Tampa to lobby lawmakers for city-wide tax hike for transportation

City wants to raise taxes without county input

TAMPA - Dennis Trujillo cherishes the time he spends with his family and kids, especially after a day at work.  But the traffic keeps cutting down his family time as the commute continues to get longer.

"It takes me an hour to get home," Trujillo said.  "Literally an hour to get from downtown St. Pete to Tampa."

Trujillo voted for a one-cent sales tax increase to help pay for light rail and other transit improvements, only to see it soundly defeated by Hillsborough County voters.

"Florida's one of the worst public transportation states I've been to," Trujillo said.  "If you go to San Francisco, New York, in cities that are growing, it helps a lot to have public transportation."

Just because Hillsborough County voters rejected the sales tax increase for transportation two years ago doesn't mean the city of Tampa should give up on the idea.  That's the message from Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who's leading the charge to convince state lawmakers to allow Tampa to hold a citywide referendum to increase the sales tax.

In 2010, the one-penny sales tax measured failed, mostly because voters outside of Tampa's city limits didn't see the need.

"I haven't heard too many people saying this is a huge issue, this is a problem, this is a safety hazard," said Beth Calhoun, a Lutz resident.  "I haven't seen that at this point in time."

The division in lifestyles is one reason to change the law, according to Buckhorn.  He and other mayors of Florida's biggest cities support the idea of home rule regarding tax increases.

Jim Davis, a former democratic congressman who supported the previous referendum, said the Republican National Convention showed many politicians, Republican and Democrat, that Tampa needs a better transit system.

"A lot of people who attended this convention left with the conviction that we need to do a better job of moving people around," Davis said.  "For our own quality of life, and if we're going to grow and attract more jobs."

But changing state law with a Republican-controlled legislature that's staunchly anti-tax will be difficult at best, highly unlikely at worst.

Still, Davis said lawmakers should recognize that the choice belongs to the voters.

"We're not asking anybody in Tallahassee to raise our taxes," Davis said.  "We're simply saying give us the opportunity to make that choice here."

Buckhorn's office is working on lobbying the Tampa Bay legislative delegation in hopes of finding a sponsor for the bill, which would allow other cities in Florida besides Tampa to offer tax referendums without input from county voters.

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