent of the existing budget.

The June 9 hearing will take place at the County Center in downtown Tampa.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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