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Tampa millennials talk about Hillary Clinton’s infrastructure proposals

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Although discussions of public policy seems to be taking a backseat during this presidential election cycle, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have announced they would propose major plans to rebuild U.S. infrastructure if elected in November. Clinton has announced a five-year, $275 billion plan, and last month, Trump announced his own infrastructure plan would “at least double” Clinton’s plan.

But does anyone know what’s in those plans?

The Clinton campaign hosted a panel featuring Tampa millennials and former elected lawmakers Monday night in Ybor City to discuss how they think Clinton’s infrastructure plan will work to potentially improve the region’s yawning transportation problems.

Regarding transit, Clinton’s plan calls for encouraging “local governments to work with low-income communities to ensure that these investments are creating transit options that connect the unemployed and underemployed to the jobs they need. She will also support bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure — reducing carbon emissions, improving public health and safety, and further providing Americans with affordable transportation options.”

“Two things that jump out to me are the equality piece and then infrastructure,” said Nestor Ortiz of Clinton’s plan. A community activist who works in some of Tampa’s most distressed areas, Ortiz said in his experience working in disenfranchised communities of color, “we stick a bus system in there, and we say that’s good enough, and ultimately it’s not. It’s not good enough to give them access. It might get them around the poor community that has no opportunity potentially, but it doesn’t get them outside of that.”

Ortiz also said in the University of South Florida area there are bus stops on busy streets with no sidewalks to walk to them, or sufficient lighting where they stand. “We have these major infrastructure challenges that nobody’s responding to. Why? Because it’s a poor community of color.”

Brian Willis repeatedly referred to the part of Clinton’s proposal that would divert money directly toward the local level as its most exciting element. A transit activist and recently vanquished county commission candidate, Willis says the problem for decades in Hillsborough hasn’t been the plans, but the lack of money to pay for them.

“The idea that she has a plan that says ‘we’re going to push money down to the city level and local government level to give them the resources to implement the plans to meet their needs,’ that says to me she understands what our challenges are in our region,” he said.

Last week the Hillsborough County Commission voted to dedicate $600 million to transportation spending over the next decade. The vote came after the board twice rejected a proposal to put the Go Hillsborough transit tax on the November ballot, which included major provisions for transit, or at least giving the City of Tampa to option to go in that direction. Michael Newett, a member of the Tampa Bay Sierra Club, expressed disdain with the new plan, saying environmentalists had been promised transportation money would to go to things like bike trails and transit options, instead of “going all for concrete.”

With the emphasis on millennials, the panel was asked what could they do to push the issue of transportation forward.

“My answer is simple — vote,” said House District 61 Democrat Ed Narain, who narrowly lost his bid for state Senate last month to Darryl Rouson in the District 19 race. He said as a candidate, he received access on who his analysts predicted would come out and vote in a primary, and “it’s not the millennial generation. It’s not even my generation, not even Gen-X’ers,” added Narain, who’s 39. He said it was important for young voters who care about improving transportation to analyze the candidates in advance of an election to determine who is more pro-transit.

Narain also said it also comes down to organization, referring to the anti-TBX crowd that have been persistent at government meetings over the past year to try to stop that project in Tampa.

Maya Brown, president of the Hillsborough County Young Democrats, said the displacement of individuals if TBX comes to Seminole Heights and Tampa Heights is similar to what happened to people of color when Interstate 275 was built through Tampa in the 1960s, and is something that she doesn’t want to see repeated.

Ortiz said as an on-the-ground organizer, he thinks it’s incumbent on candidates and lawmakers to go to the communities themselves to engage on the important issues like transportation. “If you’re expecting the University area, or Sulphur Springs or East Tampa to show up to a county commission meeting, then you’r going to be sadly mistaken on that day. … You have to go to the community where they are and say ‘it can get better.'”

“This country is crying out for investment infrastructure,” added former Tampa area Democratic Congressman Jim Davis, certainly no millennial, though he has two sons who are (who now live in Brooklyn and Oakland). “What we know what a (potential) President Clinton will do is go to Congress and try to get an infrastructure bill passed. This is one of the few things that you can get Democrats and Republicans to agree on. It will create jobs and stimulate the economy.”

Maybe, though there are already appears to be some in the conservative pundit sphere ready to rain on that parade. The Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes wrote this week, “Clinton would finance ‘the biggest investment in American infrastructure in decades’ by raising taxes on individuals, investors, and corporations,” adding that “though Congress historically acquiesces to a new president’s top priorities, Clinton’s tax-and-spend plan is likely to be an exception to that rule.”

Although Trump has talked about spending more than Clinton on infrastructure, his specific proposals on his priorities on that issue aren’t filled out. On his website, the plan is relatively sparse, consisting of 34 words in the “economic vision” portion of the site.

“Infrastructure — 28 percent of our roads are in substandard condition and 24 percent of bridges are structurally deficient or worse. Trump’s plan will provide the growth to boost our infrastructure, Hillary Clinton’s will not,” it says.

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 [email protected]

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