Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Go Hillsborough - déjà vu all over again

--by Tom Rask

In this article, I will make the case that local Tampa Bay area elected officials refuse to learn from facts and experience. In doing do, they waste tax dollars and are increasingly viewed as stubborn "do-nothings" by voters eager for better roads and less congestion.

For those who do care about transportation in the Tampa Bay area, but have better things to do than read this post, let me sum it up this way: Go Hillsborough is a tax hike. That is likely all that voters will need to know in order to vote no. Feel free to stop reading here. Really, it won't hurt my feelings.

The seven elected officials that make up the Hillsborough County Commission will decide whether to put the scandal-ridden and corrupt Go Hillsborough plan on the November ballot. Here are is a cheat sheet for them to consider in making their decision:
  • It's a tax hike - we covered that one already.
  • More transit won't reduce congestion - politicians keep hinting that more bus or rail transit will reduce traffic congestion. However, their claim is false.
  • Transit ridership is declining - through the first four months of FY2016, transit ridership in both Hillsborough and Pinellas has dropped by over 5% year over year. These numbers will make it hard to argue that there is a "need" for more transit, or that the public demands more transit.
  • Hillsborough 2010 transit tax - 58% voted NO - the "official" explanation for the defeat was that voters didn't have a clear plan to vote on. 
  • Pinellas 2014 transit tax - 62% voted NO - this time, there was a comprehensive plan (Greenlight Pinellas, as it was called). The economy had improved since 2010, yet the election day results showed that voters were still in no mood for tax hikes....especially not for slush funds.
  • Bad plans are easily defeated - in this era of social media, bad plans such as Go Hillsborough are easily defeated. The defeat of Greenlight Pinellas proved that. Buzzfeed showed in 2014 that what's said on Facebook moves public opinion more today than ads or news stories. That trend is only increasing.
  • Orlando rail transit failure - Go Hillsborough has money in it for rail transit. But why would we think rail transit will work in Hillsborough when Sunrail has been a failure in Orlando? They set very low ridership expectations for Sunrail, and yet they can't even reach those low goals.
  • The stench of scandal - the 10 Investigates TV team has doing great work in showing how the public policy process in arriving at the Go Hillsborough. plan was corrupted from day one. It's going to be hard for the public to get that stench out of their nostrils.
  • The payola media - independent investigative journalist Jim Bleyer recently exposed some rather unusual and profitable real estate transactions involving the "conservative" Tampa Tribune. To the public, it looks like the Tribune is being paid to support candidates and causes - including Go Hillsborough.
When those arguments have been made, opponents will have more compelling arguments to make. And more after that, even though the only argument we will need is "it's a tax hike". Meanwhile, the "yes" side will struggle to find good arguments to defend a bad plan.

Best path forward? Kill the rotten-to-the-core Go Hillsborough plan now. If it's placed on the ballot, the whole mess will only end in tears for those who support it.

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