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Community Investment Tax heads back to Hillsborough voters, with a reduced school share

Raymond James Stadium
Visit Tampa Bay
Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was built with proceeds from the Community Investment Tax.

An extension to a half-cent sales tax that has been in place for nearly 30 years will go before the voters in November in Hillsborough County. But it also reduces the amount that would go to the county's public schools.

Hillsborough County Commissioners voted 5-2 to approve a 15-year extension to the Community Investment Tax, with the proportion for schools reduced from 25% to 5%.

Commissioner Harry Cohen said previous proposals to hike that number failed, so this was the highest they could get. He said the school board did not ask to keep that proportion at 25%.

“The schools came and saw us and actually told us what their needs were. And that quantified out to about 6.5%,” Cohen said. “So by giving them 5%, we're still getting them 75% of the way to where they need to be.”

Commissioner Pat Kemp voted no on the proposal, who said "our schools have been perpetually, starvingly underfunded."

But her proposals to ramp up the proportion going to public schools died for a lack of a second. 

The half-cent sales tax was initially approved by voters in 1996 and helped fund school and road construction and the building of Raymond James Stadium.

But a proposal by Commissioner Joshua Wostal to prohibit any new money for sports facilities was rejected by commissioners.

“I don't believe for a moment that anyone would realize that they're voting to tax themselves for audio-video and technology infrastructure improvement to a public facility,” he said. "So I believe in the complete prohibition of use for funding of these toward professional sports teams."

Commissioner Ken Hagan said the original tax proposal obligates the county to keep the stadium up to National Football League standards. That includes more than $135 million to pay for new audio-visual screens over the next five years - and a half-billion dollars over the next 20 years.

If the tax is approved by Hillsborough voters, the county estimates that in its first year, an estimated $167 million in new revenue would be generated. That would rise to $206 million in fiscal year 2028.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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