Thursday, July 31, 2014

"Whole Lotta Love" for the Super HART Plan?

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill hastily called a media briefing Tuesday, July 29.  Why has the media not questioned why Merrill was presenting a transportation plan to them prior to presenting it to the Transportation Policy Leadership Group on August 12th? Why was Merrill's media briefing closed to the public? So real and challenging questions could not be asked?
County Administrator Mike Merrill
What we found out:  someone from County Center leaked plan information to an advocacy group who was going to publicize the information. Merrill decided to intervene but apparently he did this without even telling the county commissioners. Doesn't Merrill work for them?

This is the second time we know of, where someone in County Center has leaked information prior to it being presented to the Transportation Policy Leadership Group, to an advocacy group who uses their  "friendly" media to advance their agenda.

Who the leaker is remains unknown, but we do wonder whether this type of behavior instills trust with voters and taxpayers. The media knew the plan before our county commissioners.   Guess the elected officials can say what Obama often does, that they found out about the plan like you did - they read it in the news. 

Back to the plan, the Tribune yesterday, July 30, had a front page article titled Leaders unveil details of Hillsborough transportation tax plan from Merrill's media briefing.  As usual, Tribune titles are disingenuous as we must note that NO Leader or elected official has approved this plan because it has not even been publicly presented to them. 

We looked at the plans on the BOCC website under the section Manager Meeting and Media Briefing, July 29 yesterday, did the math and posted here that the huge 30 year $6.1 Billion sales tax increase will only fund half or less of this $15 Billion "I have a dream" plan. Where's the rest coming from?

What's wrong with this "something for everyone to vote for" plan?
According to Creative Loafing article July 29th"
"It really is the nature of this not to be fully cooked. It really is focused more on getting input from the community on, do they like this project?" Merill asked, adding that he expects they will, since many of the projects in the plan have been on the proverbial shelf for awhile. "We're really at a stage where we just need to get feedback from the public before we can hone in on a total number and begin refining some of the revenue projections."
But wait. We have tons of road projects already approved that have been sitting on the shelf for years due to no funding. Aren't those a no-brainer? More feedback is needed? Didn't we give them some feedback on priorities in 2010? What have they been working on since then? This TED/PLG group certainly could have taken some time over the last year to prioritize and whittle down their wish list rather than all things for everyone. They are the self appointed leaders to take over HART and "take responsibility" for this thing. How about they take responsibility of their plan now? It's not a plan to have twice as many projects as money to pay for it, and then expect the Feds or the state to cover. That's a pipe dream.

My experience in the private sector, having worked on multi-million dollar projects and programs, if I came up with a plan that costs twice as much as the budget, I'd be fired. In government planning, we get feel good videos with no regard for the cost of anything, that set expectations so high beyond reality for a plan who's budget will never cover its cost.  Will we see a taxpayer funded marketing campaign of targeted groups like Greenlight Pinellas did last year descend on us?

If there is so much confidence in this plan, why would our county commissioners consider putting a massive sales tax increase referendum in a low turnout, off-cycle election? The Tribune reported "a vote that could come as early as March 2016" (emphasis mine) instead of the normal November 2016 Presidential election with a much higher turnout.  Previous commissioners put the 1/2 cent Community Investment Tax on an off-cycle, low turnout September ballot targeting specific voters and it passed. But this is a 30 year tax so why else would they have to rush it through six months prior to a normal election? Especially when told off cycle elections cost taxpayers millions.

Wouldn't that be bizarre? Our county commissioners can't find road money in the $3.9 Billion budget but could find millions for a low turnout, off cycle election? 

We already have experienced a 30 year "something promised to everyone" Community Investment Tax debacle.  Unfortunately, it over promised and under delivered because a previous county commission decided to spend it all 11 years into its 30 year life. Comprehensive plans like CIT always cost more and deliver less.  Instead of a comprehensive single massive plan with a single massive 30 year tax hike, the elected officials should allow the voters to decide where they want their money spent.  Put single issue referendums on the ballot. 

If the elected officials won't prioritize or make the hard decisions, then the voters should be able to at the ballot box. 

This plan also includes a hostile takeover of the HART board, our local transit agency, by the Transportation Policy Leadership Group.  The Transportation Policy Leadership Group, all elected officials, will appoint themselves to the HART board to manage this $12-15 BILLION bucket of tax dollars.  And we're told it's for accountability reasons. Well we have already experienced how accountable our elected officials were with our CIT tax. This plan is CIT on steroids. The restructure is not for accountability reasons. It's because HART has access to and is the recipient of federal transit funds. Mayor Buckhorn stated just that at the PLG meeting when this idea was presented. It's all about going after federal dollars as if they expect the spigot to keep flowing as we approach $18 Trillion of debt.  

The plan not only restructures HART but also expand its current transit mission to include non-transit: roads, sidewalks, bike paths, complete streets, landscaping and transit-oriented development to get you out of your car.  The reality is HART has no experience or qualifications for managing roads, economic development, complete streets, sidewalks, bike paths and trails. They manage our bus service/transit.  Ask an engineer -  road engineering is totally different than transit engineering. The only road work HART currently is authorized to do is for right-of-ways for their transit projects.

Is this plan even legal?  Would it take another referendum or legislative action to expand HART's authority? We anticipate legal wrangling - cha ching.

The Tampa Bay Times article July 30 also disingenuously titled Hillsborough officials: Put 1-cent transportation tax to vote in 2016 since no official has approved or voted to do anything states:
If the referendum passes, HART's budget would go from the current $86 million to $5 billion.
"If we're going to be serious and move forward with a transit plan,'' interim HART chief operating officer Katharine Egan said at the briefing, "we need a little more love." (emphasis mine)
Where are the people who will be supporting this $5 Billion HART plan? This is creating a brand new bureaucracy - Super HART.  No existing, overlapping, duplicative and wasteful bureaucracy is being eliminated with this plan. Apparently, no process work has been done to actually streamline anything. So how is this really going to work? Clumsily?

Out of the $12-15 Billion plan, $4.3 Billion is for non-transit projects. Out of that $4.3 Billion,  $680 million is for sidewalks, bike paths, trails - projects that do nothing to reduce road congestion. Road improvements including roadways, intersections and technology like traffic management systems, bridges, repaving, landscaping and complete streets is $3.5 Billion. It appears that some of that is dedicated BRT lanes which should instead be highly utilized bus/managed toll lanes where tolls can go back into maintaining the roads.

The rest of the $12-15 Billion plan is for all kinds of transit, from buses to BRT to rail.
That's $3-5.7 Billion for transit capital.  Assuming a full build out, the operational costs for the transit projects over 30 years is almost $4.5 Billion, approximately $150 million a year.   Nowhere specified in this plan are the transit replacement capital costs which will have to occur after 20-30 years. That is another several Billion dollars which means this tax never goes away and it will have to be extended into perpetuity. Will anyone honestly state that?

Merrill stated at the June HART board Strategy meeting when he presented that the plan would be split 50/50 between roads and transit. What happened since then? That's not this plan which looks more like 25-30% roads, 70-75% transit.  And remember we are already spending 10-15 times on transit today than we are on roads.  

What's missing from this plan er pipe dream, along with some sense of reality?
Considerations for what is occurring in the private sector with autonomous vehicles, ride-sharing, car sharing, telecommuting and drones for delivery.  Considerations to reduce regulations and reform community plans. 

But with a budget increase of $4.9 Billion, an over 5,000% increase  - Super HART's certainly getting more than a little love, they are getting a "whole lotta love"!

1 comment:

  1. Excellent information. Where's the media? Why aren't they complaining, or are they in the pocket of transit proponents?