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Tampa Bay

Hillsborough County punts on 5 cent gas tax — for now

The tax would provide more than $20 million in annual transportation revenue.

Hillsborough County Commissioners won’t raise the county’s gas tax — at least not yet. 

During a meeting Wednesday, the board voted to temporarily approve a 5 cent gas tax, which means the issue is still on the table but won’t go into effect. 

The county already levies 6 cents allowable under state law, but has not adopted the 5 cent local option fuel tax. If adopted, the additional tax would create an estimated $20.6 million a year in additional county revenue for transportation projects.

Commissioners punted on the issues for a variety of reasons. 

First, the issue requires a supermajority vote of the County Commission. As noted by Commissioner Pat Kemp, the votes just were not there.

If the issues had gone to a vote for approval, instead of temporary approval, it would have made it more difficult to bring back to a vote at a later time. The temporary approval allows the issue to come up again without too much bureaucratic hassle. 

Second, some commissioners were concerned about timing. Hillsborough County residents are already paying a 1 percent sales surtax for transportation and transit enhancements in Hillsborough County. Several residents showed up at the meeting to lament they were already being taxed enough for transportation. 

“This would bring [gas taxes to] 11 percent,” said Ellen Snelling of the Hillsborough County Anti-Drug Alliance. “The All For Transportation tax should be enough to pay for transportation needs.”

Commissioner Board Chair Les Miller agreed, noting he had received numerous emails opposing the proposed tax increase. 

In addition to opposing more taxes in general, others lamented the tax would be regressive, meaning it would disproportionately affect low-income residents who could least afford to absorb the additional tax. 

The city of Temple Terrace sent a letter opposing the gas tax, too. 

Instead of taking a vote that seemed doomed to fail, Miller moved instead to approve the tax temporarily for it to come back again at a later date — preferable after the All For Transportation tax is decided in the Florida Supreme Court. If it’s upheld, the gas tax might not be necessary. 

All but one Commissioner voted to go that route. Only Ken Hagan voted against it, noting that he has always been opposed to raising gas taxes. 

Kemp, Miller, Kimberly Overman and Sandra Murman all said they were overall supportive of gas taxes because they represent a user fee. 

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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