Commissioner White also shared that many citizens he has discussed the amendment with were not aware of the details in the 5 pages of the amendment.
Commissioner White discussed his concerns with several items:
- This proposal would raise Hillsborough County sales tax rate from 7 cents per dollar to 8 cents per dollar (an increase of over 14%).
- If this initiative alone were to pass, Hillsborough County would be tied for the highest sales tax rate in the State of Florida.
- Should the school tax, which is a separate initiative, also pass, Hillsborough County would have the highest sales tax rate in the State of Florida outright.
- A committee of people not accountable to the citizens of Hillsborough County would have significant authority in determining how these funds are spent.
- Most importantly is that added road capacity, defined as widening roads or building new roads, is expressly prohibited under this plan. Commissioner White believes strongly that because of this prohibition, this plan would do very little for suburban commuters.
I’m here today to talk with you about the transportation proposal – commonly referred to as Hillsborough County Referendum 2 – that will be on the ballot this November. Specifically, I would like to address what I perceive as a lack of transparency on what is being disseminated about this measure. It is apparent to me that there is lots of misinformation out there and I want to be sure that voters know what they’re voting on this November.
Let me start by saying that I acknowledge that we have a problem here in Hillsborough County as it relates to transportation. In fact, I have been a part of efforts to improve our transportation system. These efforts have included appropriating record funding for transportation, increasing fees on developers, and advocating for better growth management here in Hillsborough County.
Clearly, more needs to be done and the status quo is not acceptable. Many citizens have likely reached a point where they say to themselves that they are willing to pay additional taxes to solve the problem, and I empathize with this. I have no doubt that this initiative was put in place with good intentions, but because of its hasty preparation, it has many fundamental flaws. As I have visited with citizens across suburban and rural Hillsborough County, it is clear to me that most are not aware of some critically important information about this proposal.Furthermore, Commissioner White stated
This is not your “garden variety” transit sales tax initiative. This proposal seeks to embed this tax into the Hillsborough County Charter (which is like our local constitution) and it does not call for just the tax increase.
It would give an independent committee – whose members would not be responsible or accountable to you, the citizen – the authority to spend the funds. Furthermore, the ballot language paves the way for this committee to be stacked with members that are not from the areas where the majority of these taxes will be paid. This initiative also imposes strict limitations on how this money could be spent with no projects currently identified and with no way to alter course if the transportation needs of the County change.He also reiterated several times, as we have noted repeatedly, this plan does not fund new road capacity.
The most important thing that I’d like to point out this morning is that spending this new tax revenue for added road capacity – defined as widening roads and building new roads – is expressly prohibited in this initiative. This is worth repeating…the widening of roads and the building of new roads with these funds is expressly prohibited with this plan.Commissioner White expressed concern that this amendment was for the benefit for downtown Tampa special interests.
This is an initiative that by-and-large will not benefit suburban and rural commuters. Seventy three percent of Hillsborough County residents live outside the City of Tampa. Suburban and rural residents expecting added road capacity if this passes simply will not get it because of this prohibition. This initiative amounts to a Trojan Horse for downtown interests at the expense of seventy three percent of Hillsborough County residents.Here is the press conference in full, along with questions and answers.
Commissioner White's full statement is here.
[Updated some wording]