Sunday, June 22, 2014

Readying for a Referendum?

This is Part 2 covering the HART Board Strategic Planning Workshop held Monday, June 9, reporting on the update from the County Administrator on the Hillsborough County Transportation and Economic Development Policy Leadership Group.  

Below are some slides from County Administrator Mike Merrill's presentation: (click slides to enlarge) with my takeaways. When Merrill showed slide 1 (below), I thought I was looking at a stack and pack city out of the movie Bladerunner not any rendition of downtown Tampa.

  • Goal is to move people and goods with cost-effective, convenient, reliable and safe interconnected mobility
  • Merrill said reducing or mitigating congestion was not called out but inferred

Here's a closer view of Merrill's pic:

And here's a scene from the 1982 movie Bladerunner set in the year 2019:

At least Bladerunner had flying cars.

Make you wonder why our elected officials want to tie our transportation solutions so closely to land use?  Do they want to coerce (force) densification and stack and pack us to pursue their agenda, including more public transit?

More slides from Merrill's presentation follow:
  • Some of the success factors were defined as walkable streets and denser development in certain areas
  • The plan needs to be consumer driven and multi-modal to force/coerce a cultural change to "get us out of our cars"
What is the Livable Centers Initiative?  
It was started in Atlanta in 1999.  Livable Centers Initiative encourages local jurisdictions to plan and implement strategies that link transportation improvements with land use development strategies to create sustainable, livable communities consistent with regional development policies.

Reason Foundation found issues with this initiative in 2012:
  • LCIs use federal gas tax funds to support local projects. Funding for this program comes specifically from the L-230 funds in the highway section of the state’s transportation bill, not the transit section or the intermodal section 
  • ...non-motorized transport (sidewalks and bike paths) receives most of the resources from LCI grants. 
  • ...most of the projects have little to do with transportation. Transportation funds should not support economic development projects.
  • LCI often fails to spur any development.
When our politicians complain that roads don't pay for themselves, well, neither, apparently, do "livable centers".
  • What Are We Agreed On? The Policy Leadership Group or who? 
  • Who says we "must" attract choice riders and taxpayers must highly subsidize choice riders? 
  • Why wouldn't choice riders pay market price?
  • Agree we must optimize our existing infrastructure - biggest bang for the buck
Transportation doesn't pay for itself......but transit is much more highly subsidized than roads.  According to this Heritage Foundation article published last year highway user fees supported each transit passenger mile 17 times more than each highway passenger mile ($0.1130 for transit; $0.0067 for highways). 

Federal Gas Tax User Fee Expenditures roads vs transit 2010
  • According to Merrill, this plan is "something for everyone" 
  • BRT would be the foundation and the plan would not exclude rail  
  • As transit ridership grew over time and we became more transit-centered, we would grow into rail and into a fully functioning multi-modal system. 
Where's Ride-sharing services like Uber & Lyft, Jitneys, De-regulated Super Shuttle?

We will note that roads are multi-modal as vehicles, buses, bikes, pedestrians and even sometimes golf carts use them.

  • A one cent sales tax increase would generate $200 million/year, a half cent sales tax increase would generate $100 million/year and there is an assumption of a 3% growth rate per year
  • The bedrock of the funding plan is federal (which is ever dwindling) and state grant money and local sales tax

  • Social Impact Bonds aka Pay for Success is a new financing mechanism for private and philanthropic organizations to finance projects that provide a specific social outcome with a modest return on investment
Merrill mentioned another long term 30 year tax. (HART can bond and borrow and go into debt like the county commission did with our 30 year CIT tax)

  • Good to see Public Safety at the top as highest priority
  • Good to see next highest priority is preserving our existing infrastructure

Economic Development has totally different drivers; there are numerous other agencies and organizations, some whom get our tax dollars, responsible for Economic Development 

Transportation solutions must be for mobility

Merrill mentioned that the CIT tax "worked well". That was a bit disturbing because the CIT did not deliver what was promised the voters and it was all spent less than halfway through the 30 year life of the tax. There are at least $127-$130 million of projects Merrill stated should have been paid for through the CIT tax but were shelved due to no funding.

Merrill stated there will be a comprehensive list of proposed projects at the next Policy Leadership Group meeting on June 26 that will include a BRT demo project, people movers, etc.  When asked by a Board member what the BRT demo project was, Merrill didn't answer the question. We'll have to find out more at the June 26 meeting because no details were provided by Merrill about the list of proposed projects.

Merrill stated "there is no more capacity in our budget and we cannot move forward without a tax increase". Really? Did he say that on behalf of himself, the County Commissioners or the Policy Leadership Group? The proposed FY 2015 Hillsborough County budget is almost $4 Billion. Are our spending priorities in the right place?  Do we have existing assets that could be repurposed to a higher priority like roads?  

Commissioner Sharpe voiced concern about "the plan" being "road-centric". What plan? There's been no official plan made public but Merrill stated the sales tax increase would probably be a 50/50 split between roads and transit.  We already spend more money in Hillsborough County for transit than we do on our roads.

If 50% of the transportation dollars are spent to serve 2% of traveler’s ‘passenger miles’, the remaining 98% of travelers that use roads will suffer increasing gridlock and congestion. HART does not have this critical funding shortage today that our roads do: 

It is estimated that the county needs approximately $160 million per year to add 200 lane miles of roads every 5 years to keep county roads up with current population growth.
The plan must be road-centric!

Regarding the hostile takeover vote by the Policy Leadership Group we reported here, there were a number of concerns raised by the existing Board members about the proposed restructuring and re-purposing of HART. Below, with a few edits I added, is the chart Merrill presented that reflects this new Governance entity.

Proposed Restructured Politicized HART
This new entity would oversee a huge bucket of money. How will this work considering our strict Sunshine Laws? The biggest risk is our transportation solutions will be politicized which then enables wasteful spending, cronyism and corruption. The money starts flowing but where is it going?  

In addition, why is money going to TBARTA?  That's the same as handing our tax dollars off to part of the rail cartel Tampa Bay Partnership.

We did find out that the hostile takeover vote by the Policy Leadership Group was non-binding. Maybe that was why they voted without allowing any opportunity for public comment. The vote didn't actually do anything except provide a perception that it did or serve as a trial balloon.

It also appears that the existing HART board would have to vote to make the changes the Transportation Policy Leadership Group is proposing. That would basically mean the existing Board would have to vote to kick most of themselves off the board. Would they?

The restructuring and repurposing of HART still remains murky and there are questions that will need answering. 

Was this the start of a push for a referendum?  Was Merrill's presentation a sales pitch that seemed to conveniently coalesce with the new Super Sized expensive HART plan revealed at the beginning of this workshop that we posted about here?

But before any referendum is pursued to increase taxes, the county must put our "checkbook online". Then when money starts flowing, taxpayers know where it's going!

UPDATE:  The June 26th meeting that was going to be about transit and provide a list of transportation projects has been postponed to August 21st.

1 comment:

  1. We must always make sure the bulk of the money will go to roads, since the majority of the people will continue to use the roads in their private vehicles over public transit, as well as commercial truckers. We must address this issue realistically, and always consider the cost.