Thursday, December 29, 2016

Dump Pinellas Commissioner Janet Long's Push for a Regional Council of Cronies

"They" are at it again. And it's all to get more of your tax dollars.
Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long
Because Hillsborough and Pinellas have overwhelmingly defeated sales tax hikes, Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long and some powers to be are pushing regionalism in another attempt to merge HART and PSTA as reported by the Times back in October.
The move comes on the heels of the federal government's insistence on one regional set of transportation priorities similar to those serving metro areas such as Denver, Seattle and Minneapolis-St. Paul. The government wants one regional plan that would cover 20 years of expected growth in overlapping metro areas. Local leaders would have two years to devise a plan once the federal rules are finalized.
We agree there are too many entities and agencies who have their fingers in the transportation pie but the answer is not to consolidate them into some regional super agency. Bigger in government is never better. Bigger agencies result in a more costly, less accountable entity. 

Bigger regional government agencies puts the decision makers an arms length from those impacted, especially the taxpayers. Regional entities enables greater influence by special interests and reduces local influence and local control.

The push for merging HART and PSTA is always coming from Pinellas County. 

Why? Follow the money. 

PSTA has been mismanaged for years and is a fiscally mismanaged agency and a mess. Instead of fixing its problems, PSTA wants a bailout and some powers to be are willing to be their accomplices for the bailout.

Beware Hillsborough County taxpayers. We do not want to be part of PSTA's mess or paying to fix their mess. PSTA needs a big housecleaning and a new governing Board appointed with a majority of citizens not elected officials.

HART and PSTA already can and do collaborate. When it makes fiscal sense, they can play in the same sandbox to achieve a mutually beneficial result. 

With the Obama Administration push to regionalize MPO's, some powers to be are trying to ride those coattails with another HART-PSTA merger push. 

However, our own Florida Department of Transportation formally sent their comment August 17th to the Feds (Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration) requesting the Obama Admin MPO mandatory merger rule be suspended. Our state MPO Advisory Council aka MPOAC also commented in opposition to the Obama Admin MPO merger rule. The MPOAC has a representative from each of the 27 MPO's in the state of Florida.

Why did the Hillsborough County Commission vote on August 17, the very same day FDOT sent their letter opposing the MPO merger rule, to send a letter to the Feds supporting the Obama Admin MPO mandatory merger rule. (We have asked for a copy of the letter Commissioner Miller sent to the Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration.)
Hillsborough BOCC vote on 8/17/2016 to send letter to Feds
supporting Obama Admin MPO mandatory merger rule
(click to enalarge)
And more odd is Commissioner Miller sits on the Governing Board of the MPOAC.  

Why did our commissioners support the Obama regional MPO merger rule? How could Miller and our county commissioners miss the FDOT and MPOAC letters?

In addition, this MPO merger rule was being foisted on us right before an election as the Obama Administration tries to push as much rule-making and regulations through before Obama leaves office.

And now things are about to change. There will be a brand new Trump Administration and Republican Congress who may have very different thoughts about all the rules and regulations thrust on us by the Obama Admin. The push for regionalism may just get stopped in its tracks.

None of that stopped HART from drafting a proposed inter-local agreement with HART as a result of Long's regional proposal.  But kudos to HART Board member Karen Jaroch. who according to this Saintpetersblog post, pointed out her concerns about the poorly written, vague proposed inter-local agreement with PSTA. Putting Hillsborough County taxpayers at risk is certainly not the answer to solving any problem. 

PSTA, who wants a bailout, is ready to jump on board. This Saintpetersblog post reported on December 7:
Members of the governing board of Pinellas’ bus transportation authority voted unanimously Wednesday to develop an agreement to coordinate with the Hillsborough transit authority. 
The agreement, which would be forwarded to the State Legislature, is a step to creating a regional council of governments that’s been proposed by Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long.
This was also reported:
Long said the proposal is a “framework” for merging several governmental agencies into one regional organization that can provide regional solutions to transit, land and economic development, affordable housing and other region-wide issues. Such a group, Long said, could provide “better, more nimble” solutions to problems.
This is eerily similar to what the Obama Admin did in 2009 when they created the HUD-DOT-EPA Partnership for Sustainable Communities:
On June 16, 2009, EPA joined with HUD and DOT to help improve access to affordable housing, more transportation options, and lower transportation costs while protecting the environment in communities nationwide.
Has bigger government ever been better or more nimble?

Pinellas County Commissioner Long started this regionalism push but is she playing the proxy role for Senator Jack Latvala? Latvala already forced taxpayers to TWICE pay for studies about merging HART and PSTA. Merging was rejected after both studies.

The key driver for pushing regionalism is money.

Long admitted she believes regional power is the way to procure more state and federal funding. As the December SaintPetersblog post reported (emphasis mine):
Long would fold PSTA, HART, and other transportation providers such as the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority, ferryboat operations and others under the regional council of government. Certain functions, or entire organizations, could be consolidated within the council of governments concept. 
The regional council of governments membership would include mayors, county commissioners, council members, business/private sector leaders and advisory staff members from Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties.
What Commissioner Long has proposed is a regional council of cronies who's goal is to pursue as much taxpayer money as possible for costly transit/train solutions. 

We know who the members would be - the same electeds who want to unnecessarily raise our taxes, the crony business leader special interests (and we know and they know exactly who they are) and the entrenched unelected bureaucrats who want to grow their bureaucracy and their power.

And since the Times has supported every failed attempt to raise our taxes to fund boondoggles, it's no surprise they weigh in on December 20th with this:  Editorial: Encouraging Tampa Bay transit talks. Let's breakdown down what the Times said (emphasis mine):
After several failed starts, Tampa Bay may be finally starting to get its act together on mass transit. The transit agencies on both sides of the bay are looking at more ways to cooperate — a step toward improving regional bus service, saving time and taxpayer money and laying a foundation for new regional transit. County leaders in Pinellas and Hillsborough are also considering how to sharpen the region's focus and make the area more competitive for state and federal transit moneyThere is plenty of work to do and details to iron out, but the work behind the scenes is encouraging.
The quiet discussions are particularly reassuring in the wake of three failed transit initiatives in the bay area in recent years. They also are in stark contrast to the controversy around Tampa Bay Express, the proposed overhaul of the interstate system that calls for toll lanes and a massive highway rebuild over parts of neighborhoods near downtown Tampa.
The movement sets the table for local leaders to be prepared when the state completes its regional premium transit study in 2018. That study should offer big fixes for regional mobility, and by having a more responsive government in place the region will be better positioned to move quickly on big solutions. 
Long and other leaders across the bay, including HART chief executive Katharine Eagan, are bringing order, direction and a sense of urgency to the region's transit efforts. This approach has the opportunity to improve bus service, ease road congestion, lay a path for regional rail, save tax money and make for smarter growth, easing the costly impacts of sprawl. To voters looking for a better strategy before agreeing to tax themselves more for transit, these are positive developments. 
There are more particulars to deal with, and Tampa Bay is still a long way from a robust regional transportation authority and one common plan for mass transit that includes light rail.
Again PSTA and HART already collaborates and if there are more places where they can collaborate, that is fine, but no consolidation is needed to collaborate. And no regional council of cronies is needed either. Who thinks a regional council of cronies is "more responsive government"?

Considering trust is such a huge issue in Tampa Bay, it is appalling that the Times likes "quiet discussions" and that all the work for Long's scheme was being done "behind the scenes" outside of Sunshine with little transparency. Why? Because they are part of the council of cronies.

TBX was not schemed behind the scenes in "quiet discussions". Expanding the interstate has been in FDOT's plan for decades, documentation was published for years and numerous opportunities for public input was provided. FDOT already owns most of the right of way for TBX. We understand most of the remaining right of way near downtown needed for TBX are tenant-occupied property owned by investors not owner-occupied. 

The Times does not even use the term transportation because their agenda is focused solely on getting more state and federal money for transit…….when ridership at both PSTA and HART has been declining for several years now….and vehicle miles travelled is increasing. 

Has the Times reported about the declining transit ridership of both PSTA and HART? Nope! But SaintPetersblog and Tampa Bay Guardian have.

The Times admits the regional council of cronies is to pursue higher taxes and more state and federal grant money for costly trains.

How absurd to think that a regional council of cronies is a strategy to convince taxpayers to tax themselves more for trains they will never ride.

But the Tampa Bay power brokers know the runway for trying to fund any costly rail solutions is quickly shrinking.

At the Hillsborough County local delegation meeting held December 16th, State Senator Tom Lee asked Katherine Eagan, HART's CEO who spoke at the meeting, that very question about whether emerging and evolving technology is making pursuing costly fixed guidways/rail solutions irrelevant. 

Eagan responded by honestly stating "We're so far behind, we're ahead…"  

We appreciate her honesty. It is good that Tampa Bay taxpayers are not stuck paying billions and millions into perpetuity for costly solutions that are becoming irrelevant and few will use. 

The push for costly light rail and trains is so out of touch with reality. 

The train is already off the track and we're not looking back. 

Innovation and technology are driving the future of transportation. That is what we are looking forward to and what we should embrace.

We'd all be better off getting rid of (not consolidating) some of the bureaucracies and we can start by eliminating TBARTA.

No regional council of cronies schemed behind the scenes is needed to fix our transportation issue. 

Long's proposal should be dumped ASAP.


  1. Sharon here wants the transit agencies privatized and killed off so that we're forever dependent on our cars. She also wants the TBX monstrosity to move forward. Shame on Sharon.

  2. Looking forward, is the energy and materials (such as rare earth metals) needed to support technology going to be available and affordable?