Although light rail was rejected by Hillsborough County voters when the issue came before them in 2010, citizens in Tampa and Temple Terrace did support the referendum, which would have raised the sales tax in the county by a penny.
Since then there has been virtually no talk at all at the board level about recommitting to such a proposal anytime soon, frustrating Mayor Bob Buckhorn and other Tampa officials who believe the city could do something on its own on transportation if it were allowed to do so by state law.
That's why Buckhorn has talked about having the Legislature sponsor a bill that would allow the state's biggest cities to place sales tax referendums before the voters, something that currently only counties are allowed to do in the Sunshine State.
But one member of the Hillsborough County delegation, state Representative Dana Young, says she wants no part of giving big-city mayors that authority.
"I always have heartburn anytime the issue of taxation comes up," Young told CL on Monday.
Although the legislation that the mayor advocates would place the power of raising taxes directly with the local citizenry, Young says she would need a lot more information before she could feel comfortable with the idea.
Instead, the Republican lawmaker says the the focus should be on trying to get All Aboard Florida to look toward constructing a high-speed rail line to Tampa. That's the name of the plan being put together by Florida East Coast Industries (FECI), a privately owned consortium working on operating and maintaining intercity passenger rail service between Orlando and Miami that is scheduled to begin in 2015.
Initial reports had FECI looking at adding Tampa to a 230-mile route that is expected to include Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and the Orlando airport. The company has declined comment about its plans once the Miami-Orlando line is built.
"What a great scenario," Young gushes when contemplating the idea. "Privately funded, privately operated, privately maintained, and yet Tampa benefits."
Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe hosted a meeting in Tampa in October that included a discussion about what it would take to connect Tampa to All Aboard Florida. As the Tampa Bay Business Journal reported last month, there have been concerns raised about Tampa being bypassed in the first phase of All Aboard. The story, written by Mark Holan, noted that one reason Tampa might lose out is the fact there is no mass transit system already in place here.
But Representative Dana Young says all hands should be on deck right now to persuade All Aboard to add its rail line to Tampa. "That is what we need to be focused on is attracting them," she says. "Then whatever happens after that, at least it will integrate into that system."
Young sided with Rick Scott back in 2011 when the governor rejected approximately $2.4 billion in federal funds to help construct a high-speed rail line that would run between Tampa and Orlando. Scott said at the time that he was worried Florida would ultimately be on the hook for cost overruns.
Though Scott's move was extremely unpopular in the Tampa Bay area, Young agreed then and still does today. She says "ultimately my belief was that the state would have ended up paying a significant share of that project," and cites the troubles California is having right now with its high-speed rail project.
Last month a judge in California blocked that state’s access to billions of dollars in bonds it needs to build the 520-mile rail line that would run from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The L.A. Daily News reports that the project had been mocked as a “train to nowhere” because the state had only enough funding to build about 120 miles of track, from the Fresno-Madera area to the northern outskirts of Bakersfield.
Mayor Buckhorn tells today's Tampa Bay Times that he intends to lobby state lawmakers once again to consider a bill that would allow cities the opportunity to place sales tax referendums on the ballot. But if Young's sentiments are any indication, he may have a tough time in gaining any traction at all on the proposal.