Monday, August 15, 2016

A Victory for Taxpayers - Now County Center Must Commit to Making Board Policy Work

The Eye was at the county commission Transportation Workshop last Wednesday. The video of that meeting can be found on the HTV website by selecting the meeting date August 10, 2016. Everyone should watch it. 

The Workshop was opened for public comment. All but one of the citizens who spoke were supporting Commissioner Murman's proposal for an ordinance to use our growth revenues within our existing budget to fund our roads and transportation.

It has taken years to get here, but finally the county commissioners voted 6-1 (Miller voted no) to pursue a Board policy requiring 1/3 of our new revenue growth to be put aside to fund our roads and transportation. The Board policy language will be brought to the September 8th BOCC meeting for approval. 

While Murman's proposal will be accomplished through a board policy and not an ordinance, this is a seismic shift from where we were a year ago. 

This is a victory for the taxpayers of Hillsborough County.

After Hagan fought the effort with Merrill (watch the video), he ended up voting for the motion. We will watch closely to see if there's an attempt to obstruct the intent of the policy or water it down when the policy is up for Board approval September 8th.

The eventual 6-1 vote is not representative of the discussion that actually occurred at the meeting. Hagan's mocking comments did him no favors but they are recorded for all to see.

County Administrator Mike Merrill brought in the big guns, the county's financial advisor and bond counsel, to provide their comments on Murman's proposal. 

Budget Director Tom Fesler presented an analysis on 10 years of revenue growth, analysis of 1/3 of new revenue growth going to transportation and 10 years of funding analysis. The budget analysis was done based on numerous factors including estimated population growth, estimated inflation rate and estimated growth rate. 

The presentation was flawed, however, as Commissioner Murman pointed out Merrill had left out 20% of the revenues in the analysis. Somehow the Times failed to report that tidbit.

This is the first time we've ever seen such level of analysis during the budget cycle. Unfortunately, too many budgets recommended by Merrill have simply been rubber stamped, no questions asked.

We're a growing county and their doom and gloom attitude towards funding transportation within our existing growing budget was quite astonishing. More astonishing when we continue to watch Merrill pull tens of millions of dollars out of his rabbit's hat to spend on all kinds of other things. 

This behavior is no longer acceptable!

The meeting showcased that County Administrator Mike Merrill and Commissioner Hagan do not want to prioritize our county's budget. 

Neither does the Tampa Bay Times. According to their Sunday Op-Ed, prioritizing our county budget is an "empty gesture".
The county is not creating a new revenue stream for transportation; it's merely raiding money already there.
Their attitude is absurd and out of touch with reality and the electorate today. 

The Tampa Bay Times would better serve their readers if they started questioning the county budget. There are a number of questionable oddities including ghost projects being financed by debt and budgeting for capital projects with no known operating costs. These oddities go against any normal budget process we know and is not good governance. 

The Times should look at past budgets of a decade ago or more ago. They prove that the commissioners will re-align spending to higher priorities, including towards funding our roads and transportation. 

The county commissioners are elected to make tough decisions not rubber stamp unelected bureaucrat Merrill's budget recommendations. If the commissioners can't, won't or refuse to make tough budget decisions that the rest of us must do everyday, they need to find another job.

As we posted previously, 69% of those polled last year during the Go Hillsborough campaign stated the county needs to do a better job spending what we already have. 

How is that done? By prioritizing the budget to fund our highest priorities FIRST.

If the county cannot prioritize it's spending, there's no limit to the expansion of local government and no limit to what the county will spend OUR tax dollars on. 

If the county cannot prioritize its spending, then the county is telling the taxpayers that everything must be a priority. 

No one believes that. 

But we get it. Merrill, Hagan and the Tampa Bay Times want a new baseball stadium and costly trains. They know the county will have to pick our pockets more to get them.

The county was forced to prioritize our budget during the recession. The services that the county cut the most was our transportation funding. They diverted all property taxes that historically always funded our roads to other things when the recession hit. 

However the county refused to re-appropriate those dollars back to transportation as our revenues began going up and up and up.

When forced to, the county had to prioritize. When our revenues are healthily increasing, suddenly the county cannot prioritize. What hogwash!

Requests were repeatedly made by citizens during the budget process over the last few years for the county to fund our roads and transportation. Those requests fell on deaf ears. 


Because the tax hike and spenders down at County Center, Mayor Buckhorn, their cronies and special interest backers and our local media (Tampa Bay Times) want another sales tax hike referendum.

According to this recent Tampa Bay Business Journal article, Mayor Buckhorn, wants to get behind a citizen petition led referendum to force a sales tax hike get on the 2018 ballot. 

Buckhorn also stated this in the TBBJ article:
“I would think that if [St. Pete] Mayor [Rick] Kriseman and I had the ability to do that within the municipalities that we could pass it and we could fund the beginnings of a transportation system, particularly rail, that would link downtown St. Pete to downtown Tampa and the airport,” Buckhorn said.
We'd like to see the financial viability of that business case. 

Buckhorn, the mayor of downtown Tampa only, is now living in the twilight zone.

Remember it was Buckhorn on the Tampa City Council back in the 1990's who was the lone NO vote on the Tampa Streetcar. He said it did not have a long term viable business model. And he was right.  

CIT revenues are another local funding source for transportation capital projects. 

Those who continue fretting and lamenting that the county cannot prioritize our budget to fund our roads and transportation know that the CIT tax will come up for reauthorization between now and 2026 when it expires.

It was the county who blew out the entire CIT future revenues for unincorporated Hillsborough. Who recommended doing that in 2007? Commissioner Hagan and then county Finance guy Mike Merrill. 

Talk about actually raiding and financially constraining future county commission boards….Where was the Times back then? Crickets……

That is why we doubt taxpayers will stomach another 30 year tax and believe there should be no attempt to extend the CIT for longer than 10 years. 

The MPO estimates that extending the CIT out to 2040 (14 years), using a 3.58% growth rate, unincorporated Hillsborough would receive over $1.7 BILLION of new revenues. If the CIT was extended for 10 years, the county would probably receive over $1.5 BILLION.
MPO's CIT revenue estimates if extended
from MPO's 2040 LRTP

Before the CIT comes up for reauthorization, the county must prove they are being good stewards of the money they already receive. Trust must be earned back. 

Prioritizing our budget is how to get that done.

This move by the commissioners to fund our roads and transportation FIRST before spending our tax dollars on pork projects, lower priority items, unnecessary spending, subsidizing special interests and wealthy sports team owners is a step in the right direction.

We would have preferred an ordinance but when this Board policy is approved, the commissioners will be put on notice that we will now watch the budget process like a hawk.

The policies of obstruction and failing to start addressing our transportation issue must come to an end. 

Because most importantly, the commissioners must have someone at County Center who is committed to making the Board policy work.

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