Mitch Perry Report for 9.22.15 – Hillsborough County transportation tax now DOA?

Mitch Perry

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill is calling on Sheriff David Gee to investigate the contract awarded to Parsons Brinckerhoff for the public outreach effort for a proposed transportation sales tax.

He’s also calling on PB to stop all work on the Go Hillsborough campaign, until Gee’s inquiry is complete.

That second action sounds more dramatic than it is. The Go Hillsborough meetings will continue over the next two weeks. County Chair Sandy Murman had hinted last week that she was prepared to end them immediately, but Merrill was able to stave off that call.

The big story here is: is the proposed transportation tax already dead before it’s even put on the ballot?

The fact is, you have two distinct areas inside Hillsborough County – you have Tampa, with all of the issues that occur in a major American city, and then you have the county, which is bigger, has more voters, and has different priorities than the city.

When the Go Hillsborough folks unveiled what would be in the transportation plan earlier this summer, it was considered by many in Tampa to be a loser – a sop to county interests, with way more resources devoted to building and rebuilding roads and less on transit. And it would only be for a half-cent.

Criticism about the half-cent led Merrill and consultant Beth Leytham then to announce rather suddenly a few weeks ago that the full-cent tax was back on the table.

There are some critics who feel the whole thing is ridiculous, that the county has enough money in its budget to bypass the tax. These critics don’t want people to have the opportunity to vote the thing down – they don’t even want the question posed.

The folks at the county seem to always have had these critics in mind putting this plan together, but the fact is, Hillsborough has a yawning need to improve its transit options. No, this area doesn’t have the worst traffic congestion in the country – it’s not even close to commuting in Los Angeles or the San Francisco Bay area, but it’s crowded and getting more crowded in the decades to come.

A couple of years ago Mayor Bob Buckhorn tried to lobby state legislators to pass legislation to allow cities to pass tax referenda – since it would be benefit Tampa, whose citizens want more transit and have proven in the past that they’re willing to pay for it. The rest of Hillsborough County does not share the same priorities. That attempt went nowhere.

Some County Commissioners sounded panicked last week, in the aftermath of Noah Pransky’s report on the behind the scenes effort with Go Hillsborough.

This investigation may go beyond December 2, when the Board of County Commission was scheduled to vote on whether to put the transportation tax on the ballot. That’s not a deal-breaker. In 2010, the BOCC didn’t put the measure on the ballot until the late spring, which some critics said was part of the problem the tax ended up losing. Advocates said they had learned their lesson, which is why the measure would go up much earlier to begin the public dialogue.

This proposed tax was always going to be a tough sell in a county that overall doesn’t seem to believe it needs to pay more for improved transportation. Now it’ll be even tougher.

In other news..

Congressman Alan Grayson met with activists in Tampa concerned with issues with law enforcement, and came out of the meeting saying he may call for a Dept. of Justice investigation into the death of 14-year-old Andrew Joseph III from last year.

Bob Buckhorn and Councilwoman Lisa Monteleone are scheduled to meet next week. It will be the first meeting in awhile, after an incident a few years that essentially turned the mayor off from meeting with the councilwoman.

A poll released last week shows that 70 percent of Floridians want Rick Scott to pay his own legal bills after he settled with an attorney who was suing him regarding his shielding of public records.

Dwight Dudley admits a bill that the odds are low that a bill he’s just introduced that would lead to the creation of an independent redistricting commission will get passed through the Legislature.

The Republican Party of Florida’s executive committee will meet tonight via conference call and debate a controversial proposal that would ban the GOP presidential candidates from getting on the March ballot if they blow off an RPOF event taking place in November. The Republican Liberty Caucus calls that plan, “yet another glaring example of a heavy-handed top-down leadership style that ignores the wishes of the grass roots base of the party in favor of financial interests of party leadership in Tallahassee.”

Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was 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 and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at [email protected].


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