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Manatee asks legislature to permit local tax vote for mass transit system

BRADENTON — If area residents want mass transit, they will need to help pay for it.

On Tuesday, the Manatee County Commission in an unanimous vote asked the Legislature for the right to have a referendum on raising the sales tax up to 1 cent to pay for mass transit.

Pasco County commissioners asked the other six counties in the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority district to support legislation to give non-charter counties the ability have voters decide if they want to be taxed for transit.

Commissioner Donna Hayes, who represents Manatee County on the TBARTA board, said it was a matter of fairness.

“This is something the charter counties have authority to do,” Hayes said after the meeting.

“TBARTA has achieved much since it was established in 2007,” she said.

“If Manatee County is to be part of the success, the money will have come from somewhere.”

Even if much of the funding comes from the federal government, there will be a need for matching funds, Hayes said.

“It will be up to the voters to decide if they want mass transit,” she said.

TBARTA consists of seven counties, Manatee, Sarasota, Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco, and Pinellas.

Sarasota, Hillsborough and Pinellas are charter counties, and because of that distinction have the authority to send the question of raising the sales tax to the voters.

Hayes’ counterpart in Pasco County, Commissioner Ann Hildebrand, spearheaded the effort when she asked her local state senator and representative to sponsor a bill giving non-charter counties the authority.

“TBARTA needs its own funding stream,” said Hildebrand. “This will add one more funding tool to the toolbox.”

She said the initial $2 million the Legislature provided when it established TBARTA in 2007 was being wisely spent, but will not last forever.

Providing all seven of the counties the same authority to go to referendum would be beneficial to promoting regional cooperation.

“We are one of the few metropolitan areas that does not have other transportation venues (besides the automobile),” Hildebrand said.