TAMPA (FOX 13) - A plan to fund transportation improvements in Hillsborough County has failed. It would have raised sales taxes by a half cent for the next 20 years - and raised billions of dollars to fund things like drainage issues, potholes, public transit and more.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn was not happy the last time commissioners voted down the referendum. The mayor's reaction to Thursday's decision to study diverting future property tax money as a source of funds, instead of a sales tax increase, was even less enthusiastic.
"The County Commission continues to backtrack on their previous commitments to tackle our region's Achilles heel - transportation," Buckhorn said in a statement. "Unfortunately, the commission's majority continues to lack the courage to let voters decide the way we move forward."
Almost 70 community members showed up to express their concerns or support for the referendum. The public comment portion of Thursday's meeting lasted hours, as person after person approached the podium. 39 of them were for the referendum on the sales tax increase, 29 were against it.
"As a father, my 25-year-old son, who graduated USF, just came to me. He is leaving Tampa Bay for another city that has better transportation options," explained Mickey Jacob, who spoke in favor of the tax referendum
Those against the referendum said it didn't seem the community was ready for it, and were concerned about what they'd be left with if it were voted down.
"The policy of creating sprawl is so inefficient and has driven up the cost of our infrastructure network," George Niemann argued.
County officials argued, the referendum would have raised $2 billion, which could have been spent on bus, rail and road improvements.
Commissioner Sandy Murman then floated the idea of studying the diversion of property taxes towards transportation.
"This has never been about the 'what.' It has always been about how we are going to fund it. The referendum, versus a TIF, gives you the same amount of money," Murman said.
One thing certain after the meeting: the sales tax will stay at seven-percent.