In 2016, Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist did what he does best when faced with divisive issues.
He delayed taking a public position on the Go Hillsborough plan that would have put before voters a half-cent-per dollar sales increase to pay for badly needed transportation upgrades.
After the commission split 3-3 on what to do and Crist became the deciding vote, he turned thumbs down and killed the plan. He said then his vote was based on “simple, old-fashioned intuition.”
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn had another interpretation, telling the Tampa Bay Times in an email that night the commission’s vote was “a profile in cowardice.”
Here we are, 2 ½ years later, and there is another tax proposal called All For Transportation that has been in the news. It is already on the ballot because of a petition drive that sidestepped the commission’s roadblock. And it’s for a full penny increase instead of the half-cent.
Transportation is a hot topic for voters and politicians alike, which is why I’m guessing Crist’s simple, old-fashioned intuition now tells him he had better speak to the issue. That explains why his campaign for the District 5 countywide commission seat is stressing his “new plan” to finally address this glaring need.
And what would that “new plan” be?
A recent mailer says he will get Tallahassee and Washington to “send us our fair share of road money.”
Imagine, if you will, you are Mitch McConnell, Republican majority leader of the U.S. Senate.
“Senator, a Victor Crist is on the line.”
“He’s a county commissioner in Tampa.”
“He’s demanding we send the Hillsborough County its fair share of road money. No, seriously senator … I’ve never seen you laugh so hard.”
Another part of his new plan is “forcing developers to pay their fair share of road improvements when they develop, not after.”
Crist has been a county commissioner since 2010, so eight years might have been enough time to get around to this issue if he was really serious about doing so.
But as Crist himself noted in a recent Times story, "At the end of the day, whatever fees we charge are going to be passed onto the home buyer. Right now, we’re enjoying high sales volumes. That’s important in keeping the workforce moving forward."
That high sales volume means more people are moving here and putting more cars on overstuffed roads. Since he already established that Tallahassee and Washington are short-changing us, it would have been a good idea to have addressed these impact fees long before now.
We all know what’s happening though, don’t we?
Crist’s simple, old-fashioned intuition seems to be saying he is in the battle of his political life right now against Democrat Mariella Smith for that commission seat.
She has long advocated for a comprehensive approach to the county’s traffic problems.
Unlike Crist, she is not late to this party. Maybe Victor got stuck in traffic on the way.
One sure sign of concern, if not outright panic, is the recent mailer Crist and fellow County Commission candidate Todd Marks sent, shaded in Halloween orange with a graveyard theme, and declaring “Mudslinging Mariella Smith” and “Kooky Kim Overman” (Marks’ opponent) have some “spooky plans for Hillsborough County.”
When in doubt, resort to name calling and scare tactics.
Crist has painted himself into a political corner, though. For years here, the only things that seemed to matter to the County Commission were keeping taxes as low as possible and encouraging development no matter the impact.
As a two-term member of a body that has continually kicked transportation needs to the side whenever the no-tax crowd howled, Crist must share the blame for the problems we now face. You can’t have it both ways, although heaven knows he has made a career out of trying.
Too bad his simple, old-fashioned intuition didn’t tell him that before now.