On election day, the voters of Hillsborough County, Florida (Tampa) will vote on a one-cent sales tax that would fund transit (75%) and roads (25%). Part of the funding would be used to build a new light rail line, which is the focus of campaigns on both sides.
The proponents are the usual well financed coalition of business, rail construction companies and consulting engineers, who could well profit from the program going forward.
The opposition, however, is unusual. It is a direct outgrowth of the growing citizen involvement from the TEA Party and 912 Project. These groups have broken new ground in raising general issues of government waste and public expenditure policy. This could be an important step toward balancing the spending proclivities of special interest groups with taxpayer interests in spending no more than is necessary to provide essential public services.
In Tampa, the rail opposition goes by multiple names, including "No Tax for Tracks" and Smartmoms. The more interesting of the terms is Smartmoms, or "Suburban Moms Against the Rail Tax." They might have just as accurately called themselves "Soccer Moms Against the Rail Tax," reflecting the demographic that has been so important in recent elections.
I recall being told by a disappointed former federal official that one of his greatest disappointments was to learn that there was no constituency for economic efficiency. This may be changing, if the developments in Tampa are any indicator.
I had the privilege of speaking at one of their rallies recently and wonder whether Tampa might represent a new birth of citizen questioning of large spending projects. Their revulsion at the "if we don’t take the federal money, Baltimore will" line of thinking was refreshing. One key to restoring a more prosperous America will be to minimize this mutual plunder, by which Washington seduces local areas to buy things they never would with their own money. A new day could be dawning.