Jack Latvala: The Elephant in the Room

A Latvala Power Trip To Seasons 52 in Tampa

By Jim Bleyer

The aura of power, if not power itself, was on full display Monday at a workshop for the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) board of directors.

Senate Bill 1672, which would create an umbrella transit authority over four counties, cast a not-so-subtle pall over the discussion.  The bill was introduced four days before the 2016 session by State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, the upper chamber’s Appropriations Chairman.

The game-changing proposal never came up during pre-session legislative delegation meetings in any if the four counties affected: Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, and Manatee.

Judging from their public comments, all but two board members–City Commissioner Mike Suarez and County Commissioner Stacy White–equivocated their opposition to Latvala’s proposal which would strip authority from local officials and, by extension, the electorate.

Suarez noted the regional entity would not have any underlying authority to raise revenue and that most of the 13 members would be appointed by the Governor, President of the Senate, and Speaker of the House.

White asserted that local government needs a strong voice, adding that the populations of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties have firmly rejected an increased sales tax for mass transit.  “The more questions we ask about this bill, the better off we’ll be,” he said.

Despite the resevations, the verdict from the board was to “play nice” due to the powerful position of the bill’s sponsor.

County Commissioner Les Miller, HART chairman who is in Tallahassee today to learn more about the bill, foresaw a slew of amendments attached to it.

“There will be so many amendments that Jack Latvala won’t recognize it when it gets to the floor,” Miller said.

The proposed composition of the new board was nettlesome.  The bill specifies “business” people as a qualifier for the appointments from Tallahassee.  There is also no provision for proportional representation based on county population.

Word today from Tallahassee is that the amendment process forecast by Miller has already begun.  The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee reduced the number of appointees from the Speaker and Senate President from two each to one each.

Tampa Bay Beat was in Tallahassee last week discussing the bill with legislators and analysts.  Most observed the bill was filed under the radar without a public hearing in any of the four counties and all opined that the probability of passage is slim.




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