Hillsborough transportation tax: What you need to know

 

WHAT DOES THE BALLOT INITIATIVE DO?

  • Here’s the question on the ballot for County Referendum No. 2: “Should transportation improvements be funded throughout Hillsborough County, including Tampa, Plant City, Temple Terrace, Brandon, Town ‘n’ Country, and Sun City, including projects that: Improve roads and bridges, Expand public transit options, Fix potholes, Enhance bus services, Relieve rush hour bottlenecks, Improve intersections, and Make walking and biking safer, By amending the County Charter to enact a one-cent sales surtax levied for 30 years and deposited in an audited trust fund with independent oversight? A new 1% sales surtax is in addition to the current 7% sales tax and is estimated to raise $276 million annually and $552 million the first two calendar years. Revenues will be shared by Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART); Metropolitan Planning Organization; and, using a population-based formula, by Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners, City of Tampa, Plant City, and City of Temple Terrace. Expenditures will be governed by the Charter Amendment.”
  • Most of the money — 54 percent — would be earmarked for roads, sidewalks and trails. About 45 percent would go to bus and transit. Here are highlights of how the tax proceeds would be used: resurface Tampa’s roads every 25 years instead of every 75 years; build a mass-transit system linking the university area, downtown Tampa and the Westshore-Tampa International Airport area; round out a planned network of 400 miles of bike and pedestrian trails; add 10 new routes, 150 new buses and increase the frequency of at least four bus routes to every 15 minutes; plug roughly 500 miles of sidewalk gaps on roads in unincorporated Hillsborough; and make intersection improvements throughout the county, including the addition of intelligent traffic signals that adjust to real-time traffic flow. For a household with an income that’s average for the county, around $55,000, the proposal would mean an extra $120 per year in taxes, according to a sales tax calculator developed by the Internal Revenue Service.

WHAT’S AT STAKE?

Transportation officials say no one has come up with a way to pay for hundreds of pressing transportation needs amounting to some $9 billion. To address this, a citizens group backed by business leaders including Jeff Vinik gathered the signatures necessary to put a one-cent-per-dollar sales tax on the Nov. 6 ballot. Other backers include Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and major local employers. No opposition to the measure surfaced until three weeks before the election, when a tea party-affiliated group that successfully fought transportation ballot measures before in the Tampa Bay area organized a political action committee. Among its arguments, the group says the increase would help make Hillsborough’s the state’s highest sales tax and is unnecessary because county commissioners re-prioritized $800 million of existing revenue for transportation over 10 years that, combined with gas taxes, will fund needed maintenance and safety issues. The local NAACP also opposes the hike, saying it’s a burden on poor people. All for Transportation, the group advocating the tax increase, said the $800 million doesn’t come close to answering current transportation needs or  those that will be created by a Hillsborough population increase projected at 700,000 in the next 30 years. If the measure passes, it would amend the county charter to increase the sales tax by 1 percent and would create a 13-member citizen oversight committee to make sure local governments spend the funds as intended.

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