Leaders of county, cities map Hillsborough transit strategies
Three years after Hillsborough County voters killed a transit-tax referendum, county commissioners joined the mayors of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City on Wednesday to begin mapping out a new transportation plan they can sell to voters.
A 2014 transit-tax referendum is unlikely, however, County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan said after the hourlong workshop.
“The important thing is we wanted to have all of our partners at the table at one time,” Hagan said. “Everything is on the table, but I seriously doubt there will be a Hillsborough County referendum in 2014.”
Pinellas County has scheduled its own transit referendum that year. Holding a Hillsborough referendum at the same time could be overkill, Hagan said.
It could also bring a repeat of the loss in 2010.
“2014 will put us in the same posture we were in 2010,” said Commissioner Les Miller.
That year, transit-tax supporters ran into two buzz saws when voters went to the polls.
The first was a conservative tsunami, driven by the tea party, that swept aside anything connected with higher taxes or expanded government. The second was voters' sense that the transit tax would benefit the city of Tampa but bring nothing to unincorporated areas.
The 2010 vote split largely along the city boundary, with Tampa supporting it.
“If we're going to put something on the ballot, we need to make sure everyone understands what their benefits are going to be,” Miller said.
With that in mind, Wednesday's gathering was the first of potentially many public meetings over the next 18 months or more aimed at sorting out the county's transportation needs.
Part of the transit sales pitch will tie it to the region's economic future. Cities that invest in transit have attracted the kind of tech-savvy, innovative young workers commissioners and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn say they want.
“I'm all in,” Buckhorn told the group. “If there ever was a time to do this, it is right now. I think people are ready for a serious adult discussion of what our options are.”
The transit effort is getting under way at the same moment the county, cities and the county's chief transportation agency are all revising their long-range visions. A countywide transportation plan could become a unifying element in all four.
Commissioner Al Higginbotham stressed the need to include voters. The transportation effort will go nowhere without the public, he said.
Although no one mentioned the word “transit,” Fran Davin, chairwoman of HART, the county's transit agency, sat dead-center at the horseshoe-shaped table.
“We're going to have to sort through what's achievable and what's not achievable,” Davin said.
Commissioner Kevin Beckner said the 2010 referendum results showed the importance of presenting a united front and a common message to voters.
“Everybody felt transportation was important,” he said. “But we were all operating in our individual silos.”