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Bob Buckhorn says “something is better than nothing” on shorter Go Hillsborough plan

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

In the lead-up to last month’s vote by the Hillsborough County Commissioner on the half-cent transportation tax known as Go Hillsborough, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn was adamant that he wouldn’t accept anything less than what the plan had always called for – that being 30 years in length.

After it went down to defeat at a public hearing on April 27, Victor Crist, the deciding commissioner who said he went by “simple, old-fashioned intuition” in rejecting the proposal, came out and slammed the mayor, telling the Tampa Bay Times’ Steve Contorno that when Buckhorn said, ‘Give me 30 years or nothing,’ that ended it for me,” Crist said earlier this month. “I couldn’t make a 30-year commitment.”

The mayor has been steadfast in saying that without a 30-year tax commitment, the city wouldn’t be able to afford the bonds required to help construct some type of light-rail system, a popular idea in Tampa, if less so in the outlying areas of the county. But with another public hearing on a Go Hillsborough tax now slated for 15 years to be voted on next week, the question of where he stands was posed to him on Tuesday.

“Well, something is better than nothing,” he said at a press conference at City Hall. “My defense of thirty years was based on three years worth of work and the recommendations of pretty much everyone in the process, including some of the very commissioners who voted against it. I think that everyone recognizes that rail is out of the question without a 30-year window. I can’t issue debt and be able to pay it back with the revenues that we generate in anything less than 30. In 20 years, the debt becomes so much higher that it becomes basically not feasible for us to do, so if it’s less than 30 there will be no rail. Could there be an extension of the streetcar with something less than 30? Probably. I don’t think you would see a rail project emerging out of this with anything less than 30 years.”

“If that’s the course that they choose, then absolutely I’m going to be in support of it.”

It should be noted here when we proposed the question to the mayor, we referred to the BOCC voting for a tax plan of 20 years – not 15. The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce announced last week that they would only support a Go Hillsborough tax of 20 years duration. Fifteen years, they said, was not long enough.

A later call to the mayor’s office confirmed however, that his comments are the same regarding a plan of just fifteen years in duration.

Buckhorn says that the backlog of transportation projects hasn’t gone away in the past month since the BOCC rejected the half-cent, 30-year tax proposal, that would simply put the measure on the November ballot to let Hillsborough County voters decide. He said if passed, the tax could partially fund some of HART’s needs, repair some of the many road projects listed in the plan, and potentially extend the streetcar system.

“Is it the preferred option? No,” he reiterated. Is it an option? Yes. Something’s better than nothing.”

The Hillsborough County Commissioners will vote on putting a 15-year-half-cent sales tax proposal on the November ballot next Thursday, June 9.

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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