(UPDATED) The Democrat trying to oust Sandy Murman from the Hillsborough County Commission says she was disingenuous when she offered an alternative to a proposed transportation tax last fall.
“I think Sandy Murman’s plan was a gimmick to get in the headlines,” Jeff Zampitella said Tuesday night at his campaign kick-off event at Anise Global Gastrobar in downtown Tampa.
“Ken Hagan‘s words — it was irresponsible because it jeopardized our credit rating, our reserves, and our essential services. So that being said, I think it was a gimmick, that’s what the Tampa Bay Times said, and that’s what I say.”
Murman disagreed, telling SPB later on Wednesday that,”The transportation plan we put forward and passed dedicated $600 million from within our budget for back logged transportation projects over the next 10 years without raising taxes. That’s funding for transportation projects we could begin immediately. There are no gimmicks
to finding common-sense solutions to our communities’ problems, which I have been doing my entire career. At the same time we have started to create the robust transit plan that our community needs and wants for the future. Over the next 18 months after people see the value of transit projects, we can present a comprehensive mobility plan with a long-term funding source to the public for their input and approval. I listen to my constituents and our community wants a proven leader who will put forward plans to solve the challenges we face. I will always fight hard for my constituents to produce the right solutions that will create jobs and keep our county vibrant for the future.”
The 47-year-old Zampitella is a commercial airline pilot and downtown Tampa activist attempting to take on Murman, who has been elected by Hillsborough County voters six previous times over the past two decades in her previous runs for the Florida House and county commission. In order to defeat his much better-known and better-financed opponent, he needs to show clear differences with her. He puts transportation at the top of his agenda.
Murmun’s introduction of an alternative plan to the Go Hillsborough proposed transportation tax was initially met with disdain by her colleagues on the board and the Policy Leadership Group last fall, who had worked for a couple of years building up toward putting a the sales tax referendum for transportation on this November’s ballot. In lieu of a sales tax, Murman proposed a plan that would use funds from a gas tax, mobility fees, a trust fund for transportation based on new growth, money from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil settlement, and reserves. It was not an immediate hit with some of her colleagues.
“Any plan that uses reserves, and one-time funding to solve long-time needs is irresponsible and risks adverse credit rating consequence for the county,” responded County Administrator Mike Merrill.
“We have voted to move the half-cent sales tax forward and you’re still proposing that you bring your plan forward?” added Commissioner Les Miller. “You’re digging a deep, deep hole that future county commissioners would have a real problem trying to fund,” he said.
Although commissioners ultimately didn’t approve Murman’s original plan, they came close. After twice rejecting putting the Go Hillsborough measure on the ballot, they approved Commissioner Al Higginbotham’s plan last month, which would dedicate $600 million over the next decade toward transportation, beginning with $35 million in 2017 and increasing the amount by $5 million each following year. Murman took credit for its approval last week.
“If it hadn’t been for me bringing my new plan forward, we would not have $600 million in transportation approved a couple of weeks ago,” the Davis Islands Republican said last Friday.
Zampitella calls the Higginbotham plan a gimmick as well, and accuses Murman of a lack of leadership on the issue.
“The week after Sandy Murman agreed to mobility fees, she started walking that back,” he said. “I would actually strengthen those. I would further encourage urban infill. I would encourage a true transportation plan. She had three-and-a-half years to be a leader on Go Hillsborough, she could have inserted herself in the process and have been the champion of Go Hillsborough.”
Murman tells SPB that the BOCC “imposed mobility fees at a level that will help pay for infrastructure costs for projects and at the same time keep us competitive in the marketplace to attract new homeowners and create jobs. Our commission board has started work on a master plan to modernize our land use policies to target sprawl and build densities in areas where we want growth to occur and where county services already exist or can be connected. With over 500,000 new residents expected by year 2040 it is imperative now to get us on the right track with our growth policies.”
Having lived in Spring Hill from 1991-2003, he calls himself a “reformed suburbanite.” He moved to Tampa’s Hyde Park in 2004, and downtown Tampa in 2009. He says he’s running on a smart growth platform. He says he wants to reverse the growth patterns that have occurred in Hillsborough County over the past three decades. He wants mobility fees, transit corridors, and to encourage urban infill. “That means giving tax incentives and incentivizing people to build within the urban service core,” he says.
Zampitella was the former chair of the Downtown Tampa Parking Task Force, a treasurer with Walk Bike Tampa, and the president of SkyPoint Condominiums since 2012. He’s also been an active critic of the Florida Department of Transportation’s Tampa Bay Express toll lane project that has roiled the Seminole Heights and Tampa Heights communities.
District One encompasses not just parts of downtown and South Tampa where the two candidates live, but also stretches out to Ruskin, Apollo Beach, and Gibsonton; and out to the northwest, including Town N’ Country, Westchase, and Keystone.
“I was in Keystone the other night and it was an eye-opening experience,” he says. “Everything that we love about downtown, they are exactly the opposite. But I totally got it. They want low density. …They want to preserve their way, pristine way of living, and I get that and that’s all about not promoting sprawl. They want that for themselves, so that’s great, so that feeds into building the urban core.”