Friday, July 31, 2015

Don't Get Fooled Again: Roads are NOT A County Top Priority

Our county commissioners have spent millions of our taxpayer dollars and tons of county resources over the last 2 years telling us that transportation is a top priority. It's all talk and no walk.

Roads may not get be getting funded but taxpayers are lining the pockets of cronies. The Go Hillsborough cronies got handed another $350K of our tax dollars last month. No bid, no RFP, just another blank check - to duplicate work already being done elsewhere. The county will now be spending almost $1.5 MILLION on the crony, phony Go Hillsborough campaign.

HART, our transit agency, is currently doing their public outreach to update their 10 year Transportation Development Plan. Our Metropolitan Planning Organization is doing the technical analysis to update our road ratings. 

We already know the county has failed roads all over Hillsborough. The county knows the roads that have potholes, the roads that need repaving, the intersections that need improving, the roads that need widening, our lights that need to be timed and that we will need to build new roads. The county's Public Works department has the list. 

Why are taxpayers paying the Go Hillsborough cronies to duplicate work that is already being done? After all the rain we've had, the county would be better served using that money to refill the gaping potholes and doing some road paving.  

The County has spent wasted tons of taxpayer dollars and wasted countless hours of people's time and resources in meetings. The County has gathered more than enough information that confirms what we and "they" already knew: Our roads have been neglected and they desperately need to be funded.

Here's an opportunity for the county to start funding our roads. The county's in a new budget cycle for FY2016 and the county commissioners have told us for the last 2 years that roads and transportation are a top priority. 

However, that is not true - roads are NOT a top priority of the county. The proposed FY 2016 budget does not fund our roads AGAIN even as our county revenue coffers are going up and up. 

The county held a budget public hearing last week. At that public hearing, the commissioners heard from myself and others who asked the county to re-prioritize the FY2016 budget to start funding our roads and transportation needs now. Did they listen?


The budget public hearing was simply a required ticky mark the county had to check off. It apparently was nothing else.

Next came the Budget Reconciliation Workshop yesterday down at County Center. This meeting occurs after the July public hearing to supposedly allow discussion of changes to the proposed budget.

 I was there. Nothing changed. 

All of our county revenues continue going up. Our property values are rising and new developed properties continue to be added to our tax rolls. Of the $100 million of NEW revenues the county has for FY2016, only $2.8 million of those NEW revenues is going for roads. None of our property tax revenues are being spent on our roads.

The county did take the time and expense to create a 13 page slick, glossy marketing brochure titled, "Citizens Budget in Brief". How much did those glossies cost taxpayers? The online version of the budget brief, no printing costs required, can be found here
Cover of 13 page glossy county brochure
marketing the FY2016 budget
This is how the faux Budget Workshop played out yesterday:

Tom Fesler, Director, Management and Budget, publicly pitched the "Citizens Budget" to the county commissioners. What a misnomer! A budget called the "Citizens Budget" that does not properly fund our roads - the largest and most highly utilized asset that the county owns and citizens use. 98% of county citizens use our county roads everyday and they are FAILING the citizens. 

Fesler's presentation was for public show because the commissioners had already seen it. They had already been briefed directed by the County Administrator Mike Merrill (aka the Wizard of Oz of County Center) behind the green curtain. The Wizard works hard behind that curtain pulling the levers and pushing the buttons to ensure no sparks will fly in the public domain. Other than Commissioner Higginbotham, we heard crickets chirping from the rest. The Wizard is adept at keeping the "kumbaya" crowd under wraps.

Besides the windfall of $100 million of new revenues being sprinkled around the county, below are some tidbits from the budget workshop:
  • Total FY2016 budget is $4.72 BILLION but the "Citizen Services" portion is $1.83 BILLION
  • HeadStart, part of the "Social Capital" is over $30 million
  • 58% of the general fund is for law enforcement and fire rescue
  • $9 million of the new revenues is going to Constitutional offices "to maintain their current level service" - that should be a red flag that something is desperately wrong there - but no questions were asked.
  • The county showed very little in efficiencies gained. That should be a red flag but no questions were asked.
  • Millions of the new revenues are going to pay for union contracts and fire rescue that has fallen behind in their operating expenses. That's another area of red flags. We have posted before about the abuse of fire rescue union leave time at taxpayer expense, that the county had to move fire rescue monies around last year from fire rescue operations and capital to fire rescue personnel and concerns over the huge contract handed to the fire rescue union last year right at election time. No questions were asked.
  • 23 years of property tax millage decreases. Ironic that the county decreased the millage at the same time we can't fund our roads. Instead of funding our roads with revenues we have, this commission is continuing to pursue a bloated 30 year $3.5 Billion sales tax hike.
The Commissioners voted to keep our property tax millage static (no change) for FY2016. Commissioner Higginbotham was the only commissioner to vote No. I was not sure exactly why Higginbotham voted No. Perhaps he thought the county was wasting some of that $100 million of new revenues on commissioner's pet projects and he preferred taxpayers keep some rather than it going through the county waste filter for low priority pet projects.

Workshops are supposed to be the public venue working sessions where the county commissioners transparently speak to each other about the budget. The only comments made were accolades about the hard work put in to creating the budget. Is that all the comments the public gets to hear - comments about the process but virtually nothing about the actual issue at hand?

This budget workshop was an orchestrated, scripted one-way street. The budget briefing was presented by staff, no questions were asked and nothing was discussed.  Worst of all, nothing was asked to be changed in the proposed budget. No one wanted anything changed. No one mentioned our pathetically funded roads. Shameful!

Roads aren't sexy like building new parks, community centers, soccer complexes, cultural centers, doling our dimes out to special interests groups or focusing on a new baseball stadium.

Instead, roads are a necessity.

Why is there way too much power in way too few hands down at County Center?

It is beyond time for someone on this county commission to stand up and say enough is enough and stop the nonsense. 

The county has money to fund our roads NOW, they simply refuse to do it.

Roads and transportation are a top priority, "they" say.

As witnessed again yesterday, no they are not....

Looks like the county will continue holding our roads hostage unless the county can dig into your wallets and pockets for another CIT-like 30 year $3.5 BILLION sales tax hike.

"They" want another bloated 30 year sales tax hike.

Tell them NO, because "we won't get fooled again"!

Trump – Some positive affects

St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhDCoauthor of: So You Want Blog 

With just a few days to go until the first debate the media is still waiting breathlessly for Donald Trump to implode. They are longing to see the Donald in a tangled pile at the bottom the Republican Presidential candidate list and so far he is disappointing them greatly.

Chuck Todd, of NBC's Meet the Press, early predictions of Trump's eminent demise now seem more like prayers.

If you listen carefully you may just hear some of the less strident voices in the media hinting that the highly desired Trump implosion may just not happen at least not for a while.

Trump has been a positive force in the campaign on several fronts.

First he has revealed who among the political class can deal with outside the political mainstream competition. So far the results from the political elite have been disappointing.

From chopping up the tax code to smashing a cell phone with a golf club, Trump has reduced the most of the field to babbling idiots.

Jeb Bush, currently number two behind Trump in some of the Polls, is handling Trump the way he deals with most things he doesn't understand he just ignores them. Trump may be right Jeb just may be a wimp.

Another benefit of the Trump effort is the total demise of Marco Rubio's campaign. Probably was going to happen sooner or later but Trump certainly expedited the process.

The Republican Party is trying to do the nice dance pretty much staying out of Trump's line of fire but there are some serious questions that should be considered.

What if Trump lasts until the national convention? Even if he is not the leader at that point what happens if he has enough delegates to draw some concessions in the Party platform?

Could he influence who the presidential nominee or the vice presidential nominee might be?

Then there is that third party thing that seems to be keeping some of the big Republican players and the Party leadership at bay.

The argument, "you can't take this guy seriously" is starting to pale as Trump's poll numbers rise.

Trump is single handedly defining the Political Class for what they are and I think the real question that may be rising from Trump's popularity is do we as a people really want a political class that runs the Country?

For now Trump has accomplished the one thing no other Presidential candidate has been able to do. He has made the way to an early, way too long presidential election process revealing and entertaining.

E-mail Doc at mail or send me a Facebook (Gene Webb) Friend request. Please comment below, and be sure to share on Facebook. See Doc's Photo Gallery at Bay Post Photos.
Contributor: Waterfront Charter Amendment (Vote on The Pier), Carly Fiorina for President

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Wizard of Oz Orchestrating Another 30 year Tax Hike: Part 2

After the Hillsborough County Transportation Policy Leadership Group (PLG) took a ceremonial vote to continue pursuing Go Hillsborough's proposed huge 30 year $3.5 Billion sales tax hike, we began revisiting how did we get here.  

Our previous post identified there is a Wizard of Oz down at County Center who is manipulating the process - much of it outside the Sunshine and behind the green curtain.

We'll pick up where we previously left off with the hostile takeover of HART put on the back burner, for now. Wizardry could not dampen the distraction of that issue.

At the May 28, 2014 PLG meeting, it was announced by then facilitator Herb Marlowe that the transit projects were to be presented at the next PLG June 2014 meeting. We remember vividly because Mayor Buckhorn informed us all that rail would be included. The transcript and video of the May 28 meeting can be found here. This is from the transcript of the May 28, 2014 PLG meeting:
What happened next? 

No transit projects were EVER presented to the PLG.

Suddenly the June and July PLG meetings were abruptly cancelled by Merrill. The Wizard of Oz needed some breathing room behind the curtain to manipulate some levers and buttons.

The cancellation of the June PLG meeting to present transit projects occurred conveniently right after the AEComm transit assessment was completed in May. That assessment stated that Hillsborough County should invest in transit prudently and cautiously and that we do not have transit ridership high enough to qualify for federal funding of fixed guideway solutions.

Apparently, the Wizard also did not want to rain on the MPO's (Metropolitan Planning Organization) parade. Why? Because the MPO presented at the July 21, 2014 HART board meeting a downtown rail plan study they did in conjunction with the Downtown Partnership. 

While there were no open and public meetings in June or July last year, nothing stopped. The Wizard's levers and buttons continued to be orchestrated behind the green curtain.

Coincidentally, last June County Administrator Mike Merrill, in his newly empowered role as Hillsborough County's first unelected County Mayor, started taking a presentation out on the road advocating for another 30 year sales tax hike.

We posted here what Merrill presented to the HART board at their June 9, 2014 meeting. At that time transit projects were still planned to be presented at the June 26 PLG meeting.
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. (emphasis mine)
Note the slide Merrill titled "What are We Agreed On?". Merrill or someone apparently forgot about 2010.......Does equity in mobility and funding solutions sound Socialistic? Does equity in mobility and funding solutions mean throwing our tax dollars at high cost solutions just to be equitable? Where's cost-effective, efficient or even effective?
Slide from Merrill presentation June 9, 2014
 to HART Board
Tying all our transportation funding into a single huge 30 year sales tax hike is not "Equitable"! That is not wise, prudent or necessary.

Advocating for a tax increase is policy making. Policy making is the responsibility of elected county commissioners or an elected county mayor. It is not the responsibility of an unelected bureaucrat, the county administrator. 

As late as the June 18, 2014 BOCC meeting, Merrill told the county commissioners an entire transportation plan was to be presented on June 26: 
That never happened. 

Merrill had an entire plan ready to be presented last June? Why wasn't it ever presented to the PLG? What happened? Who got "cold feet"?

Instead, Merrill started taking this presentation touting trains, fixed guideways and a new huge tax increase out on the road to over 60 local organizations. 

He was even contacting homeowner associations and asking if he could come speak to them on the transportation issue. When was the last time a County Administrator was soliciting homeowner associations? Why weren't the county commissioners out making these presentations? 

Merrill's presentation includes that we invest "early" in Fixed Guideways in direct opposition to what the AEComm transit assessment stated. Is that why the county wanted to bury the AEComm report?
County presentation advocating for
high cost fixed guideways
Did the commissioners back then ever take a vote on this policy direction? No. Why aren't the county commissioners in synch with the state's direction for highly utilized managed lanes added for additional road capacity that are shared with express bus service? 

Merrill lived in Germany a while and he likes trains. However, the rendering below from his presentation looks more like a safety hazard than anything else. Somebody's bound to get killed with a solution like this. Has Merrill Googled the issues with the new DC streetcar lately?  Is a train, a single lane of traffic and a bike path what Hillsborough County wants to spend billions on to fix our traffic issues? Ridiculous?
Rendering from county transportation presentation
Merrill's presentation is almost entirely focused on transit. It is so biased that his one page Value Proposition does not even mention roads, the county's largest and most utilized asset that has the biggest funding gap. In addition, some of Merrill's Value Proposition talking points are very questionable as they came from APTA (noted in very small print), the big transit lobbyist in DC.

The Wizard of Oz also created  a "we must have transit options"  video and a "comprehensive mobility" proposal video. These videos were created 
PRIOR to the Go Hillsborough campaign. Who authorized these videos?  How much did they cost taxpayers?

The videos tout fixed guideways (again in opposition to the AEComm transit assessment) and implies we'll have high cost rail in 10 years. And some kind of rail will connect to All Aboard Florida in Orlando. Huh? Roads will be improved to get to "transit hubs". Really? 

These presentations and videos were the cart before the horse, way out of line and exceeded the County Administrator responsibilities as defined in our Charter. They confirm the Wizard of Oz down at County Center has been pulling the levers and pushing the buttons for another 30 year sales tax hike long before Go Hillsborough. 

The next PLG meeting finally got scheduled in August.

Next up:  what the Wizard ordered.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Office of the Mayor – is it worth the money?

St. Petersburg, FL
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb, PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want to Blog
During last Thursday's St. Pete City Council meeting the Karl Nurse District 6 City Council member indicated that as part of the City Budget process he had asked Mayor Kriseman for a report on the accomplishments of the team of people hired to staff the "Office of the Mayor".

That would be Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, Chief of Staff Kevin King, and Communications Director Ben Kirby along with some support staff.

All of that adds up to about $900,000 in salary and benefits including the Mayor and Council member Nurse was looking for information on payback for the public's investment in this new layer of administration.

Council member Nurse indicated he was disappointed because there had been no report or even a response from the Mayor's office.

The office of Mayor was a creation of Rick Kriseman probably before he ever set foot in City Hall as the elected Mayor. King and Kirby are longtime political cronies of the Mayor and these jobs are simply high paid political crony appointments.

King has no credentials for the position he occupies; he is careful to make sure his fingerprints are on as little as possible. Kirby, a writer and Blogger, is at least qualified for the position he holds, problem is one floor down in City Hall is a fully staffed marketing department that should be doing the communications job.

The concept of a loyal office of the Mayor might have been a good idea if Kriseman had staffed it with some qualified, experience people instead of political sidekicks.

Tomalin is a bit different in that the objective was to get a successful African American as high up in the organization as possible. Think Don McRea.

In reality after nearly a year on the job Tomalin has very little to hang her hat on in the way of significant accomplishments. I suspect that is more Kriseman's fault than hers.

Nurse indicated he had hoped the report could showcase some of the accomplishments of the office of the Mayor.

The reason Nurse didn't get his report is because there is nothing to report.

The taxpayers are not really getting much for the money being spent on the Office of the Mayor other than some political maneuvering, some cute posts in the Mayor's e-mail blast and keeping the reelection team well fed.

E-mail Doc at: or send me a Facebook (Gene Webb) Friend request. Please comment below, and be sure to share on Facebook and Twitter. See Doc's Photo Gallery at Bay Post Photos

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tribune Commentary today: Karen Jaroch: A way to get the feds out of our transportation decisions

Transportation is a red hot issue today. It is sizzling at the local level with the GoHillsborough campaign and at the national level as Congress struggles to re-authorize a federal highway bill. 

Today's commentary in the Tribune by Karen Jaroch, Vice-Chair of HART, is relevant to both so we are re-posting it on the Eye. 

Karen Jaroch: A way to get the feds out of our transportation decisions

Special to The Tampa Tribune
Published: July 28, 2015

With all the talk about raising gas taxes, what if you could pay less at the pump? With passage of H.R. 2716 — the Transportation Empowerment Act — this could be possible.

H.R. 2716 would devolve the responsibility for our surface transportation programs (including transit) to the states by incrementally decreasing the federal gas tax over five years from 18.3 cents to 3.7 cents per gallon. That reduction would empower the states to fund and manage it — not politicians and Washington bureaucrats.

The bill was filed by Florida’s U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, and cosponsored by Rep. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores, with Sen. Marco Rubio co-sponsoring the bill’s twin in the Senate. Well-heeled lobbyists and those in Congress who would see their power base decline are in opposition. Unfortunately, Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, is in that camp, as she recently characterized the bill as “radical” and “a burden to the states” in a constituent letter.

The feds fund roughly 30 percent of Florida’s transportation infrastructure; however, the costly regulations, red tape and strings they tack on permeate the process almost universally.

As a board member of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART), I’ve witnessed the agency routinely shackled by federal handcuffs that are common when accepting federal funds. H.R. 2716 would wrest control from D.C. bureaucrats and politicians in 49 other states that have never commuted on our streets and roads and instead empower state and local agencies like HART that are better positioned to make these decisions.

The Transportation Construction Coalition recently published an analysis of FHWA and state tax data by Drs. Alison Black and William Buechner, and they calculated the minimum gas tax “increase” needed to replace the apportionment “loss” for each state under H.R. 271. They found that Florida, a donor state, could exchange the federal 18.3 cent/gal tax with a lower tax of 11.5 cent/gal and revenues into Florida would be unchanged. This underscores the unfairness to Florida taxpayers whose tax dollars are siphoned off to states like Georgia, New York and California.

If Florida opted to keep the rate constant, it would see a sizable increase into transportation coffers without paying a penny more at the pump. This is a “burden” many Floridians stuck in traffic would gladly undertake.

Rep. Castor further claimed in her letter that devolution to the states would mean uncertainty to agencies charged with maintaining our highways and mass transit facilities. To the contrary, there is no certainty in the current process.

The current process is hobbled and patched with continuing resolutions expressed in months rather than years. Indeed, we’re operating now under a two-month continuing resolution with no guarantee when or if HART will get its remaining fiscal year 2015 allotment. HART has fiscally prudent policies, so our operating reserves can smooth over a temporary cash flow disruption, but many agencies cannot.

The federal highway bill in the Senate was tainted Friday morning with an amendment by Senate President Mitch McConnell to re-authorize the controversial Export-Import bank. This politically charged maneuver is payola for Sen Maria Cantwell’s vote switch on last month’s trade bill. This back-room deal-making is standard practice in D.C. A new state-led process would be controlled entirely by Floridians and would be absent the horse trading and infighting between 49 other states, two houses of Congress, a president of a different party and a myriad of federal agencies.

Under a state-led process, FDOT would figure prominently. Currently FDOT requires HART to submit a 10-year plan so it can be rolled into its larger transportation plans. HART would have more certainty and stability with a 10-year window rather than the schizophrenic process we have now that relies on the whims of Congress and whether an influential member of Congress resides in our district or not.

H.R. 2716 would allow increased revenues and certainty to Florida agencies charged with overseeing our transportation facilities without raising the overall taxes paid at the pump. This bill gets rid of the federal middle man and associated red tape, resulting in lower operating costs and increased productivity.

Call your House representative today and urge them to co-sponsor the Transportation Empowerment Act (H.R. 2716).

Karen Jaroch is a licensed professional engineer in Florida, the vice chair of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit agency, and Florida grassroots manager for Heritage Action for America.

Time for Congress to think outside the box to better optimize and more efficiently spend our gas taxes and empower states to decide their own unique transportation solutions. 

Please call your House Representative today to co-sponsor the Transportation Empowerment Act, bill H.R. 2716.

Tampa Bay Top Ten in Net Migration

This caught our eye recently.
The West and the South—not California or the Northeast—are apparently the places to move these days. In a piece on Denver’s economy, the WSJ provides a list of the urban areas that have been receiving the most in-migration since 2010. Houston, Dallas, Austin, Phoenix, Denver, San Antonio, Charlotte, Atlanta, Tampa, and Orlando make the top ten. Texas, North Carolina, Arizona, Florida, and Georgia are generally red states, and though Colorado is nominally a blue state, its business climate more closely resembles that of Texas than that of California. [Emphasis mine.]
Tampa Bay makes the top 10 list of places receiving the most net migration since 2010.

How could this be, with all the pessimism we hear about that we're not keeping up?

Clearly we're doing pretty well by this in flow migration metric. People actually are voting with their feet.

Here's the relevant chart from the cited WSJ article.

U.S. Census net migration (source WSJ)
Did you notice anything?

The top 3, and 3 of the top 6, are in Texas. All of the top ten are in the sunshine belt, all in low tax, low regulation red states.

Not a single city in New York.  Silicon Valley does not even make the top 10. Not a single city in California.

None of these top ten metro areas would be transit nirvana either, yet people still are flocking to them for real and improved opportunities.

Clearly, these people believe they have a better future in these locations than elsewhere and Tampa Bay is part of that influx.

We must be doing something right.

Florida overall continues to grow, adding 450,000 new migrants, passing New York as the 3rd largest state, and was second overall in domestic migration.

State domestic migration 2010 - 2014 (source
Again, all the top ten states are in the south or west, and primarily red states politically. The bottom five in net domestic migration are the usual suspects -- New York, Illinois, California, Michigan and Ohio. No sunbelt states were in the bottom 10.

From the American Interest,
As Joel Kotkin has argued many times, red states are eating blue states’ lunch, stealing away talented young workers and innovative businesses by offering lower costs of living, higher qualities of life, and more favorable tax and regulatory environments than anything coastal blue citadels can offer. And this is happening despite blue cities’ attempts to remain culturally enticing.
To attract young people, it seems, the cities of America don’t have to worry about being hip. Instead, they need to create dynamic economic environments. That is what draws the talented young—and in turn, it seems, they do their part to make their new homes nicer.
Those blue states and cities pursuing progressive policies supposedly for the working and minority class are actually driving them out to municipalities that are more affordable and offer more opportunities. All the blue states talk is not working. The people are voting with their feet.

As we've noted here and here, most of our growth is in Hillsborough County and Pasco County, the suburbs, and not city of Tampa.

When our political or business leaders complain that we aren't keeping up, we are, and we are doing just fine, thank you.

Just don't blow it, Tampa Bay, by listening to those that want us to adopt the failed policies of the blue states people are are escaping.

Keep it cool. Keep it diverse. Keep it affordable. Keep it open and dynamic.

Then we all win.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Who Are the Sales Tax Hike Cheerleaders?

Yesterdays Tribune had a front page article titled, "Hillsborough businesses ready to cheer sales tax hike".

What businesses?

The problem with that title is the article does not identify any Hillsborough businesses saying they are "ready to cheer sales tax hike".  The only person quoted representing the business community is Mickey Jacob, co-chair of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce transportation council. And quoting him, the Tribune refused to disclose that Jacob is also a member of the HART (our local transit agency) board. 
“I think we’re looking at how we build a coalition of organizations like ourselves to be out there and talking about this,” said Mickey Jacob, co-chairman of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce transportation council. “We want to be right in the middle of the debate and the discussion.”
The Tribune also quotes Rick Homans, CEO of our Economic Development Corporation that has been heavily taxpayer funded to the tune of hundreds of thousands of our county tax dollars. It was Rick Homans and County Administrator Mike Merrill who invited the rail cartel to the very first Policy Leadership Group meeting in July 2013 as we reported back then.
“From my perspective, the issue that keeps coming up over and over is transportation,” said Rick Homans, president and CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation. “And it’s critical we respond and be able to say, ‘Look: We’re doing something about it.’ ”
Is it good policy just throwing a huge 30 year sales tax hike out there and then saying "hey look we're doing something about transportation"? 

Is it good policy to propose a 30 year $3.5 Billion sales tax increase BEFORE identifying what it will pay for? 

Does Homans think that with a new huge 30 year sales tax hike, we can tax ourselves into prosperity?

Back to all those "business leaders ready to cheer for a huge 30 year tax hike. Where are they and who are they?

Only three other people from Hillsborough County are quoted in this entire article, a current county commissioner, a former county commissioner and our county administrator. County Commissioner Ken Hagan who has thrown his hat in to support the huge 30 year tax.
“I do not envision the county or HART being involved in any manner regarding the private-sector campaign; I think that’s dangerous ground,” Hagan said. “I think PSTA ended up making fatal flaw. We want to avoid the self-inflicted grenade even getting remotely close.”
Hagan said he expects a private-sector campaign committee will be formed after the first of the year to raise money and provide oversight. Merrill said the group will likely “organize themselves.”

Hagan said he wants to see a citizens advisory committee that includes some neighborhood leaders to advise the campaign’s executive committee.

“That’s how I envision we can dig down to the grass roots,” he said.
Did Hagan catch the quote from Jacob before his comments. Certainly he knows Jacob is a HART board member because he probably voted to put him on HART. 

Citizen oversight committees are not a simple answer to overseeing a huge long term $3.5 Billion tax. In 2002, Miami-Dade County, after a similar big public outreach campaign, voters passed a half-cent transportation sales tax called (literally) "The People's Plan" or TPT. A 15 member Citizens Independent Transportation Trust (CITT) committee was created as a mandate to provide oversight to the implementation of the TPT. Even with a citizen oversight committee, Miami-Dade transit misused funds and the FTA came in and suspended their federal funding. That will be a post for another day.

The other person from Hillsborough quoted is former County Commissioner Ed Turanchik, who drew similarities of this new 30 year sales tax to the Community Investment Tax.
Former Hillsborough Commissioner Ed Turanchik said a similar parallel can be drawn between the Go Hillsborough plan for specific projects and the Community Investment Tax passed by Hills­borough voters in 1996. The half-penny tax is best known for building Raymond James Stadium, helping keep the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in town.
We are not sure that comparing this new huge 30 year tax with the CIT tax is a complement. The CIT was blown out within 11 years when voters were promised the tax would be there for the life of the 30 year tax. However, a real good question is where was all that CIT tax money spent? Does anyone know?

The Tribune then felt compelled to jump over the bridge to Pinellas County with a quote from Joe Farrell, campaign manager for the pro Greenlight Pinellas PAC, Friends of Greenlight. 
“I think there were some people opposed to (rail) but they were opposed to it because they didn’t understand the value of it,” said Joe Farrell, campaign manager for Friends of Greenlight, a private-sector group that raised money for that campaign. Farrell said voters figured if the rail didn’t run near their job or home, it had no value to them.
The Tribune has Pinellas County Commissioner and PSTA board member Ken Welch weigh in who tries to compare the 10 year Penny for Pinellas with this new huge 30 year sales tax.

Why is the Tribune going to the head cheerleaders of the losing team in Pinellas?

Isn't it arrogant that the same people over and over keep telling us, the taxpayers/voters, that we just are not educated enough on the issue?  The problem with that argument is exactly the opposite. The public has gotten better educated and more skeptical of huge,  comprehensive, long term "something for everyone" tax hikes.

We are in a very different economic time than 1996 when the CIT barely passed 53-47. There is healthy skepticism and perhaps not a lot of desire for another 30 year sales tax hike.

The Tribune article continues with this vague description of supporters of the Go Hillsborough 30 year $3.5 Billion sales tax hike:
Despite the challenges in passing any new tax, Go Hillsborough proponents feel they will benefit from mistakes made by the failed referendums in Pinellas last year and in Hills­borough in 2010.
Here's more from the Tribune article
Another reason Go Hillsborough supporters think they can win is because of the county’s extensive public outreach campaign, something that many observers said was lacking in the 2010 referendum. The county held 36 public workshops during the spring and summer, as well as two telephone town halls. At least 56 more workshops, two at every county public library, will be held late this summer.
Why doesn't the Tribune tell us who these "Go Hillsborough proponents" and supporters are? 

Then our County Administrator Mike Merrill weighs in. 
“That’s the one thing that everyone has made a lot of is that we’re out there talking to the public and asking the public to get engaged,” Merrill said. “Just the fact that the people want me to come talk to them about it, it’s a good sign. They want to learn.”
Here's a clue. Merrill (in his newly empowered role as an unelected County Mayor) identified early on a list of stakeholders he planned to evangelize with on this issue. 
Key Stakeholder list, source Hillsborough County staff 
Tampa Bay Partnership, who led the 2010 pro rail PAC Moving Hillsborough Forward campaign and also contributed greatly to the Greenlight Pinellas campaign, is right at the top. SunTrust, who gave the very first donation of $50K to Moving Hillsborough Forward is on the list too. Do these look like grassroots?

Perhaps a better title for this Tribune article would have been "Commissioner Hagan ready to cheer sales tax hike".

Next time the Tribune makes vague statements about Hillsborough County businesses are ready to cheer a new huge 30 year, $3.5 Billion sales tax increase, we suggest they report who those business cheerleaders are.

Otherwise, are they just making this stuff up?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Go Hillsborough Cheerleading Begins

Apparently dismayed by the lack of support across the political spectrum, Go Hillsborough supporters have kicked off their private campaign. The headline, and I'm not making this up, is Hillsborough businesses ready to cheer sales tax hike for transportation.
Business organizations are gearing up to lead the campaign to pass a half-cent sales tax for transportation projects if county commissioners agree to put the tax on the November 2016 ballot.

The campaign will begin to come together sometime early next year following a December vote by commissioners to put the measure on the ballot. How the campaign will be structured is unclear, though both business and government leaders expect the business community to be in the forefront.
This comes as no surprise, as multiple Hillsborough County Commissioners have stated on numerous occasions they expect to work with private business to develop an advocacy campaign. Despite their spin, this is just like Moving Hillsborough Forward in 2010, and Friends of Greenlight in 2014.

We know how those turned out.

It does seem rather early, as we're still a few months off from the commission voting to put the sales tax referendum on the ballot. There are still over 50 more community workshops to be scheduled supposedly to gain further constituents input buy votes across the county, led by rail crony Parsons-Brinkerhoff, and their sidekick, Beth Leytham.
“I think we’re looking at how we build a coalition of organizations like ourselves to be out there and talking about this,” said Mickey Jacob, co-chairman of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce transportation council. “We want to be right in the middle of the debate and the discussion.”
Jacob is playing the part he was expected to perform when the County Commission appointed him to the HART Board last year.  The County Commission replaced Steve Polzin, a well recognized transportation expert on the HART board with Jacob, an urban architect and Chamber of Commerce leader. Jacob stated last year when he was appointed to HART
"[W]e have to look at the culture of our community to start to change the behavior of everyone to embrace different modes of transportation, and that’s not an easy process,"
Conveniently, the Tribune did not disclose that Jacob is currently on the HART board.

We wonder how Jacob will balance his position on the HART board with his Go Hillsborough advocacy.

Commissioner Ken Hagan is aware of the conflicts, risks and mistakes that the unethical Greenlight campaign made taking its education advocacy up to the legal edge in 2014.
That won’t happen in Hillsborough, said County Commissioner Ken Hagan, who does not see the Hillsborough Area Transit Authority playing a major role in the Go Hillsborough campaign.

“I do not envision the county or HART being involved in any manner regarding the private-sector campaign; I think that’s dangerous ground,” Hagan said. “I think PSTA ended up making fatal flaw. We want to avoid the self-inflicted grenade even getting remotely close.”
Again, we ask, how will Jacob balance his position on the HART board with his Go Hillsborough advocacy?

But the county may not be completely hands off the campaign.
Hagan said he expects a private-sector campaign committee will be formed after the first of the year to raise money and provide oversight. [County Administrator Mike] Merrill said the group will likely “organize themselves.”

Hagan said he wants to see a citizens advisory committee that includes some neighborhood leaders to advise the campaign’s executive committee.
Will this citizens advisory committee be truly representative of the citizens in Hillsborough County? Will it include those that have expressed grave concerns with the Go Hillsborough plan? Will in include those who voted against the plan in 2010, which failed 42% - 58%?

Why are we still here?  Perhaps a clue from the clueless
Business leaders often back such referendums because of a widely perceived nexus between economic development and a top-flight road and mass transit network. Surveys by economic development groups show the Tampa area’s transportation network is a major drawback in the eyes of out-of-town business leaders considering a move here.

“From my perspective, the issue that keeps coming up over and over is transportation,” said Rick Homans, president and CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation. “And it’s critical we respond and be able to say, ‘Look: We’re doing something about it.’ ”
The problem is they are trying to fix our transportation issues around a politicized, centralized plan to promote economic development rather than solely focusing on improving mobility.

Our leaders have wrapped themselves around the axle of some ill defined mega-plan around "walkable communities", mythical millennials, and neighborhoods that we all can "live, work and play" in.

Fix mobility, then everything else will follow. 

Since 2010, our leaders have accomplished nothing except bloviating and procrastinating on improving our transportation.  They've negligently avoided examining and re-prioritizing the existing budget. With increasing revenues, the County could have developed some incremental projects, identified some quick wins, or proposed increased funding options they can implement without a referendum.  But it would take leadership and expending political capital to do so.  

That's why we are where still here today, where we were in 2010.

The County Commission has accomplished nothing in the last 4 and 1/2 years since the defeat of Moving Hillsborough Forward in 2010.

Now they're planning to do the same thing again.  

The results are predictable.  There is little support for a 30 year sales tax increase, and even less trust in the process.

We ask again.  What is their Plan B?

Mike Connors – recycled

St. Petersburg, FL
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb, PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want to Blog
With little fanfare Mike Connors the front and center get it done guy for the Kriseman administration has been mildly demoted. Actually kind of recycled.
You can pick up the details in Kameel Stanley’s Tampa Bay Times article: Kriseman cuts back duties for administrator who oversaw recycling.
The Sanitation department and the Purchasing department have been removed from Connors’ span of control.
In response to an E-mail Ben Kirby, Kriseman Communications Director, indicated Sanitation will move to Neighborhood Services currently run by Mike Dove and Purchasing will report directly to Gary Cornwell City Administrator.
Connors has be a lightening rod most recently in both the Pier Park decision and the very noisy launch of the City’s recycling program.
It appears all of this leaves Connors still in charge of the City’s two largest construction projects, Pier Park and the new Police complex.
Best quote from the Stanley article: “In Mike’s role as a public servant and an operations manager, authenticity and humility, as well as being a good listener and communicator, are so important,” said Darden Rice. “People don’t want to feel managed. What we want are straight answers and real collaboration. Mike is used to doing things his own way, and that approach has not produced the best outcomes.”
Great observation and things are not likely to change.
Kriseman and City Council’s issues with Connors are not over. Despite the efforts of the Mayor’s office via Kevin King to assure everything is ok between the Dream Team and Connors those of us who have worked with Mike know he rarely goes quietly into the night.
For those who would have preferred Connors be fired the fact is Connors is probably the City’s best large scale project manager, and he has kept it that way through his hiring practices for years.
I don’t know who has been given the responsibility to keep watch on Connors, but if it is anybody on the Mayor’s Dream Team Mike is grinning from ear to ear.
For now Connors will have more time to focus on his three primary objectives: getting that damn Pyramid torn down and keeping the police building as austere as possible.
What’s the third objective? I’ll leave that to your imagination.
E-mail Doc at: or send me a Facebook (Gene Webb) Friend request. Please comment below, and be sure to share on Facebook and Twitter. See Doc’s Photo Gallery at Bay Post Photos

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Wizard of Oz Orchestrates Another 30 Year Sales Tax Hike

The Transportation Policy Leadership Group and the million dollar taxpayer funded GoHillsborough campaign loudly touted "options" throughout their campaign effort. However, Parsons Brinkerhoff and County Administrator Mike Merrill offered the Transportation Policy Leadership Group only ONE transportation funding option:  another 30 year, CIT like $3.5 Billion sales tax hike. Why?

The decision for another 30 year huge sales tax hike appears to had already been decided long ago. The only question remaining was whether the county would push again for a full cent (14%) sales tax increase again or a smaller increase to dent any opposition to the county having the highest sales tax rate in the state. Greenlight Pinellas and the other sales tax referendums that went down in flames last November may have put the nail in the coffin of trying for a full cent in Hillsborough AGAIN.

Since the Transportation Policy Leadership Group took a "ceremonial vote of confidence" to continue pursuing the 30 year tax proposal, we will start a series of posts to revisit how the proposed huge 30 year sales tax increase was all very well orchestrated. 

We will start at the beginning.

In March 2013, then Commissioner Mark Sharpe, made a motion to hire a facilitator to facilitate workshops to develop a transportation strategy that would be integrated into the county's strategic plan. Below is Sharpe's motion from the March 30, 2013 BOCC meeting:
How did we get from developing a transportation strategy to an almost $1.5 million dollar taxpayer funded campaign pushing for more of your tax dollars? The chief orchestrator has been County Administrator Mike Merrill but he was empowered to do so.  Merrill has been empowered to take on a new role as Hillsborough County's first policy making unelected County Mayor. Merrill has become a Wizard of Oz of County Center deceptively manipulating the entire transportation initiative from behind the curtain. 
The Wizard of Oz manipulates behind the curtain
Merrill was told to lead the charge by the county commissioners. That was the first mistake. County Administrators are unelected bureaucrats and are NOT responsible for policy making nor responsible for running around the county advocating tax hikes. According to our Home Rule Charter which includes separation of powers, the County Administrator is the Executive branch responsible for implementing the policies of the decision makers of the legislative branch, the elected county commissioners. Can the electeds, the legislative branch, delegate their policy making power to the executive branch county administrator?  We'll leave that question for another day.

The first item of business Merrill had to do was expand our local government. He hired deputy county administrators to perform his normal County Administrator duties as his attention was consumed by the transportation initiative. 

Merrill then created the Transportation Policy Leadership Group (PLG) consisting of all the county commissioners and mayors of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City. The reason they were selected is they all have revenue raising responsibilities aka tax increases.

Merrill hired facilitator Herb Marlowe to facilitate monthly PLG meetings. There was no transparent bid, RFP or requirements submitted by the county for this work. Merrill just  handed Marlowe the work because he had facilitated the county's strategic planning sessions. 

Marlowe and county staff (including Merrill) hosted county transportation public hearings all over the county from August to December 2013. These were the only transportation meetings where the public had an opportunity to actually speak and make a public comment on this issue. 

However, the elected officials were specifically told to stay away and not attend these meetings. Was that a strategy to shield the electeds from directly engaging with their own constituents? Someone (Merrill?) decided they did not like what was being publicly said at those meetings. There was no report, no analysis, no summary, nothing ever publicly and transparently presented to the PLG. The taxpayers paid for Marlowe's public engagement effort but was it simply a waste?

PLG meetings were consistently held each month with various groups of people for about 10 straight months. These meetings are held like workshops providing a public venue for the PLG to discuss the issue but no public comments ever allowed. 

Remember that very first PLG meeting back in July 2013? The Eye reported here where the members of our local rail cartel were invited to participate at that first meeting and we stated then:
We'll be watching the orchestration and collaboration going on around the transportation issue between taxpayer funded agencies, special interests and elected representatives.
It was Merrill who invited the rail cartel to the first PLG meeting. That meeting turned into a hand holding, kumbaya session touting high cost light rail again. So much for Sharpe's statement about the county having a huge issue with public trust...Is inviting the local rail cartel to the very first transportation meeting a way to build public trust? 

Last year Merrill hired large engineering firm AEComm to do a county transit assessment. Their assessment reported the county does not have ridership high enough to qualify for federal funds to implement high cost fixed guideways transit solutions. AEComm recommended that the county invest in transit prudently and cautiously (not boldly and recklessly).

AEComm's assessment was completed last May and the county (Merrill) buried it. While taxpayers paid for this assessment, it was never publicly presented to the PLG. We knew the local media got the information about the transit assessment but they decided to treat it as if it did not exist and basically chose to ignore it. Guess the AEComm report did not fit the narrative of Merrill, the Tribune and others who had already decided the county would pursue another huge 30 year sales tax increase. So they all chose to ignore it.

While AEComm was doing their assessment, Merrill attempted a wizardly proposal for a hostile takeover and restructure of the HART Board, our local transit agency. Merrill wanted all elected officials on the HART board, except for the two gubernatorial appointees. Even the Wizard of Oz could not figure out how to get rid of of the gubernatorial appointees. However, they would be marginalized by all the electeds who would have the majority.

Merrill not only wanted the HART board to be all electeds, he wanted to expand HART's authority to include roads and all transportation. Merrill proposed transforming our transit agency HART into a one stop shopping "Super Agency" to oversee all transportation in the county. By Florida statute, HART is a transit agency and it does not do roads. It was never clear how legally transforming HART into a transportation super agency could ever occur.

Were dollar bills dancing in some heads dreaming of a new huge sales tax hike? Did Merrill want wizardly control over a new huge pot of money? A new 30 year, $3.5 Billion stream of money could be used, when needed, to dole out tax dollars to more cronies and for commissioner's pet projects. This new 30 year tax could become another incumbent protection tax.

Merrill's proposals to takeover HART with all electeds and expand its authority would create another "PTC like" agency controlling all our local transportation dollars. Corruption, waste and fraud would ensue, especially with a new bucket of $3.5 Billion of tax dollars.

One only needs to look across the Bay to Pinellas County's fiscally mismanaged transit agency PSTA and see that a transit agency governing board consisting of all electeds is NOT a model to follow. 

The issue of the hostile takeover and restructure ended up becoming such a distraction, even for the Wizard of Oz. Therefore, Merrill directed the PLG to put it on the back burner last summer. But beware -  if the huge 30 year, $3.5 Billion tax increase makes it on the ballot for next year, Merrill will probably bring this issue back. 
Wizard of Oz is caught  
Has more wizardry been going on behind the curtain at County Center? 

Wizardry pushing another huge 30 year, $3.5 Billion sales tax referendum?

Wait and see.