Transportation advocate: Cities like Jacksonville should spend more on infrastructure
By David Bauerlein
The Florida Times-Union.
January 5, 2012

Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown sat in a packed hotel ballroom Thursday with 500 other attendees hearing former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell’s rallying call for spending more on roads, rails, airports and seaports.

Brown agreed with Rendell’s goal but said in an interview after the speech he still opposes renewing the local 6-cent gas tax.

“I’m not interested in raising taxes or fees,” Brown said.

The Jacksonville Transportation Authority has said it needs the City Council to extend the tax, which raises about $28 million a year to subsidize the JTA bus operation and the Skyway. But Brown said the federal government “needs to do its part” paying for transportation projects.

Rendell, a frequent guest on political talk shows, spoke at the Hyatt Regency downtown during a two-hour forum hosted by JAX Chamber and Building America’s Future Education Fund.

Rendell co-founded Building America’s Future, a bipartisan coalition of elected officials whose self-described mission is to promote a “new era” in spending on transportation projects.

“Our infrastructure is falling behind,” Rendell said. “It’s falling behind because we’re not investing.”

He said China has taken the global lead in building a transportation network for the 21st century, pushing past the United States in using transportation spending to fuel economic growth.

He said Northeast Florida is ahead of most regions but needs a deeper channel to handle larger cargo ships coming to the East Coast after the Panama Canal is enlarged in 2014.

Brown introduced Rendell by saying the future of America and the Jacksonville area “will depend greatly on infrastructure.”

But Brown pledged as a mayoral candidate to oppose increasing taxes, including an extension of the 6-cent gas tax, which was created in 1986 by the City Council for road improvements but only for 10 years. Since then, the tax has been extended to 2016.

In an interview after his speech, Rendell said Building America’s Future doesn’t favor reducing gas taxes. He said when the economy improves, government should raise gas taxes.

“We’ve got to start doing big projects again and big things again,” he said. “We can’t shy away from them. That’s what made America great.”, (904) 359-4581