Group pushes for tax to help ease Tampa traffic woes

In Hillsborough County, the "fastest route" could still come at a snail's pace.

A citizens group called “All for Transportation" is trying to change that.

“We haven't invested in a modern, efficient and safe transportation system for our community," said Brian Willis, a spokesperson for the initiative.

If their petition collects nearly 50,000 signatures, voters will decide on raising the sales tax from 7 cents on the dollar to 8 cents, for 30 years. Willis says the first year would raise about $280 million.

“About 55 percent of it will go toward traffic congestion, 45 percent will go toward transportation and transit needs,” Willis said. “Improvements for pedestrians and transit, all across the county.”

But an 8 percent sales tax would be the highest in Florida. Opponent Sharon Calvert, who's worked against past efforts like ‘Go Hillsborough’ in 2016, wants more specifics.

“Well, first of all if you’re going to ask somebody for a 15 billion-dollar tax hike, you need to tell them what it’s going to pay for,” Calvert said. “I’m sorry, but the ‘trust me’ just doesn’t work today especially for tax payers, and I don’t think with voters!”

This isn’t the first time a pitch has been made to ease traffic woes in the county. In 2010, voters rejected a one cent sales tax hike. And in 2016, a referendum to raise it by a half-cent was voted down by commissioners. Willis says this time, it's different.

“There’s never been anything like this before, where you have a group of citizens who are fed up, they’re tired of the status quo, they’re sick of doing nothing, and they’re going to force this onto the ballot to give people a voice on this in November, so they can weigh in,” Willis said.

Right now, they have 20-thousand signatures, and they have until July 27 to get over 20-thousand more.

The group has a few big names backing the initiative, which include Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Lightning Owner Jeff Vinik. In early June, Vinik donated $150,000 to the effort.