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Tampa Bay Times backs Hillsborough transportation referendum

The Tampa Bay Times has endorsed the All for Transportation referendum seeking to raise sales tax by 1 percent to fund sweeping transit and transportation improvements in Hillsborough County.

While the newspaper’s Editorial Board noted the tax would be regressive, meaning it disproportionately affects lower income residents, they wrote the benefits outweigh the burden because revenue generated would help residents throughout the county.

The Times also said the tax would better position the region for the future by increasing safety, reducing traffic congestion and opening the door for a more robust transit network, which the region is sorely lacking.

“The Hillsborough County transportation referendum offers something for everybody: Better intersections in Brandon and New Tampa. New mass transit connections to West Shore, Tampa International Airport, the University of South Florida and MacDill Air Force Base. Safer streets. Fewer bottlenecks. Even sidewalks for children at school,” the endorsement read.

The referendum would generate about $280 million a year for 30 years, which is about $9 billion for transportation and transit projects and enhancements.

“The proposal provides enough money for transportation improvements that residents would actually see regardless of where they live,” the Times noted. “It includes a balance of projects in the cities and suburbs, and it gives every local government the flexibility to address their specific needs.

“The oversight board would keep spending on-track, and the plan is forward-looking enough to embrace new technologies, such as autonomous vehicles. Roughly one-fifth of the proceeds would be paid by visitors, even as it draws down new matching funds.”

While similar referendums have historically failed at the ballot box, the All for Transportation measure goes further than the 2010 Moving Hillsborough Forward one-half percent sales tax proposal and the 2014 Greenlight Pinellas 1 percent ask.

Moving Hillsborough Forward lacked details, leaving voters wondering what they were paying for and whether they would benefit. The Greenlight Pinellas campaign failed to adequately show value in areas where transit use is limited like Clearwater, Palm Harbor and some of the beach communities.

Where Greenlight Pinellas was a transit proposal, All for Transportation includes money for road projects that will benefit areas like Brandon and rural parts of the community. It can be used to fix potholes, resurface roads, increase traffic technology to create better traffic flow and provide pedestrian and bicyclist paths.

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All for Transportation is a citizen-led initiative that made the ballot through petition signatures rather than the process used in previous initiatives that were sent to voters by elected authority. The group gathered more than 50,000 signatures, which the Times notes shows members of the community have become increasingly frustrated with the region’s transportation woes.

The Times endorsement follows others from the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and Visit Tampa Bay. Both groups cited the need for quality transportation in attracting businesses and tourists and in creating economic development opportunities.

Hillsborough County has another sales tax increase proposal on the November ballot: The county’s School Board is asking for a one-half percent increase to fund infrastructure and maintenance, career readiness programs and increased technology in the classroom, among other uses.

If both are approved Hillsborough County’s sales tax would be 8.5 percent, the highest in the state.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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