Penny sales tax increase proposed for Hillsborough Co. transportation projects

A group in favor of a penny sales tax increase in Hillsborough County that would go toward road improvements and mass transit expansion launched a public push to convince voters to pass a referendum just added to the November ballot.

The organization, called All For Transportation, collected about 77,000 signatures in six weeks to put the proposal up for a vote in November. Hillsborough County's Supervisor of Elections certified more than 50,000 of the signatures, guaranteeing the referendum will be on the ballot.

"It provides the people of Hillsborough County a historic opportunity to begin the long-overdue work of funding a transportation system that saves people's time, people's money, and people's lives," said Tyler Hudson, with All For Transportation.

A 30-year sales tax hike of this nature is expected to bring in about $280 million in yearly revenue.

County commissioners have discussed similar ideas in recent years, but never put it up for a county-wide vote.

"They gave us no choice. We've been waiting and waiting and waiting for action. It never happened," Hudson said.

This plan has the support of some major backers: Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, Sykes Enterprises and philanthropist Frank Morsani all helped fund the signature-collection process.

"We say our young children and our children are our future generation. We're going to make transportation more affordable and better for them," said Gwen Myers, an East Tampa resident who is a member of All For Transportation.

Opponents, however, are quickly launching their own grassroots efforts to push back.

"[It's] basically a power grab by downtown interests who are interested in getting county taxpayers to fund their downtown developments," said Karen Jaroch, who is the former chairman for HART bus line. "They are selling this as road improvements, but this is is a backdoor way to fund a rail system that is not cost-effective."

Jaroch helped a successful campaign to derail previous plans to raise taxes to fund a rail line. She believes this is a veiled attempt by business and community leaders to try again to get rail funding.

She also feels petitioners were not entirely forthcoming while collecting signatures.

"I think people who signed the petition were misled. I personally was approached that, 'hey, do you want to fix traffic congestion?' I was not told that this was a tax," Jaroch said.