Remember when the local politicians and the political action committee headed by Lee Perry, chairman of the Walton County Republican Party, were all gung-ho promoting we must have a Highway 331 bridge now or someone else will get the money?
Well, someone got the money anyway after Walton County voters were duped into voting themselves a $75 million (plus millions in interest) tax to make ransom payments for an un-needed bridge across the bay. DOT held Walton County hostage with a “no bridge, no 331 four lane” as their official position.
The (then) Board of County Commissioners succumbed to the threat and encouraged the idea of a tax to pay off a bridge debt. Other business and community leaders jumped onboard as well. They all failed to stand tall and demand fairness for the citizens of Walton County.
While the proponents of this insidious long term tax have been basking in the sun and patting themselves on their backs for the past several months, others have been quietly working to improve transportation projects throughout the Panhandle, all without a local tax or toll.
Yes, we may finally get a Highway 331 four lane from the bay to DeFuniak, but we will pay over $80 million in ransom to get it done! Only eight months ago, 3,666 voters showed up at the polls and said yes out of over 39,000 registered voters on the tax referendum. That was enough to vote in a half-cent sales tax to finance ransom payments.
As it turns out Walton County voters were hood-winked by the Florida Department of Transportation, the (then) Board of County Commissioners, and the political action committee.
This was in direct contrast to how Escambia politicians and leaders reacted when faced with a similar issue on a new bridge across Pensacola Bay. The Escambia BCC voted “no tax and no toll.” Period. And they were supported where it counted. They stood tall and firm and it paid off. There will be no tax or toll on their new bay bridge.
The bridge is scheduled to start construction within two years and may be completed well before the Highway 331 project is completed in Walton County.
Last week nearly $1 billion for transportation projects throughout the Florida Panhandle were announced. The state will fund these projects all the way! This includes a new $595 million bridge across Pensacola Bay, a four lane Highway 79 from Highway 98 to Bonifay through Washington and Holmes County, a new $126 million interchange in Panama City, and the list goes on and on. Not a single one of the projects have a tax or toll string attached except for Walton County
The newly constituted Board of County Commissioners now has a golden opportunity to show what true leadership is all about.
There is this little $75 million ransom problem that demands a full review, an explanation to the citizens of Walton County, a referendum to repeal the 1/2 cent sale tax, and a commitment by the Florida Department of Transportation they will correct their grievous error and fully fund the Hwy. 331 project.
J. B. Hillard