Pinellas transportation task force wants vote on rail tax, but not until 2012

Commissioner Seel says that a study of potential rail corridors will not be completed until a year from now, and thus any recommendation before going to the BOCC in Pinellas will have to wait until 2012, since officials say they don't want to do what Hillsborough did this year, which was to push the plan before a specific route had been chosen.

In retrospect, folks at Moving Hillsborough Forward and other advocates may have been a bit arrogant about how that wasn't such a relevant factor.  Perhaps in other venues where the measure passed that was the case, but in 2010 asking citizens to tax themselves was a pretty large order.  Asking them to tax themselves for a plan that wasn't even specifically known was really challenging the electorate to take a large leap of faith.  As some elected officials have stated, it's now a different reality out there amongst the electorate, and it's not just the tea party folks raising cain.

Hillsborough officials haven't said for certain what's going to happen next.  We've been informed that Al Higgenbotham, the chair of the Hillsborough BOCC, has been requesting information from HART staffers as he tries to come up with some type of plan that doesn't require taxpayer buy in to address the transportation challenges that the county faces.  The issue will come up Wednesday at the BOCC's regular meeting.

We weren't at yesterday's  Pinellas County transportation task force meeting in Largo, so we're relying on accounts in today's Tampa Tribune by Ted Jackovics and the Times' Michael Van Sickler to give us the lowdown on what went down - which is that the task force endorsed a penny sales tax referendum to be voted on sometime between 2012 and 2013 by county voters.

Previously, there had been talk of putting up a measure in 2011, but obviously, realities changed in the wake of the transit tax going down to defeat last month in Hillsborough County, as task force chair Karen Seel admitted,

"(The defeat in Hillsborough) definitely quelled any enthusiasm for moving toward any date before 2012," said Pinellas County Commissioner Karen Seel, who chairs the task force. "To be honest, I don't think it would pass today in Pinellas County."

The Trib's Jackovics reported that of the 75 folks in attendance at the meeting, "a sizable contingent of whom identified themselves as part of a regional tea party movement that opposes rail initiatives."

The tea party folks have been seen all around town over the last year, at various forums and discussions group in Hillsborough county when it came to talking about the transit tax.

How much influence they had is hard to detect;  In Tampa, the measure actually passed, but it went down to crushing defeats outside the county, something that Hillsborough legislators like Jim Norman and Ronda Storms were predicting to CL months and months (in the case of Storms, over a year) before the vote.

Last night Orlando's controversial Doug Guetzloe,  of the statewide Ax The Tax fame that contributed dollars last year for an ad trying to bring down County Commissioner Mark Sharpe for his advocacy for the Hillsborough transit tax, issued a statement warning Pinellas County officials that they would be following their every move if they dared to go forward with a ballot referendum for a transit tax.

"The taxpayers of Hillsborough County have sent a strong message throughout Florida and the Tampa Bay region - no rail boondoggles," stated Doug Guetzloe, a fourth generation Tampa native who grew up in Clearwater and is the Founder and State Chairman of Ax the Tax. "We will be prepared for any attempt to resurrect this colossal waste of tax dollars on either side of the bay," Guetzloe concluded.

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