Monday, August 25, 2014

Taxes, Transit, Trains and Transportation Reality

A recent Tampa Bay Times editorial accuses the PLG of being in "transit denial"
The group — composed of the seven county commissioners, Hillsborough's three mayors and the chairman of HART, the county mass transit agency — got its first look at a multibillion dollar list of unfunded road and transit projects. But rather than transform the wish list into a thoughtful targeted proposal, the group sent the entire wish list out for a months long listening tour. Members also agreed to — what else? — hire a consultant to build public support for a plan that is not really a plan that they insisted they are not trying to sell (emphasis mine).
Sounds a bit similar, though for perhaps different reasons, to what we previously posted here. The Hillsborough County Transportation Policy Leadership Group punted on presenting transit options and presenting their draft PLAN at their long awaited meeting on Tuesday, August 12th.

The Tampa Tribune yesterday weighed in with their editorial:  Time for leadership on transportation:
It would be funded by a 1-cent sales tax increase that would raise an estimated $6 billion over 30 years. (emphasis mine)
Watch the video or read the transcript from the August 12 Policy Leadership Group meeting.  County Administrator Mike Merrill states numerous times they have NO transportation plan. They have a list of projects they want to take to the public in some type of "public outreach" effort.  Therefore, we don't know what the "it" is but the Times and Tribune assume a referendum for a 14% sales tax increase for at least 30 years is the only way to pay for "it".

Based on the information on the Transportation and Economic Development website under the section Managers and Meeting Briefing, July 29, we already started looking at all these projects. A 30 year sales tax increase would generate about $6.1 BILLION but this list of proposed projects costs between $12-$15 BILLION (operating and capital costs over 30 years). The non-transit list contains projects of approximately $4.2 billion of the $12-$15 Billion transportation ideas. The non-transit list includes $680 million for sidewalks and bike paths that do nothing to relieve congestion and it also includes expensive complete streets and streetscaping that do nothing to relieve congestion. 

The elephant in the room is our neglected roads. Our road budget, at one time, has been $50 million to almost $100 million a year. The Community Investment Tax was sold to voters as a source of road funding for 30 years. That money is now gone and our road budget has been reduced to about $10 million for the last few years.  For FY2015, the road budget is a measly $6.5 million. The budget for Animal services is over $8 million in FY2015.

Our county commissioners have known there's a critical road funding gap.  This is not new news. In addition, it appears some road improvements were held hostage back in 2010 when some commissioners anticipated the rail referendum passing. The referendum failed.  It's four years later and nothing has been done since, including re-prioritization of monies from general funds, to fund our roads, even as the size of our county budget has grown back to it's pre-recession size. Where exactly is all the money being spent?
Neglected roads in Hillsborough
According to this email blast from pro rail/transit lobbying group Connect Tampa Bay:
The days of blindly spending money on roads must end. Its time to embrace a balanced approach that treats all ideas equally and gives everyone in Tampa Bay options.
Are they out of touch with reality?

The reality is we've been blindly neglecting our roads. The F-rated roads shown above confirm our roads have been neglected for years. Some county commissioners have embarrassingly said the same thing. A road budget of $6.5 million for a county of 1.3 million residents is NOT "blindly spending on roads".  

Here's a list collected during the 2013 budget cycle of unfunded Transportation Opportunities:
2013 Transportation Opportunities - $89 million
The state and FDOT is doing their part as we see construction on so many of our state and interstate highways, I-275, I-75, Veterans. Governor Scott's "Let's keep Florida moving" plan is investing in expanding our road network to reduce congestion.  He's accelerated some road projects in the Tampa Bay area to do just that.
Governor Scott's Let's Keep Florida Moving
County taxpayers pay $70-80 million a year to fund transit services at HART. Compared to the $6.5 million budgeted for roads, today we are spending 10-15 times on transit that less than 2% use in Hillsborough County than we do on our roads that we all use. Even the buses use roads.

Transit supporters, who have come out in support of a 14% sales tax increase, made public comments at the June 18 BOCC meeting right before the then scheduled June 26 Policy Leadership Group meeting. Their public comments can be found starting at page 16 of the June 18 meeting transcript here. They advocated that for any new transportation revenues, 75% must go to transit. 

On June 18, the June 26 meeting was still scheduled as County Administrator Mike Merrill said this:
One of the transit supporters at the June 18 BOCC even stated:
Greenlight Pinellas, as a well-thought out plan, is new news to us.  Some politicians from both parties may support it, but the Pinellas County Republican Party unanimously voted AGAINST the Greenlight tax increase and the Pinellas County Democrat Party refuses to take an official stance and endorse Greenlight. Those are Pinellas County voters, so much for a well-thought out plan.

How equitable is spending 75% of some new revenue source for transportation on transit to the 98% of us who use roads everyday? Is that a "balance of transit"? If a sales tax increase was pursued as has been mentioned, that would be almost $4.6 Billion of the $6.1 Billion over 30 years. The only reason for making such a statement is to build high cost light rail corridors that costs billions. 

It doesn't take billions to improve our bus service. Hillsborough County's bus service could DOUBLE under the current HART TDP Vision Plan, which is not currently funded, at a cost of approximately $464 million. This expansion and improvement of bus service could probably be funded locally without relying on uncertain federal funds that have all kinds of strings attached and increases the cost. 

The Transportation Policy Leadership Group is about to embark on a public outreach effort on all these transportation ideas. They must NOT hold our roads hostage in pursuit of some massive, expensive transit plan that requires a costly redesign of our county.  It would be a risk to taxpayers to pursue some huge, bold transit plan that banks on receiving federal dollars but that may NEVER qualify for federal funding.  As the AECOM transit assessment concluded:
Hillsborough County should approach making transit investments cautiously and prudently.
We can improve and expand our bus service, most likely with local funding, and do it within 10 years not decades into the future. We can reduce the burdensome PTC regulations to enable ride-sharing services like Uber, Lyft and others. 

We can bring back the golf cart short hop transportation services in South Tampa and downtown Tampa that the PTC forced out of business in 2009. They use golf cart services in Delray Beach, why not here? We can become an innovative leader of autonomous vehicles and be flexible enough to be able to utilize the next new transportation technology.
Golf Cart Short Hop Transportation Services on Atlantic Ave.
 in Delray Beach, FL
But first and foremost, the Transportation Policy Leadership Group must resolve our critical road funding gap. 

1 comment:

  1. So basically, you expect an entire county of 1.3 million people to go to work every day to pay taxes subsidizing the kind of sprawling, resource hogging suburban lifestyle you personally enjoy in Lutz.

    You're so obsessed with forcing everyone else to assimilate to your personally preferred lifestyle, that you can't even begin to understand that not everyone wants to live the way you do, or has the same ideals you have, or have the same practical needs that you have. Many simply don't like driving or physically can't drive.

    In your prejudiced, self serving worldview, that makes those people lesser beings than yourself. You demand all resources be spent serving your agenda, while everyone else gets to pay your way for you. You demand complete subservience to your ideology, while demanding everyone else surrender theirs. And to top it off, you don't even show these people some common decency or respect, for simply being fellow citizens and taxpayers, just like you. Instead, everyone who doesn't bow down to you gets belittled, attacked, bullied and intimidated.

    Nothing you have ever said on this issue includes consideration for anything but your own agenda. I would say shame on you, but everyone who knows you already knows that you have no shame. So instead, I'll simply say F*** you and your self serving agenda.