Monday, December 21, 2015

City Transportation Tax is a Bad Idea

The Tribune editorialized today recommending the state legislature give cities the transportation keys, and allow cities to tax their constituents for transportation initiatives.
A simple measure would defuse much of the conflict over local transportation tax proposals that frequently pit suburban areas against urban ones.

City voters are more inclined to favor spending on transportation projects, particularly mass transit. Suburban voters generally are more dubious, often viewing transit as a city service that doesn’t benefit them.

That was apparent in Hillsborough County’s 2010 transportation tax vote, which passed in the city of Tampa but failed overall because it fared poorly in the unincorporated county.

Although a countywide transportation plan that addresses all of a community’s diverse needs is, obviously, the better route, cities should have the option of being able to fund their mobility necessities without relying on a countywide vote.

But under state law only charter counties can hold a referendum on whether to impose up to a 1 percent sales tax to fund transportation projects.
There are over 1.277 million residents in Hillsborough County, and 353,000 residents in Tampa.

Despite those numbers, county residents are already paying the majority for HART and getting less service, as most of HARTs routes service Tampa riders, so they have some reason to be skeptical.

Allowing cities to tax for transportation is a bad idea
The Trib's proposal leaves a few unasked and unanswered question for the reader.

There are many cities of many sizes throughout Florida. Is there a minimum size of the city or county population before this proposal can be enacted? If it's good for Tampa is it good for Wewahitchka?

If a city such as Tampa elects to tax its constituents for transportation improvements, will it lose access to the county tax revenues for the same purpose? For example, will the city have to pay more for HART, more in line with the benefits received by city HART riders? Or can the city create its own transit agency?

Will the county be protected from backstopping any city transportation boondoggles gone awry?

Will this result in more transportation bureaucracy in Tampa, which now must coordinate with HART, MPO, TBARTA, TED/PLG, TMLA, THEA, planning commissions, FDOT, just to name a few?

The Trib continues,
Suburban voters can be shortsighted in thinking spending in the city doesn’t benefit them. Thriving municipalities generate jobs, increase a county’s tax base and create business and cultural opportunities for the region.
I think they really meant to write
City voters can be shortsighted in thinking spending in the county doesn’t benefit them. Thriving counties generate jobs, increase a city's tax base and create business and cultural opportunities for the region.
Given the population of the county, and most of the recent job relocations and growth are in the county, perhaps the Tribune is wagging the dog.

Hillsborough County is 2.6 times greater than the size of Tampa. The growth and economic driver will continue to be in the county, as there is little room for Tampa to grow. What growth that will happen in Tampa will usually be more costly as it must increase density to build up rather than out.

It won't be fair for the county taxpayers to be the insurance policy for the city's transportation plans gone sideways. It won't be fair for the cities taxpayers to lose access to revenues from the growth in the county.

This is a bad idea.

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