Thursday, April 20, 2017

Ridership Declining: No Need For Regional Transit Agency, Big Need to Fix Interstates and HF Bridge

Special interests, lobbyists, Senator Latvala and their media enablers are feverishly working together to force a regional transit authority on Tampa Bay taxpayers. However, they cannot ignore the state of transit in Hillsborough and Pinellas - double digit ridership declines. Hillsborough's population is growing but its transit ridership is declining.

At the HART Board Finance and Audit Committee meeting this week, the budgetary pressures on HART were presented and discussed. The chart below from the budget presentation, found here, reflects HART's current budget issues.
HART's budgetary pressures
The video of the lengthy committee meeting that includes this presentation is found here.

To net things out, HART has a deficit of a little over $13 million dollars. The major causes of the deficit are declining ridership and rising healthcare costs (thanks Obamacare…) HART moved to using zero based budgeting this budget cycle that enabled them to reduce that deficit to about $8.5 million. (shows why zero based budgeting should be used by all taxpayer funded entities…)

The budget will be part of HART's Board meeting agendas from May through August with Budget public hearings in September. The May 1 HART Board meeting will be interesting and one to watch and pay attention to.

Across the Bay in Pinellas, PSTA, mismanaged for years, is experiencing ridership declines as well.

This recent Tampa Bay Guardian article states PSTA's ridership is at a 10 year low. Even when PSTA made rides free on the Jolly Trolley, ridership for the Jolly Trolley was 52,235 in March, down a whopping 34% from 79,045 in March of 2016. And tourism is booming again in Pinellas.

The Guardian article also indicates how ridership is defined which overstates the number of actual riders. There is also a bit of a scandal regarding the recent contract for the trolley service and some sketchy changes to reporting done by PSTA.

HART and PSTA's declining ridership is what almost every transit agency in the country, except in NYC, is experiencing.

Existing rail systems are entering an era of disrepair as we have a backlog of $80 Billion of major repair and rehab needed. Trump's skinny budget eliminates the federal New Starts/Small Starts and Tiger grants for new transit projects. Trump has stated he wants to focus on getting our existing infrastructure in good repair.

Yet today taxpayers are funding another transit campaign, this time a regional one, the $1.6 million Regional Premium Transit campaign. The cost of this latest campaign is ghastly - especially after the $1.3 million Go Hillsborough debacle.

And conveniently timed with the transit campaign is Senator Latvala's bill. His bill will force taxpayers in Tampa Bay to fund a regional transit authority that takes away local control and will trigger  regional taxing.

What's more egregious is how the bill was created, the unscrupulous politics and the bully tactics being used. The bill was created behind the scenes by the same special interests organization who has been the biggest supporter of rail in Tampa Bay.

Latvala used  abused his powerful Appropriations Chair position in the Senate by playing games with the process rules and holding appropriations bills hostage to get his way to move the bill along. Fortunately Senators Lee and Brandes amended the bill to reign in some of the shenanigans we fully expect with a regional transit authority. Their efforts are greatly appreciated but we hope the bill dies.

With declining transit ridership in Tampa Bay, Latvala's bill and the costly transit campaign is absurd. Considering the state of our existing infrastructure and getting any federal dollars for new transit projects may be a pipe dream, these are out of touch with reality.

Tampa Bay has a transportation issue it needs to address not a sudden regional transit issue and it certainly does not need another transit agency, an arms length away from voters and taxpayers, to fund.

Regional transit authorities become very powerful, arrogant, wasteful and require higher taxes. Almost all, if not all, of the rail boondoggles were rammed through regional transit agencies pushed by deep pocketed special interests.

The focus needs to be on getting our existing infrastructure in good repair FIRST.

Focus on fixing and improving our interstates - the foundation of our transportation system in Tampa Bay - add the needed managed lane capacity that also creates a bus transit corridor that could also be used by AV's in the near future, fix the chokepoints and fix the Howard Frankland Bridge that hundreds of thousands of people in 180K vehicles use everyday. FDOT has the funding, no tax hike needed, to get this done.

Do the Basics First!

Stop pursuing the absurd.


Here again is the Genesis for Latvala's regional transit bill today. Everyone should watch it.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Kill the Bill Driven by Special Interests and Unscrupulous Politics

What happens when a powerful and arrogant state politician teams up with special interests to ram their agenda through by the state because their agenda keeps losing bigly at the ballot box?

Unscrupulous, unfair and unethical politics. 

This is the Genesis years ago for Senator Latvala's regional power grab bill for a regional transit authority in Tampa Bay.

Latvala already forced taxpayers to pay for two HART/PSTA merger studies. Merging was rejected after both studies.

Now unscrupulous politics is behind Latvala's SB1672 bill to reorganize TBARTA into a five county (Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Manatee, Hernando) regional transit authority. The bill will unnecessarily force taxpayers to fund another transit agency in Tampa Bay.  

Six of the thirteen members of the newly created TBARTA transit authority Board will be politicos from Hillsborough and Pinellas. Nine of the thirteen Board members will be politicos highly politicizing this new transit authority ala a PSTA on steroids but an arms length away from local voters and taxpayers. (PSTA has been mismanaged for years.) 

As stated before, we have a transportation issue in Tampa Bay not a sudden transit issue. Transit ridership is declining by double digits. Latvala should be laser focused on fixing the Howard Frankland Bridge, our interstates and the chokepoints that 180,000 vehicles use everyday, expanding interstate capacity and creating a regional transit corridor cost-effectively on managed lanes that could be used by autonomous vehicles/buses, not forcing taxpayers in Tampa Bay to fund another transit authority.

How was SB1672 created? It was written by special interests Tampa Bay Partnership. 

Tampa Bay Partnership has been the biggest supporter of rail referendums in Tampa Bay. Remember Moving Hillsborough? They were the pro rail PAC who ran the FAILED 2010 $1.3 million pro rail tax advocacy campaign. Moving Hillsborough Forward was the siamese twin of Tampa Bay Partnership, the connected organization to the PAC and the biggest financial donors to the pro rail tax campaign. Find all of their contributions and expenditures here. Deep pocketed special interests donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the rail tax hike campaign.
Tampa Bay Partnership = Moving Hillsborough Forward
Again, in 2014, Tampa Bay Partnership was a big donor and provided the accounting and administrative support for the FAILED $1.5 million Greenlight Pinellas PAC, Friends of Greenlight. Find all their contributions and expenditures here. An eye popping contribution was from the National Association of Realtors for $245,000. No surprise - rail is never about mobility but about land use. 

Polk County had transit sales tax hikes on the ballot in 2010 and 2014 also supported by Tampa Bay Partnership and they too went down in huge defeats.

Throughout those campaigns, Tampa Bay Partnership, a non-profit, was taking taxpayer money from taxpayer funded entities. Since money is fungible no one knows whether they used money received from taxpayer funded entities to fund their tax hike campaign.

After Greenlight was defeated and after suffering so many defeats, Stuart Rogel, CEO of Tampa Bay Partnership resigned. They did finally stop taking taxpayer money. Good!

Tampa Bay Partnership hired Rick Homans, former CEO of the Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. (heavily funded by taxpayer money) to replace Rogel. As we posted here back on August 4, 2013, Homans worked with pro rail County Administrator Mike Merrill, to invite all the pro rail groupies to the very first Policy Leadership Group meeting. Attendee Gary Sasso was the Chair of Moving Hillsborough Forward. 

According to this SaintPetersblog report last year, Tampa Bay Partnership announced they will launch a PAC "Advance Tampa Bay". Imagine a massive multi-million dollar multi-county advocacy campaign for higher taxes in Tampa Bay. That's how regional taxes for rail boondoggles get rammed through regional transit authorities.

Now the Tampa Bay Partnership is using our state legislature and a powerful Senate Appropriations Chair who wants rail across the Howard Frankland Bridge and trains to a new baseball stadium.

Special interests Tampa Bay Partnership wrote SB1672 and simply handed it to Senator Latvala. Latvala hastily filed the bill the weekend before the session started. Tampa Bay Partnership knew Latvala would run with the bill and use his Appropriations Chair power to ram it through the finish line. 

Remember this bill intentionally never went before the local delegations of any of the counties impacted so local citizens could never weigh in. Latvala and Tampa Bay Partnership know citizens cannot drop everything and make a trip to Tallahassee. They bank on that. 

While Tampa Bay Partnership lobbyists troll the halls of Tallahassee pushing the bill, Latvala holds appropriations bills hostage using bully tactics to ram his bill through. 

Latvala's brute force tactics included not following normal proper procedures by ensuring this bill did not go through the Senate's Transportation Appropriations Committee chaired by Senator Brandes. 

How can a transportation bill not go through the Transportation Appropriations Committee? Because Latvala plays games with the rules. Brandes is probably the most knowledgeable Senator on Transportation issues in Tallahassee and Latvala's tactics to avoid his committee reeks.

What is the latest on this messy and unscrupulous regional power grab bill?

It went through the Senate's Community Affairs Committee yesterday but was amended to provide some additional oversight. Kudos to Senators Lee and Brandes for their efforts to minimize potential shenanigans we fully anticipate will be created by this new regional transit authority. Confirms the Senate does not trust the new TBARTA either.

The Tampa Bay Times reported:
Sens. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg and Tom Lee of Thonotosassa overrode Latvala with an amendment that strips the authority of its independence by requiring legislative approval for any local spending on a light rail system and barring the authority from spending money to advocate for light rail in a voter referendum. 
"Voters of Hillsborough County and Pineellas County have rejected these in the past," Brandes said. "My goal is that this doesn't become an opportunity for Greenlight Pinellas 2.0," referring to the latest rejection of a transit plan by county voters. 
Latvala was so livid at the transit maneuver by Brandes and Lee that he declined to speak to a Times/Herald reporter after the vote. As Latvala silently left the hearing room, Lee said: "You're welcome, Senator Latvala."
Of course Tampa Bay Partnership was there in person to speak in support of the messy bill they created.

SaintPetersblog also reported:
St. Petersburg’s Jeff Brandes and Brandon’s Tom Lee, neither of whom as considered enthusiasts of light rail — added an amendment that would create additional obstacles if the newly configured TBARTA ever opted to pursue a light rail project. 
The amendment calls for a majority vote by the MPOs of each county impacted by any proposed rail projects before the authority can pursue any real related contract. It would also require the authority to conduct a feasibility from an independent third party before pursuing any rail-related project, and require the authority to receive approval of the entire Florida Legislature before pursuing any rail project.
Taxpayers in Tampa Bay appreciate Senator Brandes and Lee's efforts because we know Latvala was holding hostage so many bills. 

Remember this is a two phased mess. No regional transit authority can do anything without funding. We have to pass this bill to then find out how the new TBARTA will be funded, who will fund it or what is to be funded. That is not fair to taxpayers and simply bad governance. 

Next year the new (highly politicized) TBARTA Board will come back to Latvala and the state legislature, as Latvala admitted when he presented the bill, for more legislation to answer those critical questions. Next year is conveniently timed with the Regional Premium Transit Campaign

The last stop this session before a floor vote in the Senate is the Appropriations Committee that Latvala chairs. Senators, especially those outside the Tampa Bay area, should look at Latvala's bully tactics and be concerned because these tactics could be done to them.

What's next?

The House companion bill HB1243 is now on the agenda of the House Government Accountability Committee tomorrow at 8am. Any committee titled Government Accountability should reject this messy bill created by special interests who used the powerful Senate Appropriations Chair to force feed the bill that no citizen in Tampa Bay requested.

Once a regional entity is created and funded, it is basically impossible to get rid of, no matter how far amok they run or how corrupt they become. Regional transit authorities throughout the country have become very powerful, arrogant and wasteful as they empower special interests influence.

The public and the electeds should understand the unscrupulous politics associated with this bill. The best disinfectant is to shine a light on them. 

Hopefully truth will triumph over tyranny and the House will Kill the Bill.

Voice opposition to this messy bill, HB1243, by contacting the members of the House Government Accountability Committee Today and state reps and Governor Scott.
Note: there are three Tampa Bay representatives to hold accountable on this committee: Dan Raulerson, Chris Latvala, Wengay Newton 
State Representatives (find your state rep)

Monday, April 17, 2017

Sales Tax Hike For New Regional Transit Authority Will Be YUUGGE!

The Tampa Bay rail cartel is back, with their media accomplices attached.

And this time it is for regional power and regional taxing. 
Regional power requires regional taxes
Our skepticism of the $1.3 million taxpayer funded Go Hillsborough campaign was right on. We speculated it would end up with another unnecessary sales tax hike that included costly rail and it did.

The AEComm report, paid for by Hillsborough County in 2014, clearly stated Hillsborough does not have the transit ridership, the densities or the cost per trip requirements to meet the federal criteria to receive federal funds for fixed guideways. This is why the report was hidden and whitewashed by the County and by our local media because AEComm recommended (highlight is mine):
Initial transit investment should be in a travel corridor with the potential to generate very high transit ridership at a very low start-up cost to improve the project’s cost effectiveness and increasing the probability of obtaining federal funding support.
The prospect of a network of managed lanes within the Tampa Bay region provides an extremely attractive opportunity to provide high quality, higher speed Rapid Bus or Enhanced Bus on managed lane services to address regional travel and longer distance commuting markets. (aka FDOT's TBX project that has been delayed and Phase 1 funded by gas taxes we already pay)
Hillsborough County should approach making transit investments cautiously and prudently.
Even after voters soundly defeated the rail tax in 2010 and after the AEComm report, Go Hillsborough ignored the will of the voters and proposed another 30 year sales tax hike to pay for costly rail and fixed guideways. Why? Because some politicos, entrenched bureaucrats and special interests eyeing another big pot of tax dollars wanted it.

Even after Greenlight Pinellas was soundly defeated in 2014 and Go Hillsborough dumped last year, they are at it again with the $1.5 million taxpayer funded Regional Premium Transit Campaign currently underway. This time it is Go Hillsborough/Greenlight Pinellas on steroids - a regionalized campaign effort to sell another YUUGGE sales tax hike and this time it will be regional. 

And the new regional transit authority board will be run by almost all electeds  - another mismanaged PSTA on steroids…

How do we know this latest effort is about higher taxes in Tampa Bay? 

Because Jacobs Engineering, the same consultant who did Greenlight Pinellas and was a subcontractor to Parsons Brinckerhoff on Go Hillsborough, told us in their presentation responding to the RFP to get the campaign work. Their presentation slide below reflects their arrogant attitude - we are just too stupid for not wanting to raise our taxes to pay for boondoggles. This slide insults our intelligence and should have disqualified Jacobs.
Slide from Jacobs Engineering RFP presentation 
How else do we know?

Because it will take massive regional taxing to fund the regional transit projects we expect to pop out of this latest campaign - the CSX corridor and other costly rail/fixed guideway projects.

Jacobs' website for the regional transit campaign is here which clearly states the federal FTA is the primary audience. Information about their evaluation plan found here clearly states the need for local financial commitment. The map below that reflects projects Jacobs says they are considering is full of rail projects.
Projects Jacobs is considering includes
lots of rail projects 
With federal money for transit projects drying up, we seriously doubt our state legislators will allow another SunRail disaster to occur. The state way over paid for CSX tracks in Central Florida and the local municipalities still do not have a committed long term funding source. We doubt the state will pick up the big tab to cover what federal grants were previously covering.

That is why special interests Tampa Bay Partnership created Latvala's bill who hastily filed it before the session started. It forces taxpayers to fund another transit agency in Tampa Bay. This new regional transit authority will enable regional power an arms length away from voters and taxpayers, and provide the trigger for regional taxing. 

Latvala's bill must be stopped because regional transit authorities are how most, if not all, of the rail boondoggles across the country were pushed through. These regional transit authorities, especially over time, become powerful, arrogant and wasteful. Regional transit authorities empower deep pocketed special interests who then launch massive multi-million dollar campaigns for higher taxes. These regional entities often end up reeking of cronyism and corruption - a post for another day. 

A recent TBBJ article also confirms the Regional Premium Transit campaign is ignoring the will of the voters who have consistently rejected rail boondoggles. A subscription is required to access the article online so we included the entire article below (highlight mine).

Transit engineers to announce priority Tampa Bay corridors this week
The engineering firm responsible for targeting Tampa Bay area transit priorities as part of a state-funded process will announce this week five corridors it has identified as top attractors for federal funding. The announcement will serve as the first major step toward identifying a regional transit solution and pave the way for the next step, which is determining the mode of transit that will work best 
Transit in the Tampa Bay region has been so far left behind that a group of top-level CEOs came together with $50,000 each to recreate the Tampa Bay Partnership with a sole emphasis on transit improvements. 
The Florida Department of Transportation is funding the regional transit feasibility study through the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, aimed at honing transit across municipal boundaries rather than a piecemeal approach by county. Experts will evaluate more than 60 transit plans, most of which were never brought to fruition, to establish priorities. 
“The Tampa Bay area hasn’t been very good at that,” said Scott Pringle, a group director with Jacobs Engineering, the company conducting the transit study.
The announcement is likely to include connections between Tampa and St. Petersburg.  
One of the studies Jacobs Engineering (NYSE: JEC) employees are looking at is the 2014 Greenlight Pinellas plan that would have created a passenger rail line connecting downtown St. Pete, mid-Pinellas County in the Carillon area and downtown Clearwater. Voters rejected the one-penny sales tax increase to fund the measure. While the corridor will be a key step in improving transit throughout the region, identifying a mode is likely to be more controversial. Transit critics have historically blasted the idea of light rail projects as being too costly and outdated. 
Pringle rejects the notion that rail is an outdated means of moving people. “A lot of steel wheel solutions move a lot of people really fast,” Pringle said. “So if that’s what your corridor needs then it makes sense.” 
Engineers will study the makeup of the targeted transit corridor next to establish patterns like how many people travel portions of it and how often. That can help planners decide where to put stops and how frequently to service routes.
Solutions could range anywhere from increasing bus service to using autonomous vehicles. 
Knowing where transit service would work best could also increase the odds of receiving federal funding by showing the chosen transit mode will help connect people who don’t own cars to job centers. Pringle said that’s like “extra credit” for attracting federal dollars. 
While transit planners are quick to celebrate the study as a major step toward increasing regional transit options, there will always be the question of funding. 
Those who have worked for years to block transit spending often decry it as a waste of money, a notion Pringle and other transit supporters reject.
“It’s a critical part of our infrastructure to grow jobs and attract people,” Pringle said. “There aren’t really roadways that pay for themselves either.”
Scott Pringle is out of touch with reality. Costly rail is outdated except for the densest population areas like NYC. Tampa Bay does not have the densities for rail and the AEComm report that Hillsborough County tried to bury in 2014 confirmed that. Our roads are very highly utilized assets used by 98% of us everyday. Highly utilized assets reduces the cost per trip that increases the value of its use.

With getting federal money for new transit projects anytime soon becoming a pipe dream, what is their Plan B? State and local funding…..

That's why regional taxing will be required to fund the costly transit projects we speculate again will pop out of this latest taxpayer funded transit campaign.

And the regional taxing is gonna be YUUGGE!

Help stop the regional power grab that will trigger regional taxing. Contact state
legislators to voice opposition to HB1243 and SB1672
General Accountability Committee 
Community Affairs Committee
State Representatives (find your state rep)
State Senators (find your state senator)
Speaker Corcoran
Governor Scott

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Stop the Regional Power Grab for Higher Taxes in Tampa Bay!

There is a power grab occurring in Tampa Bay that must be stopped.

No citizen or taxpayer requested Latvala's bill (SB1672/HB1243) that creates another transit authority in Tampa Bay to fund. 

And the process for how the bill was created, it did not go through the local delegations of the counties impacted, was not properly vetted but hastily filed the weekend before the session started should be a concern of everyone.

But another transit authority in Tampa Bay has to get funded somehow and is created to fund something - how silly to think otherwise.

Voters in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties soundly rejected sales tax hike referendums in 2010 and 2014.  Latvala's bill is simply a regional power grab to circumvent the local voters which will trigger another round of sales tax hike referendums in Tampa Bay, this time thrust on voters in multiple counties simultaneously. 

The mayors of Tampa and St. Petersburg spoke this week at the Florida Economic Forum luncheon. They confirmed our speculations on another sales tax hike referendum. According to this SaintPetersblog post:
On transportation, Buckhorn said that Hillsborough County may be ready to put up another half-cent sales tax referendum on transit in 2020, but not anytime sooner, a notion that Kriseman agreed with. As he has done in the past, Buckhorn blasted the critics of any such referendum, labeling them either as largely limited to living in the eastern provinces of Hillsborough County or as “disaffected former washed up politicians and PR firms who will try to throw any amount of sand in the gears to distract people from the fundamental question, which is, we need more mobility options.” 
Kriseman again brought up the notion of the Legislature changing state law that would allow big cities like St. Petersburg and Tampa to hold their own transportation referendums, a familiar complaint that has gone nowhere for years in Tallahassee. In fact, he admitted that it wouldn’t happen in the near term, and said that meant St. Petersburg and Tampa need to get creative for themselves.
Here is the map of Hillsborough County and the vote by precincts on the 2010 rail tax that was defeated 58-42. The green area reflects the precincts, mostly along the rail corridor, that voted for the tax. The rest of the county - much more than just eastern Hillsborough County voted No. 
Map of Hillsborough County 2010
rail tax by precinct
Talk about former washed up politicians….Buckhorn will be one soon as he is term limited out of office in 2019 and Kriseman, who is up for re-election, could become one too.

Greenlight Pinellas sales tax hike was defeated in 2014 by a greater margin 62-38 and Polk County's 2014 sales tax hike was defeated by even greater 72-28. Analysis done by SunBeamTimes blogger David McKalip shows even a Majority of St. Petersburg Residents Also Rejected Greenlight Pinellas, 52:48.

We get it - Buckhorn and Kriseman both want costly rail. Buckhorn was very vocal and adamant about demanding rail during the Go Hillsborough campaign and all through the Transportation Policy Leadership Group meetings. Some Tampa Bay politicos want to tie costly rail with a new Rays stadium….

Rail envy is not a positive trait but certainly an expensive one.

Regarding the mayors quests for city transit referendums, where is the business model and business case that even suggests that the cities of Tampa or St. Petersburg can fund costly rail projects? Hint: it does not exist.

Ironically, Buckhorn was on the only NO vote on the Tampa Streetcar when he was on the Tampa City Council in the 1990's. He said back then the Streetcar did not have a viable financial model. And he was absolutely right now that it's basically bankrupt and has very few riders.  Don't fret though - the solution to government funded failures is to expand them. The taxpayers are enriching more consultants paying them $1.6 million for another study to expand the failed streetcar. The insanity continues.

The timing of these mayor's bringing up another sales tax hike referendum in 2020 is no surprise. It conveniently coincides with Latvala's TBARTA bill and the latest taxpayer funded $1.5 million Regional Premium Transit Plan Campaign launched last year.

It is all about money - pursuing federal money (aka federal debt dollars) for new transit projects. And the pursuit of any federal funding requires a committed long term local/regional funding source. 

And Voila - another sales tax hike referendum in 2020 - this time a regional, multi-county transit tax hike referendum. A regional referendum will generate a massive multi-million dollar advocacy campaign funded by deep-pocketed special interests blasted across Tampa Bay and cheered on by their media accomplices. 

But the timing is so off considering the direction of the new Trump Administration.

President Trump's "skinny budget" is eliminating federal New Starts/Small Starts and Obama's Tiger grants for new transit projects. Why? Because our existing infrastructure is in disrepair. We have an $80 BILLION backlog of major rehab and replacement needed for our existing rail systems. 

No one today should be relying on federal monies for new transit projects. With no federal money being doled out for new transit projects, what's the Plan B here? That question needs answering. Who is even asking the question?

Latvala's bill is misguided because we have a transportation issue in Tampa Bay that needs addressing not a sudden transit issue requiring another transit agency to fund and another bureaucracy to bloat.

Laser focus in Tampa Bay should be on getting our existing infrastructure into good repair. That's what FDOT's TBX project, now delayed, does - by fixing the Howard Frankland Bridge, fixing the chokepoints at 60 and I-4, and adding the needed additional interstate capacity that also provides a regional express bus transit corridor and can be a catalyst for use by autonomous vehicles/buses. 

No one knows (or is not willing to tell) how this regional transit authority will be funded, who will fund it or what it will fund. We should not have to pass this bill to find out those answers. That is not good governance. 

Latvala's bill will trigger the push for regional taxing and higher taxes in Tampa Bay, just as Mayor Buckhorn and Kriseman said. Powerful politicos and special interests want costly rail and apparently do not care that voters in Tampa Bay have already soundly rejected these boondoggles.  It's the try try try again attitude attempting to wear out voters. 

And regional transit authorities pushing regional tax hikes is how most, if not all, the light rail boondoggles were passed.

This latest scheme is probably the last gasp of air to push rail in Tampa Bay. 

Pull the ventilator plug by stopping Latvala's misguided bill and stop the power grab for regional power and higher taxes in Tampa Bay.

Senator Latvala, who is the powerful Senate Appropriations Chair, will arm twist his bill through the Senate. 

It will be up to the House to stop this regional power grab bill. 

Contact your state representative, Speaker Corcoran and Governor Scott to voice your opposition to House Bill 1243.
State Representatives
Speaker Corcoran
Governor Scott  (who defunded TBARTA when he was first elected)

Monday, March 27, 2017

Stop Force Feeding A Regional Transit Authority on Tampa Bay Taxpayers

Regional bureaucracies an arms length away from voters and taxpayers are not more efficient, especially over time. They become less accountable and more powerful, arrogant, crony and wasteful.

We posted here about Latvala's Senate bill 1672 and its companion House bill 1243 that grows the size and scope of government, takes away local control and enables regional taxing. 

Both bills were presented to their first committee meetings this week and passed.

Senate Bill 1672 was presented Wednesday by Senator Latvala to the Senate Transportation Committee. The video is here and Latvala begins at about 1:01:45. Astonishingly at about 1:02:30 Latvala clearly states for TBARTA "to come back to the legislature next year for clarity on what statutes need to be changed to allow Tampa Bay's transit to become more efficient and grow".

So we have to pass the bill first creating this new regional TBARTA transit authority before we can find out how it is funded, who will pay for it and what is being funded? That sounds eerily familiar.

That is bad governance and not fair to the taxpayers.

We do know who wrote the bill for Senator Latvala. At 1:06:00 of the video where Latvala is making his closing statement he acknowledged Tampa Bay Partnership for putting together the bill and giving it to him to run with it. They were huge supporters of all the sales tax hike referendums in Tampa Bay that were defeated.

Latvala is term limited next year but we know he has wanted to merge HART and PSTA for years. His statement Wednesday confirms this bill is just the first of a multi-step process. We can only assume that the next step is to change statutes to enable TBARTA to become a taxing authority, enable regional taxes and/or merge HART and PSTA without having to go to the voters. Latvala said he would help with legislation to do just that in December 2012 because a regional transit authority is needed to get a train across the Howard Frankland bridge.

House Bill 1243 was presented by Representative Dan Raulerson on Tuesday to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The video of that committee meeting is here and this bill is the second one presented starting at about 4:00. 

Representative Raulerson is not a member of any transportation committee and is from Plant City, a municipality in the far eastern part of Hillsborough County. Plant City is not a member of HART, our local transit agency. Residents of Plant City do not pay HART's .5 mill property tax that the city of Tampa, city of Temple Terrace and unincorporated Hillsborough County residents pay to fund HART. 

It is odd that the sponsor of a bill to create a new Tampa Bay regional transit operating authority that must be funded lives in a municipality in Hillsborough County that does not fund and is not a member of it's own local transit agency. If Raulerson wants more transit, perhaps he should first start advocating for Plant City to be a member of HART.

An amendment was made reducing the number of non-electeds on the new 13 member TBARTA Board and adding two more electeds - the mayors of Tampa and St. Petersburg. We understand the change was done at the request of both mayors who support costly rail projects.

Of course, electeds want a majority of electeds to run everything.

They tell us that a majority of electeds on all these boards makes the boards more accountable….That reasoning can be questioned. 

PSTA is a transit agency whose Board consists of a majority of electeds and PSTA has been mismanaged for years. PSTA's Board never held PSTA's CEO Brad Miller accountable for misusing federal funds on Greenlight Pinellas. Instead PSTA's Board gave him accolades and a raise last year. How accountable is that? 

Latvala should be cleaning up the mismanaged PSTA in his own backyard. Other counties do not want to be burdened with Pinellas County's PSTA mess. 

The PTC was also created by the state and it's Board was all electeds. The PTC became totally crony, corrupt and archaic.

Raulerson stated they may consider adding a fifth county - Hernando - and that other continuous counties may also join. Like Manatee was included because of Galvano, we surmise Hernando may be part of the deal because the CSX corridor goes up that way. 

So if they add Citrus and Sarasota counties, the new TBARTA will be the same as the old TBARTA but with a different Board and only focused on transit. Makes one wonder about this whole effort because Citrus and Hernando counties share their MPO and Manatee and Sarasota counties share their MPO.

The biggest issue (or unknown) with this bill is money and funding. 

Ironically, the Summary Analysis of HB1243 done by staff states:
The bill does not appear to have a significant fiscal impact on state or local government
That is simply not true. That is not being honest with taxpayers. 

A new regional operating transit authority cannot be created and operated without long term funding. Not one representative questioned why the bill's summary analysis stated there was no fiscal impact when everyone knows the new entity has to be funded - somehow.

TBARTA does has the authority to issues bonds per Florida Statue 343.94No investor will buy bonds that has no long term, sustainable revenue source to pay back the bondholders.

Raulerson was asked what revenue would pay back TBARTA bond financing. His answer was that revenue received from the bus service and light rail. Yes he said light rail…. (Almost all of the light rail boondoggles were pushed by regional transit agencies.) 

There is a huge math problem. Raulerson must know that because he's an accountant.

Transit projects have capital costs and operating costs associated with them. Which costs was he referring to? 

Farebox revenue could never cover required capital costs of large transit projects. Farebox revenue often only accounts for about 20% of the operating costs. Where's all the rest of the money coming from? No representative even asked.

The fact that all the sales tax hike referendums for transit in Tampa Bay have been overwhelmingly defeated was brought up at the committee meeting.

Raulerson stated the bill does not make TBARTA a taxing authority. But this bill may not have to specifically provide for that because Florida Statute 212.055 governing the transportation sales surtax was changed in 2010 to enable putting a regional sales tax for a regional transit authority on the ballot in multiple counties.
Latvala's bill goes right along with the $1.5 million Regional Premium Transit campaign that will identify regional transit projects to enter the pipeline for federal funds. This new TBARTA regional transit authority will be the entity to pursue those funds. 

However, federal funds for transit projects may be eliminated or greatly reduced under the Trump Administration so there should be no reliance on getting federal money. Pursuing any federal funds requires a local committed long term funding source. Where's the money?

We doubt the state legislature would create another SunRail fiscal disaster
…a recent study has found that the cost of SunRail to issue and collect tickets is greater than the revenue from ticket sales.
How more insane can things get? This insanity occurs when any sense of common sense is thrown out.

The bill was orchestrated by a local delegation of one - Senator Latvala - who hastily filed the bill the weekend before the session started. It was never vetted by TBARTA and did not go to any of the local delegations for input by any constituents impacted.

We have a regional transportation issue that needs to be addressed not a sudden regional transit issue requiring another transit authority to fund into perpetuity.

Instead of this bill, there should be laser focus on getting FDOT's TBX project implemented. That project fixes the Howard Frankland bridge, fixes the chokepoints at 60 and malfunction junction, adds much needed interstate capacity and creates a regional transit corridor. It is funded by user fees, state and federal gas taxes we already pay and tolls by those who individually decide to use the express lanes, not higher taxes. TBX does not require another bureaucracy to build, operate and manage.

Innovation and technology is already disrupting traditional transit as transit ridership is declining in Tampa Bay by double digits. With the federal spending spigot for new transit projects getting turned off or greatly reduced, common sense says the timing of this bill is not good.

Once a bureaucracy is in place and funded, it's almost impossible to get rid of it - just look at the PTC.

The irony of it all… This legislative session is finally getting rid of the unnecessary, crony, corrupt and out of control PTC created by the state legislature in 1976. And in the same session the state wants to create another unnecessary transit authority, an arms length from voters and taxpayers, that would have to be funded and we could never get rid of when it gets out of control.

Besides the elephant in the room - the issue of funding - there are lots of other issues with this bill. There are regulatory requirements regarding transit authorities. Who is looking at how this new regional transit authority would comply and how much it would cost now and in the future to comply?

I attended the TBARTA meeting Friday and for transparency, I spoke in opposition to this bill. TBARTA Chair Ronnie Duncan stated this bill was created and put forward without engaging TBARTA or its Board. The biggest issue the Board agreed on was funding - no one knows how this new transit authority is be funded. We have to assume it will be the taxpayers of Tampa Bay. In addition, TBARTA Executive Director Ray Chiarmonte brought up a host of other issues with this bill. 

This shows the haste of how this bill was introduced without proper vetting.

There is no outcry or demand by citizens and taxpayers of all these counties demanding this new transit authority be created. 

We hope the state will stop this force feeding of regionalism on the citizens of Tampa Bay that will lead to higher taxes, more wasteful spending, more influence by special interests and less accountability.

Instead, let's use common sense, fiscal responsibility and some foresight for where the future of transportation is going in the 21st century, not a new regional bureaucracy to bloat.  

HB1243 must go through the House General Accountability Committee (meets Wednesday) and Transportation and Tourism Appropriations Committee. SB1672 is in the Senate Community Affairs Committee (chaired by Senator Tom Lee, Senator Jeff Brandes is a member) and Appropriations Committee (chaired by Senator Jack Latvala, Senator Jeff Brandes is a member).

Help stop this bill forcing a regional transit authority on Tampa Bay taxpayers by contacting committee members at links above, your state legislators and leadership to voice opposition to SB1672 and HB1243:
State Representatives
State Senators
Speaker Corcoran
Senate President Negron
Senator Galvano (who will become Senate President next year and was the original champion for TBARTA in 2007)

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Kill the Bill! Say No to Regionalism in Tampa Bay

Watch these two companion bills filed in this legislative session affecting transportation in Tampa Bay. SB1672 was filed by Senator Appropriations Chair Senator Latvala and it's identical House companion bill HB1243 was filed by Representative Dan Raulerson who is not a member of any transportation committee.

These bills re-swizzle and reorganize the Tampa Bay Regional TRANSPORTATION Authority (TBARTA) into the Tampa Bay Regional TRANSIT Authority. No wonder they were filed very late right before the session started last week. They provide the groundwork and foundation for regionalism, for a regional transit taxing authority, pursuit of a bigger pot of money and for taking away local control.

Who supports this change? Were there any surveys conducted of the voters and taxpayers in the counties impacted?  It certainly looks like this change is being pushed without consent of those actually impacted.

We posted about the push for regionalism in Tampa Bay by Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long and Senator Latvala here here and here. Special interests Tampa Bay Partnership also supports a regional transit authority according to this white paper they commissioned by the Eno Center for Transportation and this TBBJ article
The group [Tampa Bay Partnership] also recommends creating a regional transit authority with the ability to approve inter-local agreements in order to work across county lines.
Latvala's bill creates a new Tampa Bay regional transit operating authority by reorganizing TBARTA, changing its mission and how it is governed.

But we do not suddenly have transit issues across county lines, we have transportation issues across county lines that must be addressed.

Currently TBARTA provides TRANSPORTATION planning for seven counties (Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Manatee, Citrus, Hernando and Sarasota) and operates a multi-county van pool service. At TBARTA's website, find their Regional Master Plan, their Transit-Oriented Development Resource Guide and information about their van pool and commuter services.

Latvala's bill changes TBARTA to a four county (Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, and Manatee) regional transit operating authority. The governing board will change from 15 members to 13 members. The new Board would consist of:
  • One county commissioner from each of the four counties 
  • One member  representing HART 
  • One member representing PSTA
  • Two business community members appointed by the Senate President
  • Two business community members appointed by the House Speaker
  • Three business community members appointed by the Governor
These four counties are all very different. We can only assume Manatee was thrown in because Senator Galvano of Manatee championed the creation of TBARTA in 2007 and Latvala wants his support. Why would Pasco and Manatee's transit agencies not be represented and why are all the appointees from the business community not "citizen" appointees?

Today TBARTA is not a regional taxing authority but that was the intent when it was created back in 2007.  However, the recession hit in 2008 and no state legislator was going to vote for another taxing authority during a recession.

Statutorily TBARTA has the ability to bond for capital construction or improvements and does not have a dedicated funding source to operate anything. Today the state and participating counties have contributed funds for TBARTA to operate its commuter services and do planning.

It does not appear that Latvala's bill specifically enables TBARTA to become a taxing authority. Therefore, how would this new transit operating entity be funded? No entity can be an operating authority without dedicated funding.

In 2010 Florida Statute 212.055 addressing the transportation surtax was suddenly changed by our state legislature to include "regional transportation system" surtax not just charter county surtax. What is highlighted is what was added to that statute in 2010:
(a) Each charter county that has adopted a charter, each county the government of which is consolidated with that of one or more municipalities, and each county that is within or under an interlocal agreement with a regional transportation or transit authority created under chapter 343 or chapter 349 may levy a discretionary sales surtax, subject to approval by a majority vote of the electorate of the county or by a charter amendment approved by a majority vote of the electorate of the county.
(b) The rate shall be up to 1 percent.
It appears this statute can be used to put a multi-county regional tax on the ballot to fund a regional transit authority.

The timing of these bills conveniently coincide with the Tampa Bay Regional Premium Transit Plan campaign we posted about here. This $1.5 million taxpayer funded effort is supposed to result in transit projects to enter the federal FTA New Starts/Small Starts transit grant programs. But there's lots of unknowns and uncertainty about these federal funds with a new Trump Admin and a Republican Congress. In addition, the future of transportation is not costly rail systems.

The taxpayer funded public campaign to sell the transit projects will begin around September. The elephant in the room is that all the federal transit grant programs require a committed local long term funding source.

Where would the money come from?

From a multi-county regional tax to fund regional transit projects operated by the new TBARTA? Since Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco keep rejecting sales tax hikes, can we assume the next hat trick is to put a multi-county sales tax hike on the ballot?

From higher property tax rates? Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller is looking at raising HART's ad valorem property tax millage rate. What does he want to fund? Would any of those new property tax dollars go to this new TBARTA regional transit entity?

The question no one is answering is where's the funding for the new regional TBARTA operating entity coming from?

Note: In 2014, TBARTA passed a resolution to become a direct recipient for FTA federal funds. At the March 2015 TBARTA meeting the Eye attended, the 2015 Regional Master Plan was presented by Jacobs Engineering. The same Jacobs who did the Greenlight Pinellas boondoggle, was a subcontractor to Parsons Brinckerhoff on the Go Hillsborough debacle and is now working on the Regional Transit campaign. One thing Tampa Bay does very well is enrich the same transit consultants over and over and over.

But beware.

Michigan state legislature created the four county Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority (RTA) that includes Detroit in 2012. RTA used consultants Parsons Brinckerhoff and AEComm to create a regional transit plan (sound familiar). RTA put a 20 year, $4.6 Billion 1.2 mill tax proposal on the ballot last November and it was defeated.

While RTA was asking taxpayers for billions, the CEO of RTA Michael Ford claimed $37,000 in expenses, including airfare, luxury hotel rooms and out-of-town meals over 2½ years. Ford recently paid back $19,000 after the Detroit News submitted numerous public records requests and a review brought the expenses into the Sunshine. Where was the oversight?

In San Diego, SANDAG (San Diego Association of Governments), the entity that Commissioner Long modeled her proposed Tampa Bay Regional Council of Governments, put a half-cent 40 year sales tax hike on the ballot in November and it was defeated. (CA requires a 2/3 majority to pass)

Taxpayers are probably very glad it did not pass because now there's a big scandal. Apparently SANDAG was deceiving the voters and taxpayers about how much revenue would be generated to pay for all the projects promised and understated the costs of those projects. An independent investigation is being demanded.

And it is no surprise there were allegations that SANDAG was illegally using public money to promote the sales tax hike plan. We have seen those tactics used in Tampa Bay.

The five counties in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area representing the regional Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) are discussing disbanding. CTIB, that levies a quarter cent sales tax and $20 vehicle excise tax, was created by the state legislature in 2008 by a Joint Powers Agreement (JPA). Each county would have to vote to dissolve the JPA to disband. Dakota County has already voted 6-1 to leave by 2019 because the county has received less funding from the coalition than it has paid in.  Creating a regional transit entity thru a JPA - Sound familiar?

BART is under the umbrella of the nine county Metropolitan Transportation Commission in San Francisco. BART's ridership is down while it's costs are increasing that may result in a $25-35 million operating shortfall this year. While BART has spent billions of dollars on expanding transit, they neglected to put money aside for much needed maintenance.

BART put a $3.5 BILLION three county bond measure (debt) on the ballot last November that would use a property tax assessment to pay back the debt to pay for the neglected maintenance. It was approved with overwhelming support from San Francisco of course. But here is a scathing editorial from East Bay Times against the measure (click on the links in the article):
The ballot wording conveniently omits that the district would tax property owners for 48 years to pay off the debt.
These massive transit referendums use deception, dishonesty and half-truths to ram massive tax hikes through. We saw the same dishonesty and half-truths with Go Hillsborough, Greenlight Pinellas and the 2010 Moving Hillsborough Forward rail tax.

The bigger the bureaucracy the more money they want creating a bigger food fight over a bigger pot of money, how it is spent, who gets to pay and who gets the benefit.

The bigger the bureaucracy the more influence special interests will have and the less influence local voters and taxpayers will have. Regionalism makes it harder to oppose these huge regional tax hikes for costly boondoggles as deep pocketed special interest groups launch multi-million dollar regional advocacy campaigns.

The bigger the bureaucracy the greater the problem is for less accountability, less transparency and less oversight. 

The bigger the bureaucracy the greater the opportunity for corruption and cronyism. 

Look at the recent contract scandal with South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (SFRTA) that operates Tri-Rail. Governor Scott wants the controversial contract rescinded. State Senator Jeff Brandes raised his concerns. State senator George Gainer filed bill SB1118 that would strip Tri-Rail of state funding unless its board rescinds a controversial $511 million contract, and it requires state approval of future contracts. Note: all Florida taxpayers bail out Tri-Rail every year with tens of millions of state tax dollars.

Bigger regional bureaucracies just get bigger, more arrogant and more powerful especially over time.

Regionalizing decision making has led to increased taxes and more government spending everywhere it is implemented.

Our elected officials in Tampa Bay already work together across county lines. We do not need a new regional transit operating entity for them to do so. They need to do their jobs, not give up local control.

Tampa Bay does not need a regional transit bureaucracy placed an arms length from voters and taxpayers.  

We need more honest and more accountable government that better utilizes our existing growing revenues on our highest priorities not ploys to fund bigger government entities.

We need better government not bigger government. 

The senate bill may muster through with Latvala's arm twisting, but we hope the House bill goes nowhere and dies under Speaker Corcoran.

Time to Kill these Bills Now!