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Business leaders lobby Tampa Bay-area lawmakers on regional transit

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

As for discussion over a proposed Senate regional transit bill for the Tampa Bay region, it’s all about timing.

A group of a dozen local business executives arrived for a lobbying trip to Tallahassee just one day after a contentious Senate committee meeting where three Tampa Bay lawmakers clashed over a bill seeking to overhaul the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA). The nonprofit Tampa Bay partnership arranged the trip.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that in a heated meeting of the Senate Community Affairs Committee, Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala watched in frustration as Republican colleagues Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg and Tom Lee of Thonotosassa amended the bill.

The bill, originally approved April 17, was changed to require legislative approval for any local spending proposal that would include a light rail system and also prohibit TBARTA from financing a voter referendum on light rail.

Many saw the amendments as a significant blow to the TBARTA’s independence.

“The timing could not have been better for this trip because the bill was at a critical point,” Tampa Bay partnership president Rick Homans told the Times.

Among those in the business delegation were Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik; University of South Florida President Judy Genshaft; Sykes Enterprises CEO Chuck Sykes; Ron Wanek, founder of Ashley Furniture; Tampa attorney Rhea Law, as well as Tampa executives of TECO Energy, BlueGrace Logistics, the BayCare Health System, PNC Bank, Vology and Florida Blue.

While the group’s agenda included supporting Latvala’s transit bill, ride-sharing legislation, and a creation of a regional Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Times noted that TBARTA received special emphasis.

“It’s not dead,” Homans said. “It’s very much alive.”

The amended bill now includes a feasibility study ahead of any forward movement of a light rail system, and would require approval by a majority vote of each Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) of the county or counties where the investment would be made. If a rail project is planned for Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, for example, each of the affected counties would need to approve the project.

Also, any rail project must get preapproval from the Legislature – since Tallahassee would be fronting much of the money anyway.

“They were not poison pills,” Brandes explained. “They were logical, reasonable steps that would largely have to be followed.”

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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