Sunday, August 4, 2013

A Solution looking for a Problem

The Eye decided to start asking some questions about the latest committee created by our County Commissioners, the one tying economic development and transportation. We previously posted about the committee's infamous July 23rd  meeting. I was curious why the pro rail groupies, representing the same companies who were big donors and supporters of the 2010 rail referendum, were invited to the committee meeting. I was also curious - what and where is Marlowe's plan? Certainly he has mapped one out but from what I have gathered, it's not been shared with any of the Commissioners. Who's driving this train? 
Hillsborough County Transportation Committee gone off it's Tracks?
Therefore, I contacted one of the County staff members, Eric Johnson. Johnson, works under County Administrator Mike Merrill and is working with the facilitator Herb Marlowe on this initiative. According to Johnson, Rick Homans, CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation (EDC), together with County Administrator Mike Merrill, decided which business leaders to invite. So lo and behold, as I suspected, it was no coincidence they were all rail groupies.

And can you believe it? I had tell the Tribune that because they did not “think” to ask the question of just how all the rail groupies came together. So the Tribune finally caught up with me and included this information in Mike Salinero's Tribune article today.
Calvert pointed out that the business leaders who attended the meeting were chosen by Rick Homans, president and CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. Homans supports a light-rail system for Hillsborough. 
Every single one (of the business leaders) was heavily tied to the referendum in 2010,” Calvert said. “When you start out like that, it's not good for the credibility of what you're doing.”
Now who is the EDC? It is a public private partnership, which was created in 2009, after it spun off from the previous economic development arm of the Tampa Chamber of Commerce. And where does their funding come from? The EDC's latest Annual Report reflect the breakdown of their 2011-2012 total funding of $2.35 million:
  • Municipal (cities) - $550K - 23%
  • County - $738K - 31%
  • Investors - $957K - 41%
  • Grants/Fees - $47.5k - 2%
  • Sponsorship/Events - $58K - 3%
I thought we were told that the EDC was primarily privately funded in it's new form. However, their last annual report reflects that your tax dollars were 54% of the EDC funding. Homans is a big pro rail supporter and we're not surprised as he previously was director of the taxpayer funded Space Port in New Mexico. And Homans, as CEO of the EDC, used his presentation time at a budget Workshop recently (not a budget public hearing) to request $250K more from the county coffers. Guess Homans wants more of your tax dollars to push his rail agenda.

But back to Salinero and his Tribune article. Salinero missed the rest of the message I told him. For starters, the title of his artcle is “Hillsborough residents to offer transit fixes”. But the county commissioners voted to form this committee to tie Transportation, NOT Transit with economic development. So why that title Mike? We all want job creation and economic growth and prosperity but that does not equate to centrally planned economic development and always taxpayer funded transportation solutions. Innovation in transportation is happening in the private sector. Will they be included in this conversation?  We don't know because we haven't seen Marlowe's plan.

In addition, as I told Salinero, staffer Johnson said that this is only the beginning of this process and we're not looking for solutions because we're at the requirements gathering stage. Maybe the facilitator, Marlowe, did not get that message or understand what he's supposed to be facilitating.  We certainly haven't seen his plan.  So there you have it. We're not supposed to be talking about solutions.  But that's what the rail groupies did when they were intentionally brought together on the 23rd. You can watch the BOCC workshop video here. They once again spoke in unison that the answer to our problems is to build a high cost rail, that sounds more like a streetcar. We've already got one bankrupt streetcar in Tampa and the Tribune reported last year then city-councilman Mayor Buckhorn voted against because it lacked a viable business model. 
Tampa Trolley was Buckhorn right - no business model?
Perhaps the rail groupies spoke too soon because as the Times recently reported “Tampa Bay area suddently basking in big economic wins.”

So maybe we don't even need this committee. There is confusion about what this committee is doing vs last year's EPSC efforts to what the MPO and all these taxpayer funded planning agencies are posturing for. And the July 23rd pro rail meeting did not help. Why aren't the commissioners leading this initiative? Why did they hire a third party facilitator, who it appears now is being directed by unelected bureaucrats from the EDC and county staff? When I brought that up with Salinero, he mentioned some commissioners being up for re-election. Bingo! That's the problem - when our commissioners aren't honest and will publicly stand for something, they stand for nothing. While I disagree with Commissioner Sharpe on rail, at least he is willing to publicly admit what he is pushing. Is the rest of the crew waiting for a consensus driven answer from Herb Marlowe and his agenda driven process?

How about we clearly define the problem with data that backs up the issue that's trying to be solved. Where is that data? I asked for data showing traffic patterns in our county and haven't gotten that data yet. We have 6000 lane miles of roads in Hillsborough County, that aren't going away with a $2 billion backlog of road and safety improvements. We have had declining gas tax revenues, a blown out CIT tax  so how do we maintain what we have? No wonder the MPO post-referendum survey reflected roads as our highest priority with rail falling way down on the list. Show us where the problems are instead of offering a free form platform to special interests to push their agenda.

We need problem solving public policies not agenda based policies. So yes as Salinero stated I will be watching this process closely and suggest all taxpayers in Hillsborough County do as well.  Or hold on to your wallets!  

Public Forum on Tuesday, August 6th, County Center, 26th floor should be interesting.

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