Hillsborough County Commissioners begin the process on a possible referendum on light rail today

Today Hillsborough County Commissioners are  scheduled to formally begin discussions on preparing ballot language for a one cent sales tax referendum for light rail, increased bus service, and improved roads.

But Commissioner Mark Sharpe now says that today the Board will simply hear from the County's Transportation Task Force, and the discussion on the language for the measure won't come until next month.

The discussion  comes two days after an estimated 300 people flocked to the Crowne Plaza hotel in Brandon for a transportation forum featuring the longtime Mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, Pat McCrory.

McCrory, a Republican who lost in his bid to be the Governor of North Carolina last fall, is the longest serving Mayor in Charlotte history. He made  his presentation "Mayberry & Metropolis: The Best of Both Worlds",  to the group that appeared to be pretty much in support of light rail.  And it was a good show, because McCrory is an energetic and enthusiastic communicator.

Looking over at Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard and Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, two of the strongest proponents of mass transit and Republicans (like McCrory) and told them their support could be considered akin to when Richard Nixon went to China in 1971, in terms of bucking their base.

Along with those two elected officials, Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio was there, where she she said the next year's campaign for the 1 cent sales tax measure (if the County votes for it) will face a lot of challenges, "but we will prevail, I have no doubt about that."  Iorio invoked , if not fear, dread at an unattractive landscape in teh Tampa Bay area, saying, "what will this area look like in 20-30 years if we don't have a light rail system?"

Iorio and Sharpe are two of the strongest of the area's backers for the referendum.  Also seen in the audience was Tampa City Councilman John Dingfelder, Pinellas County Commissioner Karen Seel, and former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik, now invested heavily in trying to win funding for a high speed rail system that would run from Tampa to Orlando.

During the Q&A session after McCrory's entertaining presentation, Turanchik asked one of the most cogent questions of the day: How specific was your plan to the voters?  McCrory said firmly, " Do not over promise to the citizenry."

He added that because economic conditions can fluctuate, it would not be wise to say things that can't be predicted.   And like everything he said , comes from his experience - there was a vote to recall the funding for the light rail system in 2007, but it went down to defeat.

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