Hillsborough Commissioners approve ballot language for transit tax

County Commissioner Al Higginbotham's suggestion that the word "increase" be listed in the title of the referendum was not seconded.

The board's vote was preceded by a short presentation by county administrator Mike Merill, who consulted with officials from Goldman Sachs on how the financing of transit projects in Denver and Houston have gone.  He said in both cases costs had exceeded initial expectations, and because of that he suggested that the board accept ballot language that would remove the explicit 75%/25% split, allowing for more flexibility in moving forward (That option was the one favored by HART, Mayor Pam Iorio and Commissioner Mark Sharpe) .

Before Ferlita discussed her proposal, she made sure to call out St. Petersburg Times editorial writer John Hill and his wife, Times columnist Sue Carlton.  The commissioner said she "appreciated the honorable mention Mr. and Mrs. John Hill" wrote in their columns this morning, specifically quoting a Times editorial that she was "all over the map" in reviewing the different proposals last week.  "I'm all over the research," she retorted.

The passage from the Times editorial that offended Ferlita was this:

Ferlita needs to decide what she stands for and commission Chairman Ken Hagan needs to start calling the vote. There is clearly political value in having as many board Republicans as possible behind the referendum. But Ferlita is all over the map. She questions details that have been asked and answered. She floats conspiracy theories. She complains the process is being rushed — then drops new ballot language on her colleagues at the 11th hour.

There is still much work to go for the Commissioners on the issue.  Ferlita said she wants to closely examine the all important Interlocal Agreement between the county and Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City.  There also remains the issue of what road projects will be picked to be funded in that 25% of the referendum, if it does in fact pass in November.

By a 5-2 vote, Hillsborough County Commissioners have approved ballot language that will go before voters for a one cent sales tax transit referendum in November.

The board approved a revision to two earlier drafts that was proposed by Commissioner Rose Ferlita, who was mocked by some in the press for her deliberations at last week's discussion. Commissioners had deadlocked at 3-3 on whether or not to include the 75%-25% split of rail and bus projects vs. road projects into the ballot language itself, after Ferlita suggested a third option.

That option would make explicit the 75/25 split, but would also reword the language so that it would begin by referencing the tax first, followed up by the actual transit project.  She said that language would echo how the 1996 Community Investment Tax was worded. 

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