Hillsborough commissioners vote to add carriage sales tax to November ballot
TAMPA, Florida. – Hillsborough County commissioners voted 5-2 in favor of including the transportation sales tax in the November ballot.
At least 50 speakers have registered to voice their opinions on the proposal ahead of Wednesday night’s vote.
While commissioners were expected to approve the measure, it will ultimately be up to voters this fall to decide whether to give the green light to a 1-cent sales tax increase. The tax would be used to fund two decades of road, transport and infrastructure projects.
Voters agreed to an almost identical proposal in 2018, but Hillsborough Commissioner Stacy White derailed the tax by taking legal action over a technicality in the voter-approved measure. The state Supreme Court struck down the tax in 2021, freezing the funds raised and stalling nearly four years of transportation projects.
As the commission prepares to resubmit the tax to a referendum, voters may feel far less generous than they did in 2018.
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“I’ve come to realize that while the plan is good, now is not the time,” said Commissioner Ken Hagan, who has backed past sales tax referendums at a meeting earlier this month. -this. “The circumstances today are very different. We are not in 2016 or 2018. On the contrary. To say that people are struggling today is an understatement.”
As inflation is now on the rise, so is the county’s population. The other commissioners said Hillsborough County badly needs the transportation funding.
“In the first two months of 2022, more than 9,000 people moved into Hillsborough County,” said Hillsborough Commission Chair Kimberly Overman. “I want to make sure people realize that their vote in November is critically important.”
Hillsborough County’s population has grown to over 1.5 million, a 25% increase over the past decade. It is one of the fastest growing regions in the country, but several commissioners have said infrastructure has not kept pace.
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“We know that we have a 10 to 20 year deficit when it comes to investing in our infrastructure,” Overman said.
Hillsborough’s transportation needs continue to grow. The population boom has put more cars on the road, increasing traffic and further taxing existing and obsolete structures. It is also exposed a gross underinvestment in public transport.
“We only have 30 bus routes in Hillsborough County. It’s not an efficient public transit system,” Overman said.
Raising the sales tax would not only allow the county to meet its transportation needs, but also give it the opportunity to unlock hundreds of millions of dollars in federal grants.
Last fall, Congress approved the largest ever federal investment in the nation’s infrastructure. Bipartisan Infrastructure and Jobs Act makes $1.2 trillion available to help fund myriad transportation and infrastructure projects, from roads and bridges to electric vehicle charging stations and shields against sea level rise.
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A Hillsborough Commission report estimates the county could qualify for up to $229 million in federal grants, but to apply for the competitive grants they would first have to show they can match the funds. Without voter approval this fall, Overman said Hillsborough wouldn’t have the money and would likely miss out.
“When we have $1.2 trillion invested in infrastructure at the federal level and our local taxpayers and residents can’t tap into it because we don’t have the local resources, I think those who pay federal taxes might have a problem with that,” Overman says. “We need the help of our constituents. We can get it out there, but without a referendum and a positive vote, we won’t have the resources.”
Time is not on their side either. Federal dollars are only available for the next five years, or until funds are exhausted. If Hillsborough voters don’t approve the transit tax this fall, their next shot would be approval in 2024. By then, it might be too late.
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Not only would the county be two years behind everyone else applying for the same grants, but the money could already be talked about by then.
“I want to make sure we have the best chance to not only generate revenue for our local needs, but also capitalize on the fact that we have a federal kitty that we need to take advantage of,” Overman said.
Commissioners approved the addition of the transportation sales tax on the November ballot. It will be up to Hillsborough voters to decide if their roads, transit and infrastructure are worth the investment again.