Thirty-six hours after she joined three other county commissioners in rejecting the half-cent transportation tax on the November ballot known as Go Hillsborough, Sandy Murman says she has no regrets, but says she might have voted for a tax for a shorter duration than the 30-year, $117 million plan that was presented on Wednesday.
“I have to be honest with you,” she told SPB upon arriving at the Jan Platt Library in South Tampa on Friday morning to meet with constituents. “I was prepared to look at other options. I think it was the whole approach that was taken: ‘all or nothing.’ That really killed it probably for Victor (Crist) and I, who were pretty much the swing votes.”
At one point during the debate before Wednesday night’s vote to kill the proposal, Commissioner Kevin Beckner suggested an alternative 20-year-plan, but it failed to garner a second vote. Murman said she supported a 10-year plan, but neither she or anyone else made that suggestion.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said repeatedly going into Wednesday’s vote that he had no use for such a short timeline, with the debt service being too high for the city to pay. He kicked off the public hearing by saying that, “I can’t issue debt on anything less than 30 years. I can’t go to the federal government without a revenue stream that is consistent, that is long term.”
Buckhorn blasted Murman, Crist and the other two commissioners who opposed putting the measure on the ballot, calling it “a profile in cowardice.”
The Tampa Tribune weighed in on Friday as well with some choice invectives, calling it a “pathetic lack of leadership.”
“I represent a constituency that is hard right and hard left, and I have to really work hard to balance and build consensus and that’s what I plan to do now,” Murman says of the constituents in her District One seat, where she’s running for re-election this fall. “They can make their vitriolic comments, say how ‘pathetic it is, but he (Buckhorn) came in with an all or nothing approach and you know, I think it turned the county residents off.”
Murman said she is surprised over the shock that the vote has been felt in some quarters since Wednesday night, but insists she’s been consistent about feeling uneasy about the 30-year-tax for months now.
Murman floated her own surprise hybrid proposal on transportation last November, that called for bypassing a sales tax and instead using newly implemented mobility fees, a transportation trust fund financed with a portion of the county’s annual revenue growth; and a 5 cents-per-gallon gas tax. The proposal was met with stone silence by her colleagues, and shortly afterwards, those same colleagues ousted her as county chair, with Les Miller succeeding her.
On Friday Murman backed those proposals once again, and said she agreed with conservatives who lined up en masse on Wednesday to say that the county’s current funding on transportation of 3 percent of the budget was smaller than in comparable counties in Florida.
“We have to get it up to 10 percent,” she says. “Have to. And I have made that statement so many times. And that’s why I want these new revenues – at least half of them to go into trust funds so we can build up the percentage.” She says it time to look at other parts of the budget to cut to do so.
Commissioner Crist tells today’s Tampa Tribune that he prefers a 2.5 percent cut out of general revenues that would include cuts out of the sheriffs department, property appraiser and clerk of the court. Murman concurs, though she says she that Crist’s vision is “harsher” that hers.
“Can they cut back?” she asks of the constitutional offices. “I don’t think we’ve ever asked them.”
The prospect rankles Tampa transit activist Kevin Thurman, who says that “the idea that she wants to take Sheriff deputies off the street and cut our court system and lay off firefighters instead of giving people the chance to vote on a referendum, it clearly says where her priorities lies.”
Thurman says it’s time for the public to stop depending on the county commission to do anything proactive on transportation in the county, and says the next steps include lobbying finding candidates to run against the four board members who opposed Go Hillsborough. He also wants to see the Legislature to allow big cities like Tampa to offer their own tax referendums, and to go through the petition process to get a measure in front of county voters.
Mayor Buckhorn did make an effort a couple of years ago to rally the Hillsborough delegation to sponsor legislation on allowing cities like Tampa to put up their own tax referendums, and didn’t find any takers.
Thurman says none of the county commissioners who opposed putting the measure on the ballot should be proud of what they’ve done.
“Victor Crist promised to judge this on the merits and he did it on ‘instinct.’ Sandy murman promised us we would have a plan that was comprehensive and was something that we could be proud of and there years later we have nothing. And Stacy White completely disagrees with her. He thinks that we need to go back to Square one, so she doesn’t even have consensus on her own board.”
Despite it all, Murman says she’s actually optimistic that something can be accomplished on transportation this year.
“I’m hearing doom and gloom that we wasted the last three years (on Go Hillsborough). We didn’t waste the last three years. We’ve got a good list of roads. It’s not a plan, it’s a list of roads, we need a transit plan. You have to have a transit plan that connects everything and it wasn’t in there, so I think that we’ll definitely do something this year.I’m feeling very optimistic. I think at the end of the day that people will realize ‘let’s do something.'”
On the idea that Go Hillsborough wasn’t much of a plan, critics and supporters do appear to agree.
“I completely agree with Sandy (that) much (of) the county transportation plan is a list of roads. Without HART & the cities it is not a real plan,” he emails.
Thurman says she hasn’t heard much of any comments – pro or con – from her constituents in the wake of the rejection of Go Hillsborough. In fact, there were only a handful of citizens that arrived in the first hour of her appearance at the Jan Platt Library on Friday, and transportation didn’t appear to be on their minds.
One exception was Hillsborough Republican David Wilson. “In my opinion, I think the majority of people actually would want something like that on the ballot because there’s no better since of democracy than everyone getting a vote. It’s about having the maximum amount of input,” he says.
Wilson, who serves on the Metropolitan Planning Organization advisory committee, said he wasn’t sure how he would vote on the matter in November. But now, of course, that doesn’t really matter anymore.