Hillsborough MPO Chair on possible rail measure: Very unlikely a county wide referendum will ever pass

In April, the MPO called on the Hillsborough legislative delegation to support a change in state law that would allow large cities in Florida to hold referendums for their own constituents.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn supports the idea, and Chiaramonte said officials are actively trying to recruit a local legislator to try to approve the measure in Tallahassee next year.

In his nearly hour-long presentation Chiaramonte sounded pessimistic about having county voters support a tax on anything anytime soon, and said that if 1950s-era president Dwight Eisenhower were attempting to build the Interstate Highway system now, he'd be out of luck.

"Eisenhower couldn't build that in this climate. Now is not the time for gigantic, huge projects," he said.

He said that after listening in on over a dozen individual focus groups, he says most people in the county have no idea how transportation is funded.

Tampa City Councilman Mike Suarez said he agreed that large public works projects aren't going to happen anytime in the future. He said the 2010 ballot measure lost because of bad timing and the fact that it was a poor plan. "We have to be a little smarter on this," he said.

Chiaramonte said that the focus groups revealed that most voters look at the issue through the prism of their own needs and how it will affect them — not necessarily an original thought, but one that is magnified when you hear people discussing transportation.

Speaking of Hillsborough County, the MPO executive director said he's never lived in a major metropolitan area with only three cities in it. "67 percent of our people live in the unincorporated areas," he said.

HART board member Dr. Steven Polzin said there is a clear difference between what people want in Tampa and what they want in the rest of the county, and said it's difficult to bridge that gap.

While transportation officials continue to review what went wrong in 2010 and how a potential measure might be successful in the future, Pinellas County officials are moving ahead to possibly put a measure on the ballot in 2013 that would help fund light rail.

  • Ray Chiaramonte

It's been nearly two years since the referendum on a transit tax to help fund the beginning of a light-rail line in Hillsborough County failed at the polls, and local leaders in Tampa show no inclination to bring the issue back anytime soon.

Despite criticism of how poorly the campaign was run in support of the measure, local officials have never forgotten that the measure did pass in Tampa and Temple Terrace, two of the county's three cities that are incorporated in Hillsborough (the other is Plant City).

But after reviewing a series of focus groups of local citizens on the 2010 referendum, Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization executive director Ray Chiaramonte told the HART board on Monday that it's "very unlikely a county wide referendum will pass" in the future.

Chiaramonte said that historically it's been cities that have approved such ballot measures, not counties, and he predicted that the regional sales tax measure in the 10-county Atlanta region would be rejected by the voters last week in Georgia (which it was, overwhelmingly).

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