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Sierra Club opposes proposed half-cent transit tax in Hillsborough County

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Although the Hillsborough County Policy Leadership Group won’t meet until next week to officially give its imprimatur to a proposed half-cent transit tax plan that County Administrator Mike Merrill unveiled last month, the plan has been met with less than enthusiastic reaction in some quarters of the county. Critics contend that it leans too heavily toward toward road and bridge maintenance, with just a third of the funds devoted to transit.

With that backdrop, it shouldn’t be a complete surprise that the Tampa Bay Sierra Club is now officially on the record as opposing the plan.

In a statement released Wednesday night, the Club says that before asking for a sales tax increase, Hillsborough County should require new development to pay its own way, and is advocating that the county should adopt the five-cent gas tax to pay for road maintenance.

“Every sustainable solution must include a dramatically improved public transportation system,” the environmental group says in its statement. “Cars and roads alone are the most expensive alternative.  Whether or not the proposed new sales tax revenue would be sufficient to create a viable public transportation system is uncertain.”

The Sierra Club notes that while Pasco County collects approximately 65 percent of the cost  of transportation infrastructure through development fees, Hillsborough recovers less than 15 percent, leaving taxpayers to make up the difference.  They also mention that “the local option five-cent gas tax adopted by Pasco,  Manatee and almost half the counties in Florida would raise $25 million annually here, enough to cover the cost of our road maintenance.  Hillsborough County should adopt the five-cent gas tax to pay for road maintenance.”

The Club says that the county should change its development policy, increase development fees, and adopt the local gas tax before pursuing a sales tax increase.

The proposal announced last month is for a half-cent sales tax over 30 years time, resulting in $3.525 billion in revenues, which breaks down to $117.5 million annually: 23.8 percent of that would go to road maintenance, 36 percent for new roads, 36 percent for transit, and 3.9 percent for sidewalks/bike safety.

Even supporters of the plan have encouraged the public to come out in public meetings soon to resume later this summer to add input to the proposal. Plant City Mayor Rick Lott, whose city is getting less than two percent of all of monies that could come from the tax, said he wished the tax was a full cent, not a half-cent.

The Hillsborough County Policy Leadership Group is scheduled to vote on the proposal at its meeting next Thursday, July 16. If approved, the Hillsborough County Commission would vote later this year on whether to put the measure on the 2016 ballot.

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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