Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Self Preservation or Playing Politics with the County Charter

On the Consent Agenda (where the commissioners rubber stamp approvals) of tomorrow's BOCC meeting is this item:
Authorize the County Attorney's Office to Schedule and Advertise a Public Hearing for May 2, 2018 at 10:00 AM, for the purpose of adopting an ordinance to amend the County Charter to require that amendments to the charter be effective upon approval by a 60% vote of the electors.  Other than the cost to publish required legal notices, adoption of this Ordinance will have no impact on the FY 18 Adopted Budget.
At the last Hillsborough County BOCC meeting on April 4, 2018, Commissioner Miller put an item on the agenda asking for a draft ordinance proposing a Charter amendment that future Charter amendments require 60% super majority to pass. The original motion at that meeting by Miller excluded citizen-led initiatives which would remain at 50%. The motion was amended that ALL charter amendments require 60% super majority. That amendment passed with Kemp, Miller and Hagan voting NO and Murman, White, Crist and Higginbotham voting YES.

Miller's proposed charter amendment ordinance was coincidentally made at the same last BOCC meeting that Commissioner Higginbotham placed an item on the agenda proposing the 5 Constitutionals elected positions be changed to non-partisan.
Direct the County Attorney's Office to bring back a draft Ordinance on May 2, 2018 proposing an amendment to the Hillsborough County Charter to make the five constitutional officers elected on a non-partisan basis, and to request the Supervisor of Elections to place the referendum on the November 6, 2018 General Election ballot. (Commissioner Higginbotham)
Higginbotham's proposal was rejected 4-3 with White, Kemp, Crist and Miller voting NO and Hagan, Murman and Higginbotham voting YES. All citizens who showed up to make a public comment on this item were opposed to this proposal. No one showed up to speak in favor of it.

And coincidentally at the same last BOCC meeting, Commissioner Pat Kemp put a proposed term limit item on the agenda. She proposed a change to the Charter that county commissioner terms be limited to no more than ten consecutive years of service. Commissioner Sandy Murman subsequently tried to make an amendment to Kemp's proposal to include changing the Charter from the current 4 single and 3 countywide districts to 7 or 9 single districts. That motion died for lack of a second but Murman said she would bring it back at a future time.

Kemp's original motion asking for language for an ordinance to change the Charter for 10 year term limits was watered down to directing staff to bring back to the next Board meeting a report reviewing all possibilities, including 10, 12, and 18 year term limits; the impact on current Board member terms; and Board members serving in single-member and Countywide districts. 

Read the transcript of the commissioners discussion on this agenda item here. A lot of self preservation was on display.

Commissioner White wanted to prohibit the clock being reset so that years already served would count toward the term limit but that failed for lack of a second. (Self preservation kicked in….)

The County Attorney then said any term limit changes would reset the clock. Really? 

It is mid April with the mid term election just over 6 months away and this commission is now proposing some major changes to the County Charter for the November ballot. If all these changes are so important, where have these commissioners been - since the last election in 2016? 

The Hillsborough County Charter was approved by voters in 1983. In 35 years only a handful of charter amendments passed in 2002, 2004, 2012. That is quite different from the abuse that has occurred using Amendments to the State Constitution that should have been passed by legislation instead of being codified in the State Constitution. We all can recall the pregnant pigs amendment in 2002. The class room size amendment passed in 2002 52-48% BEFORE the 60% super majority amendment was passed 58-42% in 2006. The repeal of the classroom size amendment failed 55-45 in 2010 AFTER the 60% super majority was in place even though more voters voted to repeal it than initially approved it. Though there are these instances, we believe the 60% super majority required for State Amendments is good.

Is a 60% super majority for all county charter amendments good or necessary? Some of the County Charter changes were housekeeping items. It takes a super majority of 5 commissioners to put a Charter amendment ordinance on the ballot - unlike tax hike referendums that only need a simple majority of 4 to get on the ballot.

A question asked at the April 4th meeting is whether this charter amendment would affect any other referendum that could go before voters. The County Attorney responded that this proposal only affects amendments to the Charter not referendums that state statute has authorized. 

The problem in Hillsborough County is not with Charter amendments but with unnecessary sales tax hike referendums. Tax hike, revenue raising referendums should require a 60%. This would help reign in pursuing unnecessary sales tax hikes as the primary go to means advocated for by special interests that benefit them. This would help force more fiscal due diligence within existing budgets, especially as revenues are naturally increasing due to growth and rising property values. 

Unfortunately, it was very noticeable that almost all the county commissioners do not want super majorities required for tax hikes.

The State can fix that problem The State needs to change Florida Statute 212.055 that authorizes discretionary sales surtaxes to require approval by 60% super majority of the electors in the county.

Yes - the process to put a proposed 60% super majority for all county Charter Amendments can be met even at this late date for ballot initiatives to be approved by August to be on the November ballot. We are already anticipating the state Constitution Revision Commission putting numerous State Amendments on the November ballot that may create enough chaos and confusion.

But are all these proposals political expediency? Something smells a bit when these proposals for major charter amendments suddenly appear at the same BOCC meeting this late in an election cycle. Four county commission seats have races in November and four incumbent county commissioners have filed to run again. But the commission may change with new members after November.

If the proposed amendments are so good, are needed, or are necessary, pursue them for the 2020 ballot during a Presidential election year when the most local voters turn out. 

The county commissioners should not be playing politics or pursuing self preservation with the County Charter.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Dysfunction or Deception: Road Diets & 60 Foot Buses on Gulf Blvd

Since Greenlight Pinellas failed in 2014 and Go Hillsborough failed in 2016, FDOT in Tampa Bay has been doling out millions and millions for more transit studies like it's Christmas candy.

For the moment at least, the strategy has changed to pursuing individual transit projects instead of going after some massive grand transit plan that have consistently failed in Tampa Bay. Pursuing individual projects enables projects to proceed more stealthily under the radar of public scrutiny.

It is all about getting a pot of federal transit money - at a time when transit ridership is declining, vehicle ownership is increasing, vehicle miles travelled is increasing, innovation is disrupting traditional transit and less than 2% use transit in Tampa Bay.

Only government can be so out of touch with reality. This is why the transportation issue in Tampa Bay has become so dysfunctional.

The transit project in this new scheme that is the furthest along is PSTA's Central Avenue BRT (CA BRT) in Pinellas County. This is the catalyst of the catalyst project. It is in the federal funding spigot pipeline and has been rated by the FTA. It appears this project got this far with little public scrutiny and probably not enough transparency.

We'll start shining a bright light on what the CA BRT project is and the process used to further it.

Do not forget that PSTA was caught in 2014 abusing federal transit security funds by using those funds on advertising for Greenlight Pinellas. Due to this deception, PSTA was forced to hand back $345K dollars to the Feds. Wonder if the FTA knows that?

PSTA submitted their Federal Small Starts application for the Central Avenue BRT to the FTA  September 7, 2017. Small Starts projects must have a total estimated capital cost of $300 million or less and must be seeking less than $100 million from the feds.

The name Central Avenue BRT (CA BRT) is a misnomer because the route actually runs on First Avenue North and South. The existing Central Avenue trolley route continues business as usual.

The CA BRT is a 22 mile long route from downtown St. Petersburg to the Don Cesar at St. Pete Beach. To meet the federal qualification that greater than 50% of the route must use a dedicated lane, this project uses a road diet that takes away 13 miles of general purpose lanes along First Avenue North, First Avenue South and Pasadena Avenue in Pinellas County.
PSTA CA BRT 22 mile route from downtown St. Pete to the Don Cesar
According to the Small Starts Application submitted to the FTA in September 2017 (emphasis mine):
Along the entire length of 1st Avenue North and 1st Avenue South, and along Pasadena Avenue from Central Avenue to Huffman Way, one general purpose lane will be converted to a Business Access and Transit (BAT) lane that will be used by only buses and turning vehicles. Along 1st Avenue North, the BAT lane will run on the left side of the road with island stations for boarding on the right. Along 1st Avenue South, the alignment runs on the left side of the road in a BAT lane with island stations for boarding on the right between Pasadena Avenue and 20th Street. East of 20th Street, the alignment transitions to right side running. Along Pasadena Avenue, the BAT lane will run on the right side of the road. In total, the BAT lanes will comprise 13 miles of the 22-mile alignment.
While First Avenues North and South are local roads, Pasadena Avenue aka 66th Street is a State Road. Pinellas County has responsibility over their local roads. Why is FDOT allowing a road diet  taking out a general purpose lane of traffic on a state road? When the Corey Causeway draw bridge is open, traffic gets backed up for quite some way and can take a long time to clear.  Imagine the bigger traffic backup mess created when the Corey Causeway draw bridge goes up and traffic is even worse because a general lane of traffic leading to it has been taken out.

Qualifying for federal funds requires committed local funding for both capital and a long term funding source for operating and maintenance costs. According to PSTA's CA BRT Financial Plan submitted to the FTA (page 5), the capital cost of the CA BRT is estimated at $41.36 million (in 2019 dollars) and PSTA is asking for $20.36 million (49.2%) from the Feds. The chart below is included in PSTA's submittal to the FTA last September.
PSTA CA BRT capital funding plan provided to FTA

Page 6 of the Financial Plan states:
The City is currently in negotiations with PSTA regarding financial support of the BRT project for both capital and operations.
What is so striking is the City of St. Pete Beach has never taken any action, has never voted on or approved to "plan" or "commit" $1.5 million to the capital costs or provide operational funding for the CA BRT. PSTA went to the St. Pete Beach city council in October 2016 requesting financial support for the project but no action was taken by the council. PSTA has never gone back to St. Pete Beach since October 2016. There is no evidence of ongoing negotiations between PSTA and St. Pete Beach.

This is no small mistake so why did PSTA include such misleading information in their September 2017 Small Starts application submittal to the FTA? Is PSTA being deceptive again? This question deserves an answer - especially in light of what PSTA did pursuing Greenlight.

The CA BRT project will put 60 foot buses with four stops and no bus bays on the narrow congested Gulf Blvd. This service is in addition to the existing Jolly Trolley that runs along Gulf Blvd and the Central Ave Trolley. 
PSTA 60 foot bus on narrow, congested Gulf Blvd
with 4 stops & no bus bays in addition to Jolly Trolley
The project will also eliminate 231 parking spaces in St. Petersburg.

The documentation PSTA submitted to the FTA in September 2017 for this project stated it had gone through an extensive public involvement process. The Eye has attempted to get information regarding such extensive effort and the data captured from it from PSTA. To date, we have only received this list of public involvement events.
PSTA's list of CA BRT public involvement events

Is this considered "extensive" outreach?

Of the 39 events attended by 462 attendees, most were meetings with elected officials,  the bureaucracy and special interests.

Where are the sign in sheets and the data captured from the meetings? Were surveys done? If so, where's the data captured from those surveys? Do all the residents and businesses along the route know about this project and its impact?  What were all the communication vehicles PSTA used to inform the public and capture feedback, emails, newsletters, letters, social media, from their website, etc.? Where is the information captured from that communication?

All the data and information captured from public involvement are public records The information should be either accessible by the public or easily accessible to provide to anyone who requests it.

We have talked to people in Pinellas County who are unaware of the project and certainly do not know about the road diets and putting 60 foot buses on Gulf Blvd.

We can bet most, including those most directly impacted, those who live in St. Pete Beach and probably those who live in S. Pasadena, do not know about this project or what it is doing.

It is time they do.

More to come about this project and PSTA.

Stay tuned!

Friday, March 16, 2018

Bed Tax fund takes a hit, and TBARTA gets $1 million

New tax bill allows bed tax to be spent on transportation and gives TBARTA $1 million.

St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
In Search of Robin, So You Want to Blog.
In a last-minute move Senator Jeff Brandes R of St. Petersburg managed to get some transportation language added in the tax cut bill approved by the State Legislature.
You can get some addition detail in a Tampa Bay Times Editorial: Editorial: 2 smart transportation investments for Tampa Bay.
The editorial goes on to point out that the Legislature also included $1 million in the 2018-2019 that would be used by the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit authority to produce a “regional transit development plan” for the Tampa Bay area.
Raiding the bed tax, which is primarily used to develop tourism, the bay area's largest income steam, is generally a bad idea. Although the language in the legislation provides some safeguards, unless there is a significant oversight, you can bet this will become a honey trough for the light-rail hogs.
The thought of getting their fingers on some of that bed tax money probably has a number of local politicians staying awake at night trying to figure out how they can divert these funds to their use.
The $1 million to TBARTA is a complete waste of money, although it does empower TBARTA to do what it does best: waste money on endless reports and bountiful consult fees.
 In over two decades of effort, TBARTA has nothing to show for its voluminous reports and numerous meetings, and it is very unlikely this new million-dollar effort will be any different.
My guess is this money will be directed at developing a series of reasons that the recently proposed inter county rapid bus service should be should be slowed down until a light-rail plan can be wrapped around it.
The $1 million from the State takes TBARTA off life support for a while, ensures the financial support of a number of consultants and longevity for a bunch of mostly useless bureaucrats that have proven themselves light rail centric and pathetically biased
The recent re-tooling of TBARTA had little effect on the overall TBARTA goal of light rail as the only transportation solution for the Bay area and suggestions from numerous TBARTA supporters and politicians that we need to “slow down” the bus rapid transit project is a harbinger of what this money will be directed at supporting.
I am not sure what motivated Senator Brandes to promote this legislation, but I seriously doubt the results will anything close to what he envisioned.
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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Bills to Divert SunRail Funding Earmark Money to TBARTA and Adds New Bureaucracy

All state taxpayers were put on the hook to pay for SunRail's operating and maintenance costs for the first 7 years. Since SunRail ridership is so dismally low and farebox only covers 5% of its operating costs while state taxpayers are subsidizing 95%, thankfully the state funding of SunRail ends in 2021.

It's 2018 and the food fight over where those rail dollars will go has officially begun. 

Bills filed this legislative session diverts $60 million of state rail monies beginning in 2021, grows government by creating another transportation bureaucracy and provides earmarks for TBARTA and Miami-Dade County.

The original sponsor of the House bill is Rep. Avila from Miami-Dade but the champion sponsors of both bills in the State House and Senate are from Tampa Bay - Rep. Jamie Grant and Sen. Dana Young. However, no one seems to know the genesis of the original bill.

The bills are HB535 and SB1200. They earmark $25 million to Miami Dade County and $25 million to TBARTA  if there is a one for one local or private match - not including any federal funds. The earmarks have no sunset or end date so they must go into perpetuity.
HB535/SB1200 earmarks $25 million 
of state funding for TBARTA  
TBARTA was unnecessary when it was created in 2007 as a regional transportation authority. TBARTA is more unnecessary as another transit authority paid for on the backs of taxpayers. TBARTA was repurposed to a transit authority last year when transit ridership has been decreasing in Tampa Bay and nationwide, record auto sales is occurring as more people are buying cars and traditional transit is being disrupted. And taxpayers are already paying for their local transit agency. 

The Eye had numerous posts about the unscrupulous politics last year used by special interests and then powerful Sen. Jack Latvala to ram the TBARTA bill thru. Latvala resigned in December last year amid allegations of sexual harassment and the recommendation that a criminal investigation be conducted regarding the abusive use of his powerPerhaps that TBARTA bill forcing another transit agency on taxpayers should be reconsidered - not funded. 

HB535/SB1200 grows government by creating a new transportation bureaucracy, Alternative Transportation Authority, within FDOT. FDOT already includes their 7 Districts, the Turnpike enterprise, Transportation for the Disadvantaged and the Florida Rail Enterprise.
FDOT Org Chart w/new authority
(Click to enlarge)

"Alternative transportation systems" in the bills is defined as:
For purposes of this section, the term “alternative transportation system” means a system of infrastructure, appurtenances, and technology designed to move the greatest number of people in the least amount of time. The term includes, but is not limited to, autonomous vehicles as defined in s. 316.003 and transportation network companies as defined in s 627.748. The term does not include other traditional uses of a roadway system for conveyance.
Missing is cost-effectiveness, congestion relief, ability to more efficiently use our existing infrastructure or provide the ability to reduce travel times for the most amount of people. AV vehicles will use roadways like traditional vehicles today so the last sentence of the definition is not clear.

What is good in the bills is they repeal Subsection 5 of Statute 341.303 that funded rail projects out of the Florida Rail Enterprise. The Florida Rail Enterprise was established in 2009 when the Obama Admin was doling out the HSR debt dollars that Governor Scott thankfully rejected. (Actually voters/taxpayers rejected the bullet train in 2004.) 

Over and over again we find that once bureaucracies are created, it's almost impossible to get rid of them. HSR was rejected but the bureaucracy remains. Bureaucracies need sunset dates!

Unfortunately, these bills do not eliminate the Florida Rail Enterprise but re-divert money from it that has been paying for SunRail since 2014. The local municipalities in Central Florida, who still have no dedicated long term funding source for SunRail, must begin picking up their own tab beginning in fiscal year 2021-2022. 

So the food fight over what is being called "found" money has begun. It's not really "found" money because everyone knew the state funding of SunRail thankfully had a sunset date. 

Beginning in fiscal year 2021-2022 when the state stops paying to operate SunRail, these bills change where the funds for the Transportation Regional Incentive Program, TRIP, (who knew…) are allocated. $60 million of Florida Rail Enterprise money will be diverted earmarked as follows: $25 million dollars on a matching basis to TBARTA, $25 million to Miami-Dade County and $10 million that can be allocated throughout the state based on county requests.

Was TBARTA or FDOT consulted? One would assume the entities specifically impacted would have been. When we inquired to both FDOT and TBARTA, we were told they had not been engaged and did not know about the bills until they were filed. 

The only funding TBARTA requested this legislative session is a million dollars to create their Transit Development Plan as required by the State legislature. HB2451 was submitted by Rep. Joe Gruters for that specific appropriation this year.

Eligibility to receive TRIP funds requires partners that form a regional transportation area and requires those partners meet certain criteria to be eligible to receive those funds. Does the TRIP criteria still apply to the $60 million diverted from SunRail? If so, how can $25 million be earmarked to Miami-Dade or any funds go to a single county?

Bills HB535/SB1200, as currently written, are flawed. They create more bureaucracy, lack an end or sunset date, appear to duplicate some of what is already in place and have accountability issues. 

The nebulous term “Alternative” should not be used in the title of any transportation authority. If the intention is for innovation, then use such terminology as innovative, new technology, advanced technology, etc.

The Florida Rail Enterprise should be eliminated, not just re-divert its funding. Eliminate Statute sections 341.303(5) & (6). This entity appears to either be very inactive and/or not very transparent. There is no federal/state money for HSR, BrightLine HSR is a private enterprise and SunRail has its own Board of Directors.

Let's get rid of an unnecessary bureaucracy if a new one will be created. Novel idea!

The bills duplicate some of what is already in place today in Florida. FDOT already has staff working on innovative transportation solutions. FDOT and Turnpike are partners of SunTrax: http://www.suntraxfl.com

We already have Florida Statute 341.501 High-technology transportation systems; joint project agreement or assistance. That statute provides funding via FS 339.135 by FDOT for high tech transportation projects meeting specific criteria, including it must be implemented within 5 years and it is in the transportation improvement program of any MPO that is within the boundaries of where the project is located. 

Why aren't innovative transportation projects being funded via what has already been put in place?  

We need efficiencies in government not duplication that causes wasteful spending, confusion and convoluted processes. The path of least resistance in government is to add something new, regardless of what is already in place. 

The $60 million being diverted with these bills needs disciplined accountability, clear concise criteria for its use that can be measured, and have a sunset date. No state funding should be earmarked into perpetuity. 

State transportation grants must go thru a competitive process and awarded on merit not be earmarked. The monies awarded should not be used to leverage debt or be used to bail out any local or regional transportation/transit authority. All monies distributed must be used for project design and construction only and prohibited from being used for public outreach, advocacy, education or electioneering. 

The $60 million being diverted from rail comes from Statewide Documentary Stamps Tax revenue. The estimated future doc stamp revenues can be found here. It is a big pot of money that funds the Land Acquisition Trust Fund - the Florida Forever Amendment 1 passed by voters in 2014.

The top third of State Documentary Stamp revenues is lopped off for the Land Acquisition Trust Fund (Florida Forever). The balance, currently over a half billion dollars, goes to the State Treasury with $75 million to the General Fund and the remaining $470 million to the State Transportation Trust Fund. 

The State Transportation Trust Fund funds the TRIP program and Bills HB535/SB1200 will divert $60 million of TRIP funds to earmark $25 million to TBARTA, earmark $25 million to Miami-Dade County and $10 million available to any county in the state for supposedly innovative transportation projects.

TBARTA has no plan, very little staff, and they have not even created their transit development plan. They currently have no staff or skills to operate any major transit system. The $25 million earmarked to TBARTA cannot be used for the recently proposed regional Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project proposed by Jacobs Engineering because it is not innovative or uses new technology.

Earmarking state funding for TBARTA beginning in 2021-2022 today is the cart before the horse and into perpetuity is appalling. 

Eliminating the rail funding is good. But if the state legislature wants to create a new transportation bureaucracy, the hatches must be tightened down. If the state wants to divert rail dollars to innovative transportation, that should include all forms of innovative transportation not just transit.

These bills are flawed and the earmarks must be eliminated. Just because the SunRail earmark expires in 2021 does not mean those funds should simply get earmarked elsewhere and with no end date.  

What about considering getting rid of unnecessary bureaucracies and returning some of our hard earned money back to us?

Let's see bills to repeal TBARTA, eliminate the Florida Rail Enterprise and reduce the state Doc Stamp rate!

Monday, February 12, 2018

San Diego Didn’t Fall for Shady Stadium Deal; Will Tampa?

Reposted by permission of Tampa Bay Beat.

By Jim Bleyer

Fifteen months ago the people and politicians of a major American city stood up to protect their region’s economic health and integrity by rejecting a shakedown from a billionaire owner of a big-league sports franchise.

But the citizens of San Diego had three major advantages over their counterparts in Hillsborough County where special interests are intent on bilking taxpayers to build a new baseball stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays.

—Public funding of a new stadium for the NFL Chargers was put to a referendum with passage requiring a 67 percent supermajority;

—The political will existed to push back against a blackmailing bully, in this case Dean Spanos, scion of real estate magnate Alex Spanos;

—Access to accurate, complete information from the San Diego Union-Tribune which reported all facets of the issue.

San Diegans killed public financing, 57-43 percent, not even a majority let alone the required threshold. The ballot measure asked voters whether they wanted to increase the city’s hotel room tax rate from 12.5% to 16.5%, with the proceeds to fund a new $1.8 billion stadium and convention center. The tax increase was to repay $1.15 billion in bonds, leaving the Chargers and NFL to pay the remaining $650 million.

What’s happened since the ballot defeat? The Chargers moved to a temporary facility in Costa Mesa playing the 2017 season to a fraction of the audience they drew in San Diego. Half the fans rooted for the opposition. The Rays are used to that; the Chargers weren’t. When the Chargers move to a larger, modern stadium in Inglewood for the 2020 season, the facility will be shared with the Los Angeles Rams.

Meanwhile, life goes on without the Chargers in San Diego. Most citizens are bitter at the Spanos family; a tiny minority actually trek to Charger games. The city is still a hotspot for high-tech innovation, an incubator for Broadway-bound theatre, home of the historic Gaslamp Quarter, culturally diverse and harmonic, an attractive beach and surfing destination and much more.

Despite offering a specific plan that had adequate access, didn’t destroy neighborhoods, and meshed with a convention center, San Diegans saw through the bamboozle of transferring wealth to a billionaire and shot down the proposal by a healthy margin.

The stadium scheme in Tampa has nothing to recommend it. A new playpen doesn’t guarantee Rays owner Stuart Sternberg will spend more than a pittance on payroll, reduce the abominable number of food safety violations, or ditch players coming into their prime to cut costs. It does guarantee to increase the value of the Rays franchise by a half billion. That’s the name of the game.

Look at the above rendering. The combo stadium-convention center in San Diego blends with the neighborhood and has adequate access. The proposed Rays stadium in Ybor City (be,ow) is shoehorned into a unique, celebrated district. Access and parking are difficult if not laughable.

San Diego also had one definitive financing source; Tampa’s revenue origins are uncertain as special interests and their toady politicians are scrambling to cobble together a taxpayer-funded sports subsidy.

As for the plan, San Diego actually had a specific one. The Union-Tribune ran factual balanced accounts about the stadium campaign, its pros and cons. Hillsborough County residents, the few who subscribe anyway, are not as fortunate with the Tampa Bay Times publishing slanted articles and omitting important facts.

The Times is rolling over for Sternberg, real estate interests, and the investors who temporarily bailed it out of bankruptcy.

Politicians love hotel taxes because this levy is the embodiment of taxation without representation. Prancers to the pork barrel polka, such as Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, look for any means to leverage tax dollars to fund their “legacy.” They abhor referendums that allow the public to interfere with their gifts to special interests. They would find a super majority requirement lethal to their indulgences.

Taxpayers in other cities that paid for stadiums often discover they are still on the hook long after the team departed. In New York when the Giants bolted the Big Apple for New Jersey, taxpayers were still paying off $110 million in debt on the old stadium. St. Louis lost the Rams, but they didn’t lose $144 million in stadium debt the team bequeathed.

Philip K. Porter, Professor of Economics at the University of South Florida, terms sports subsidies as a “transfer of wealth” and competition for funding with more needed municipal services regardless of the revenue source.

Of the 38 metropolitan areas with at least one major professional sports team, Tampa ranks fourth in per capita subsidy, according to Porter. That number will only increase if the Ybor City boondoggle comes to fruition.

His report, “Public Subsidies and the Location and Pricing of Sports,” can be found here.

According to Michael Leeds, an economist at Temple University, “If every sports team in Chicago were to suddenly disappear, the impact on the Chicago economy would be a fraction of 1 percent. A baseball team has about the same impact on a community as a midsize department store.”

Victor Matheson, a sports economist at College of the Holy Cross, is dubious of the economic hype surrounding professional sports facilities.

“A good rule of thumb that economists use is to take what stadium boosters are telling you and move that one decimal place to the left, and that’s usually a good estimate of what you’re going to get,” Matheson says.

Economists say the biggest reason sports teams don’t have much impact is that they don’t ignite new spending. Most people have a limited entertainment budget, so the dollars they shell out for a game is money they would have spent elsewhere such as a restaurant or small businesses where more money would have stayed in the community. Matheson added that instead of drawing people to a neighborhood, games can actually repel them.

That certainly applies to Ybor, one of America’s most storied, culturally significant and eclectic neighborhoods. And how much of the money that absentee owner Sternberg rakes in from his revenue sharing/cheapskate payroll template do you think remains in the Bay area?

When politicians like Hagan and Buckhorn go directly to “how should we fund the stadium” omitting all the intermediate steps and any taxpayer comment let alone vote, they’ve already lubed the public to assume the position that shoveling tax bucks toward a sports facility should be the correct priority. It eliminates discussion of uplifting economically depressed neighborhoods, educating and assisting disenfranchised youth, properly training and retraining law enforcement officers, and addressing infrastructure needs.

Buckhorn and Hagan, abetted in their misinformation campaign by the Tampa Bay Times, obsess with burnishing their legacies, however fleeting, and rewarding their real estate cronies plus Sternberg with hundreds of millions.

Tampa residents are victims of this squeeze play.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

District Rays Candidate Hagan Challenged As His Teflon Wears Thin

Career politicians, especially those who park themselves in the same position for 16 years, know how to work and game the system. 

After 16 too long years, District Rays Candidate Hagan is violating the spirit of term limits and running again for a single district seat he already held. He doesn't care that he's setting a horrible precedent doing what no other commissioner has done in the 34 years of the county charter.

When asked why, after 16 too long years, he is running again, the District Rays Candidate has said he has "things" he wants to complete. Of course! The candidate for District Rays wants to complete his pursuit of a new Rays stadium - that he's been pursuing for most of his 16 too long years as a county commissioner.

But besides a baseball stadium, what are the other "things" Hagan wants to complete? Hagan must have an earth shattering list of things to complete that he feels entitled to egregiously flip flop back to a seat he already held.

The Times even reached out in December to the county commissioners to ask each commissioner about their priorities. They got crickets from the District Rays Candidate Hagan. As the current longest serving commissioner, District Rays Candidate Hagan was the only commissioner who did not respond. Perhaps the holidays kept Hagan from getting his scripted response from his PR confidante in time to respond.

We checked Hagan's campaign website owned by HCP Associates, a professional marketing/PR firm. No list there either or much of anything else - considering Hagan's been in office for 16 years. The District Rays Candidate Hagan's professionally created website is just a shell to collect some donations of at least $100 (the big donors send checks directly) with a small blurb of political gobblygook.

From Candidate Hagan's website
Hagan may consider himself "experienced", but after 16 too long years, he is a career county commissioner who refuses to respect term limits.

Where did that first bullet about standing firm to manage the budget and growth "without increasing taxes" come from? District Rays Candidate Hagan is living in his own alternative universe, echo chamber or the Twilight zone to make such stuff up.

Did Hagan erase or BleachBit his past?

Candidate Rays campaign website also touts he wants to create high-wage, high quality jobs. Well..

In pursuit of a new baseball stadium, Candidate Rays Hagan has stated it could be more than just a ball park, but about creating an entertainment district - more restaurants, retail and fern bars. Are those high wage jobs? Is that what's needed in Ybor?

According to this article from the Economic Research of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis , 86% of economists surveyed stated state and local governments should ELIMINATE subsidies to professional sports franchises. That article also stated:

In a 2017 poll, 83 percent of the economists surveyed agreed that "Providing state and local subsidies to build stadiums for professional sports teams is likely to cost the relevant taxpayers more than any local economic benefits that are generated."
No wonder economists state that...especially when all the shady wheeling and dealing is being done in the dark. And in the case of District Rays Candidate Hagan, he was wheeling and dealing behind closed doors with his campaign donors.

Subsidizing sports stadiums for wealthy sports team owners does not create high wage jobs nor does subsidizing big retailers like Bass Pro. Is creating a place to host bachelorette parties part of Hagan's high wage jobs vision? Who was the local lobbyist for Bass Pro? Surprise! Hagan's cozy, close PR confidante Beth Leytham.

Bass Pro Shops recently sold their Brandon store and two other Bass Pro stores in Florida to Starwood Property Trust for a lease-back arrangement. Hmmm...

Past actions and behaviors are the best indicators of how one will behave and act in the future - not words on a website or some well scripted political rhetoric.

Hagan has been systematically recommending sales tax hikes and cunningly seeking risky financing schemes for years. 
It was Hagan who got Mike Merrill, former county bond/debt manager, his position as County Administrator in 2010 and the two of them have been pushing tax hikes and a baseball stadium ever since.

Something else unprecedented is Hagan has raised almost a HALF MILLION dollars for a single district county commission race, tons of it from those who cannot vote for him. It's not about District 2 for Hagan, it's about keeping his fingers in the county taxpayer cookie jar. 

District Rays Candidate Hagan's campaign donations confirms he must deliver the goods to his special interests donor base. 

After 16 too long years, District Rays Candidate Hagan thinks the county cannot live without him. 

But the so-called "teflon" that District Rays Candidate Hagan thinks still surrounds him has worn thin or perhaps totally worn off.

Republican voters in District 2 can reject Hagan's arrogance and entitlement attitude.

In the August Primary, they should vote for Chris Paradies.  

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Transportation "Conversation" Held in Valrico Heavy With Panel Monologues

Guest Author Shirley Wood 

On Monday Feb. 6, Commissioner Pat Kemp hosted a Community Conversation to discuss options for improving mobility and safety in Brandon. About 50 people filled a room at the event held at the Bloomingdale Library in Valrico from 6-8pm.

The speakers were Kemp and a panel that included:
Jay Collins - AICP Senior Planner, Planning Commission
Sarah McKinley - Principal Planner, MPO 
Steve Feigenbaum, Director of Service Development, HART 
John Lyons, Public Works Director, Hillsborough County 
John Patrick, Transportation Planning Manager, Hillsborough County  
Ed McKinney, Planning and Environment Administrator, FDOT 

A copy of the agenda listing the speakers was the only hand-out for the audience. Maps showing the proposed plans were on an overhead and very difficult to read from the audience.

The meeting started out with each panel member giving a spiel of their area of expertise. There was no opportunity for the public to raise their hands to comment on or ask any questions as each panelist spoke. 

There was some question and answer time at the end, but we had to first sit through an hour and a half of old talking points. A lot of transportation jargon was used and many in the audience seemed confused by some of the terms and were seen searching on their phones for the definitions.

Sarah McKinley discussed reverse lanes on Bloomingdale but ended by saying there are too many issues for this to work. Another option discussed was widening Lumsden from 4 lanes to 6 lanes. This would also require widening Lithia Pinecrest and has not been funded yet. She moved on to BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) along Hwy 60, and Oakfield (maybe), and transit circulators (hubs). She said the Planning Commission has recommended acceptance of the last two, BRT and circulators.

Next to speak was Steve Feigenbaum. He started by asking if transit is the solution to the transportation problem (transit was the term used when they were referring to rail). His answer was Yes and No, and said we need to go with TOD (Transit Oriented Development). He then asked the audience how many now use HART buses. NOT ONE PERSON RAISED THEIR HAND. He commented that in a group the size of the audience there should be at least 4 or 5 hands raised. He then mentioned “Mission Max”* was just completed, but this was one of the terms not defined leaving a lot of puzzled faces in the audience. His next topic was the budget shortfall this past year. Ridership is down. He said it is a challenge for “us” to remain relevant, and they hope to do this by adding more routes such as the line planned from FishHawk to MacDill and from Hwy. 60 in Dover to the mall to run every 30 minutes, and a Hyperlink to Riverview.

John Lyons informed the audience that the county has $26 million for resurfacing now. Valrico Rd. will be resurfaced. Also, Bell Shoals resurfacing and widening will begin by this fall. It has cost $25 million for right of way along Bell Shoals.

Ed McKinney started out by telling everyone he was battling the flu- GREAT! A couple joked it was now time to leave! His view of the problem is that we are a growth state, but a low tax state and he sees that as a problem. Of course, they think raising taxes is the answer. He explained that there are three types of roads- city, county and state, but said they don’t expect the general public to understand the difference in a city, county, or state road. Yea, thank goodness we had an “expert” to explain that to us! He said there is the possibility of widening Hwy. 60 from Brandon to Plant City from 4 to 6 lanes, but the biggest problem he sees is a lack of connectivity with Hwy. 60 which is now more of a local road than the highway it was first designed to be. He mentioned a plan to widen Bloomingdale and move local traffic from Hwy 60 to Bloomingdale, making 60 more of a truck route from Brandon to Bartow.

Finally Commissioner Kemp spoke. She began by telling us she has gotten $2.3 million for HART to bring service to Brandon, and says she wants more contributions from countywide funds for transportation. She said that Hillsborough needs more taxes for transportation since compared to surrounding counties, we spend less on transportation. She gave Pinellas as an example. Then she urged everyone to attend the Future Land Use meeting Thurs. Mar. 1 at 6:00 PM. They will vote on increasing the density of the land in Lithia that backs up to FishHawk Trails, which will increase traffic along Lithia Pinecrest Rd. This change to the comprehensive plan passed the last time there was a vote with Commissioners Kemp and White voting against it. She said one more commissioner voting no will kill it, and says the comprehensive land use plan does not need to change outside of the service areas. (As a follow up to this, I called Commissioner White’s office and was told this may not be the case. It may need a super majority, or at least more than 3 voting against this to stop it.)

At this point Commissioner Kemp switched to the topic of ferries. She wants public private partnerships for these and then went off on a tangent about ferries in Staten Island and how we need ferries here too.

Finally it was time for questions from the audience. One question was about protecting agricultural land from developers and Jay Collins answered saying we have to protect property rights of land owners and then said we need to look at encouraging more compact development in the service areas. 

Another gentleman said something as simple as extending the length of turn signals to allow more cars to turn and adding continuous turn lanes was the type of improvements he would like to see since these would have an immediate result. He was told they would look into that, but doubt he is holding his breath.

Next, a question was asked about how they are including social justice in their plan to look at community and not individual needs. This excited the entire panel so each one had to comment on it. Sarah mentioned something called Healthy Cities Initiative** that she said addresses this, but again, did not explain what this is. 

The event was advertised as a "conversation" inviting Brandon and Valrico residents to discuss their concerns about traffic congestion. The first hour or more was mostly a monologue from the so-called experts and central planners. Some in the audience were obviously disappointed as they came expecting much more time for questions and two-way conversation.

Over all it was a very weird meeting. Several left early. People want solutions now, not some plan for rail or transit that won't happen in many of our lifetimes, and won't help our area in east Hillsborough anytime soon. 

Next time let the public speak first to voice their concerns. The bureaucrats and electeds can provide hand-outs of their monologue spiel with their contact information and then they should spend most of the time listening to the public and responding. The public probably knows more about the transportation issues they face everyday than those sitting in the ivory towers.

Brandon Corridors and Mixed Use Pilot Project - check out where the central planners are recommending densifying and transit

* HART's Mission Max

**Healthy Cities Initiative is an approach originally initiated by the World Health Organization (WHO).