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A Hillsborough transportation sales tax referendum will be on the November ballot

Traffic on highway

The 1% increase would go toward county roads and mass transit.

A referendum to raise Hillsborough County's sales tax will be put before the voters in November.

County commissioners approved the referendum Wednesday night by a 5-2 vote on party lines, with the Democratic majority voting in favor.

The 1% increase would go to the county's roads and mass transit, primarily dedicated bus lanes.

If the 1% sales tax hike passes in November, the 30-year tax is estimated to raise $342 million in its first year. Nearly half would go to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority. The county and the cities of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City would divide the rest.

Backers say it will help fight gridlock. But opponents say it would mainly help Tampa, with little benefit to rural parts of the county.

During a public hearing, resident Gerald White said low-income people don't have the same opportunities to get to jobs across the county without having to change buses multiple times.

"Solve the transportation problem in Hillsborough County that is out of control," White told commissioners. "I voted for the previous tax, I'm ready to vote for the next one."

Voters approved a similar sales tax in 2018. But after a court challenge by Commissioner Stacy White, the state Supreme Court nullified it, saying public officials should control where the money is sent.

During the public hearing, Charlotte Greenbarg of Lutz spoke against the tax.

"A sales tax is not appropriate because it is a very regressive tax," she said. "It makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. We still don't have the money that was collected illegally in 2018."

Hillsborough voters are already facing aproperty tax referendum for schoolsin August as well.

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