Discussion on creative ways to fund transit to take place next week in St. Pete

The Metropolitan Planning Organization Advisory Council (MPOAC) has been advocating allowing cities to be able to hold their own referendums. But the Florida League of Cities has yet to embrace the idea, and so the idea of having any state legislators prepare such a bill has gone nowhere for next year's session has gone nowhere.

Tampa City Councilman Mike Suarez, who serves on the HART board and the HIllsborough MPO, says he hasn't found much enthusiasm about the proposal amongst the state legislators that he's talked to about the idea.

"When you're talking about trying to pass something through the Legislature, you gotta have somebody locally that's willing to do it, even though it would affect a statewide constituency," he told CL Wednesday afternoon.

At Tuesday's MPO meeting there was a discussion about a possible swap out, with property taxes being used instead of a sales tax to pay for transit, but Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller put a damper on that idea, saying it would never fly in Tallahassee, where he represented Tampa for 14 years in the House and Senate.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe says he would hope that Tallahassee would support allowing metro areas to deal with issues that are different than suburban communities. But he says that can't happen until "we change the conversation." He says that conversation has to center on allowing citizens to tax themselves, and not for the state government to make those decisions.

City Councilman Mike Suarez says the problem for Hillsborough County is there simply isn't money available to expand services. That's why he said he's looking forward to a discussions scheduled for next Wednesday, September 19 in St. Petersburg.

It's called "Thinking Outside the Farebox: Creative Approaches to Financing Transit Projects" and will feature U.S. Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary John Porcari. It will be held at the Valpak Auditorium in St. Petersburg.

Suarez says he's looking forward to the presentation.

"We've got a North/South Metro Rapid system. We don't have money for the East/West side yet, so we're kind of stuck in a time warp where we need to wait for another source of regular revenue in order to go forward."

Some of the myriad complaints about Tampa's hosting of the Republican National Convention involved a lack of decent transportation. With a majority of the GOP delegates housed in hotels in Pinellas County, many delegates were in no mood to wander around Tampa by the time their buses delivered them to the Tampa Bay Times Forum for the three days of political activities inside the air-conditioned hall.

While Pinellas County's transit agency and county commissioners are close to deciding on putting up a ballot measure regarding light rail within the next year, the subject is a dead one in Tampa/Hillsborough County.

In fact, the only discussions that have surfaced regarding a possible revival of a transit referendum is about lobbying the state legislature to pass a bill that would allow cities to hold their own tax referendums. Current state law only allows counties to place such measures on their ballot.

The idea is that if such a law were enacted, the city of Tampa could vote to put their own transit measure on the ballot. Though the 2010 light-rail tax went down to a huge defeat in Hillsborough County, it actually was successful in both Tampa and Temple Terrace.

The problem with this talk is it really hasn't gone too far.

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