After nearly four hours the crowd had thinned, but there were still plenty of people left in the gallery to watch the Escambia County Commission pass a four cent gas tax on a 4-1 vote. It was a predictable move, follow-through on a decision made during last week’s meeting.
“Just shut up and vote,” said Commissioner Kevin White a few minutes before the tax was passed.
White was the lone dissenting vote. The outgoing commissioner said he had never voted for a tax increase and passed on doing so the last day of his term.
The rest of the commission haggled over details—county staff has committed to looking for a way to cut an equivalent $1.15 million from ad valorem—but ultimately approved the gas tax in an effort to have a dedicated funding source for Escambia County Area Transit, the area’s mass transit system. The tax will not take effect until January 2014.
“It’s news that we’re moving in the right direction,” Mike Lowery, head of the ECAT employees union, said after the public hearing.
The public hearing drew a chamber full, public anxious to weigh in. The room was about evenly split, for and against, issuing the tax.
Proponents told the commission the mass transit system was an important area asset that deserved a dedicated source of funding, while those against the tax argued that they shouldn’t have to bear the burden at the pump for funding such a service. One man said that government should not act as “Robin Hood.”
“I’m not a socialistic person,” Commission Chairman Wilson Robertson said prior to the vote. “I’m a conservative Republican, but I believe in helping the less fortunate and we need mass transit.”