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Sandy Murman optimistic about Hillsborough County finding a way to fund transportation projects in 2016

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

When the Hillsborough County Commission rejected putting the Go Hillsborough sales tax referendum on the ballot for the second time last month, its many critics cheered, saying the proposal lacked vision.

Others were disappointed, saying the vote showed a lack of leadership on a crucial issue that the board has failed to address.

On the same day that the board was putting a kibosh on that twenty-year half-cent sales tax, however, they did vote on a proposal by County Commissioner Sandy Murman that would look at a plan to put one-third of all growth in property and sales taxes to a dedicated source to pay for transportation projects.

“This is new revenue,” Murman stressed when asked about it on Monday morning. “We’re not taking away anything existing that’s in the budget right now.”

The plan calls for the county attorney to create two separate trust funds — one for the unincorporated parts of the country, and one inside the county. A citizens advisory committee made up of a representative chosen by each commissioner would also be selected.

Critics who opposed Go Hillsborough said that there were sufficient funds in the current budget that could be allocated for transportation. County Administrator Mike Merrill and other board members disagreed, and the board subsequently rejected proposals to reduce the funding for agencies like the sheriffs dept. and the clerk of the court to find more money.

As she noted in an op-ed in Monday’s Tampa Bay Times, Murman says that expected increases in property values would help pad the coffers of this dedicated source, which she’s calling “Transportation New Revenue Growth Funds.”County officials are reporting an eight percent increase in property values this year, that will amount to $5.7 billion.

Murman says it’s important not to preclude any options when a study on expanding the Tampa Streetcar and a “premium transit” study funded by the Florida Dept. of Transportation are expected to be completed in the coming years. She said that in the future, a one-cent sales referendum may be needed at that point.

The board is supposed to discuss the plan in a workshop next month, with a vote expected on whether to create those separate funds shortly afterwards.

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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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