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Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn (L) and Florida Matters Carson Cooper (R) in the mayor's conference room, Tampa City Hall Annex.
Florida Matters: Newsmaker Mayor Bob Buckhorn

This week, Florida Matters brings you an exclusive interview with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. Host Carson Cooper traveled to Tampa City Hall to talk with the first-term mayor.

Buckhorn has been in office about a year. When he took over, the city was facing a $34 million deficit and is looking at a $30 million deficit for the coming fiscal year.

Yet, Buckhorn started his discussion about the budget with praise for his predecessor, Pam Iorio, who left the city with a $120 million rainy day fund, compared to the $20 million fund she inherited. Municipalities are highly dependent on property taxes for their main revenue and the recession and housing crisis have meant shrinking revenues and growing deficits.

“The property taxes and the value of our real estate has diminished so much that the amount of money that is coming into us has dropped 20 to 30 percent,” Buckhorn said.

Buckhorn plans to bolster the budget with revenues from the city’s new red-light cameras, but he told WUSF that money was not the reason for installing the system.

“Our rationale for putting those red-light cameras in is because red-light running in this city and this state is an epidemic and people are dying, dying as a result of people busting red lights,” Buckhorn said adding that he always counts to three after a light turns green before entering an intersection because he’s seen too many accidents.

During his tenure as mayor, Buckhorn has been vocal about the Tampa Bay Rays. He’s often said he won’t be the “boyfriend” who breaks up the marriage between the Rays and the City of St. Petersburg. However, he told WUSF, “I may be the pool guy though.”

Buckhorn stressed that he can’t interfere with the contract between St. Petersburg and the Rays. However, he also said that he other Tampa Bay leaders should be prepared if there was a split.

“I think we need to know what our options are,” Buckhorn said. “I think we need to know what Tampa, Tampa Bay could bring to the table financially.”

Speaking of finances, Buckhorn said the city will use a large portion of the $50 million from congress to hire, house and feed additional law enforcement officers to cover security for the Republican National Convention in August. Between the City of Tampa and Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, Buckhorn estimates they can deploy about 1,000 law officers.

“We are having to hire 3,000 additional law enforcement personnel from all over the state to assist us with this,” Buckhorn said. He believes the convention will be a defining moment for the city.

“I want people to come downtown. I want people to enjoy this experience. I want young people to experience democracy at the street level,” Buckhorn said. “Fifteen thousand journalists will be here talking about something. I want them to talk about all that’s good about Tampa not talk about the inconveniences or not listen to whining. I want to hear Tampa tell the world what a great place this is to invest.”

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