Sierra Club on county’s proposed sales tax increase: better growth policies and other transportation solutions should come first.
Tampa Bay Sierra Club offers an intelligent, informed assessment of Hillsborough County’s proposal to increase the sales tax to pay mainly for road improvements with relatively little for mass transit.
Tampa Bay Sierra Club Statement on Proposed Sales Tax
Hillsborough County must address our long ignored transportation troubles. We cannot meet the challenges of today or provide solutions for tomorrow without policies that control sprawl and create smart, sustainable growth. Sprawling development inflates the costs of infrastructure, especially roads. For decades, our county failed to control and direct growth. The result was bad for communities, bad for the environment and disastrous for transportation.
Yet even as we struggle to overcome a legacy of sprawl, the County is considering expansion of the Urban Service Area to bring roads, water, sewer, fire, police and other services to the Manatee County line. Every expansion puts every solution to our transportation problems further out of range. Already inside the Urban Service Area we have 20,000 foreclosed “zombie” homes sitting empty, more than twice that many vacant lots, and more than 45,000 acres of available land. Hillsborough County should not expand the Urban Service Area.
While Pasco County collects about 65% of the cost of transportation infrastructure through development fees, Hillsborough recovers less than 15%, leaving taxpayers make up the difference. Hillsborough County taxpayers provide an average subsidy exceeding $10,000 for every new house. Before asking for a sales tax increase, Hillsborough County should require new development to pay its own way.
The local option five cent gas tax adopted by Pasco, Manatee and almost half the counties in Florida would raise $25 million annually here, enough to cover the cost of our road maintenance. Hillsborough County should adopt the five cent gas tax to pay for road maintenance.
Every sustainable solution must include a dramatically improved public transportation system. Cars and roads alone are the most expensive alternative. Whether or not the proposed new sales tax revenue would be sufficient to create a viable public transportation system is uncertain.
Critically needed reforms require no referendum. The Sierra Club of Tampa Bay urges the Hillsborough County Commission to change development policy, increase development fees and adopt the local option gas tax before pursuing a sales tax increase.
Tampa Bay Sierra Club has been working with Hillsborough County representatives, in a series of meetings, to help the County solve our transportation problems.
“We would rather see a good referendum proposal succeed than see a bad referendum fail,” says Tampa Bay Sierra Club’s Chair, Kent Bailey, stating that the group will continue working with the county, hoping to achieve a proposal they can support.