Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Go Hillsborough

Public trust in behind-the-scenes power player developed transportation initiatives is at an all-time low.

St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin

Here is a roundup of local media's take on the Hillsborough County Commission vote not to place the issue on the November Ballot. There is enough clicking and reading below to keep you busy for a while.

Tampa Tribune
Tampa Tribune Editorial, A no vote for Hillsborough
Joe Henderson Tampa Bay Tribune, “No Hillsborough?” Commissioners wimp out on traffic

In my view, this effort was doomed from the very start.

The continuing effort by the power players and developers who control TBARTA and the MPOs to produce a "comprehensive plan" is just a code for comprehensive transportation oriented redevelopment of Hillsborough County centered on light rail.

The object is and continues to be get those tax dollars rolling in, and we will turn this county upside down while a few people make a lot of money. The public gets it, and they don't want it.

I suspect there is a lot more political self-preservation than pragmatism in the recent Hillsborough County Commission vote.

Tampa Bay Times Editorial said it well, "As disappointing as it is to keep waiting for a comprehensive solution, the Go Hillsborough plan was a weak, backward-looking approach with inadequate funding and misguided priorities that lacked vision."

What is needed in both Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties is not a "comprehensive plan" but a series of non-linked carefully spelled out initiatives that address specific transportation needs. These plans need to be straightforward with taxing increments dedicated specifically to the defined issue.

Let's establish a transportation sales tax maximum of 1%.

Then put a referendum on the ballot that takes a portion of this tax and dedicates it to road construction and maintenance. This referendum should tie these dedicated funds up so tight it would take an act of the US Supreme Court to use them for anything but roads.

A second referendum initiative either now or a bit later should do the same for bus transit and another for commuter and/or light rail. In each case, the funding from the dedicated portion of the transportation tax must be tied up tight.

Do the homework make the case for each initiative put it on a ballot and let the people who pay the bills make the decision.

No one will like this idea because it takes the money out of the reach of those who want to use it for their own gain.

As a final thought nothing is going to happen on transportation in either County until TBARTA is done away with, the Chamber of Commerce's role is muted, and the MPOs are reduced to over advisory input only.

None of us trust them. They do not represent the public or its desires, and plans put forth by them will meet the same fate as GreenLight and Go Hillsborough.

It will take some strong politicians to face down the special interests that have tried for almost a decade to figure out a way to use tax dollars to rip apart Hillsborough and Pinellas County in the name of progress, so they can make one more fortune.

Now what we need is some pragmatic thinking and a reasonable approach to transportation planning. When that approach is taken the public will willingly get behind those initiatives.

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Contributor: Bob Gualtieri for Pinellas County Sheriff

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