Dade County commissioners have backed a November 12 referendum for a one-cent sales tax that would genereate about $160 million a year for transportation projects.

According to Commissioner Arthur Teele, the tax increase would provide a bondable source of revenue needed to fund long-term expansion of the Miami-area county's bus and rail system.

Commissioner Teele is also urguing a massive program of long-term capital improvements for roads, bridges, sidewalks, parks, and beaches. Officials supporting the tax increase say the county is $9 billion short of funding for necessary transportation improvements between now and 2010.

The action by the county's Metro Commission on June 20 came two days after the commission placed a half-penny tax for Jackson Memorial Hospital on the Sept. 3 ballot. The tax would provide $60 million a year for the hospital and $20 million a year for general government operations.

At the June 18 meeting the council also asked voters to approve fundamental changes in the structure of the county's government.

Under the plan, Dade County -- which encompasses Miami -- would be reconfigured as 13 single member districts, allowing for substantial gains in the representation of Hispanics and blacks who make up 70% of the county population. Currently, eight commissioners and a mayor are elected on a countywide basis.

The restructuring plan would also increase mayoral power, granting the mayor the right to veto most legislation and to appoint a county manager. The mayor's duties are now limited to presiding at meetings and naming committees.

If both the transportation tax and the tax for the county's only public hospital passes, sales levies would be increased 7 1/2% in the county.

Last September, Miami-area voters rejected a plan to raise taxes by one cent, with proceeds used to fund general improvements. Supporters of the two tax increases this year believe they can increase their chances of passage by earmarking proceeds for specific projects.

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