Monday, August 13, 2018

Vinik's Massive Transit Tax Hike Is Another Boondoggle!

A performance audit is currently underway for the massive 30 year 14% transit tax hike referendum recently placed on the ballot by the Vinik funded All for Transportation (AFT) PAC petition effort.

Somehow the Vinik tax hike audit leap frogged in line over the Hillsborough County's School Board audit request for their proposed sales tax referendum. We now also know that Vinik's tax hike audit has been "fast tracked" to meet the required 60 day pre-election deadline for the November ballot.

It is apparent that someone with access and strings to pull in Tallahassee, where the agency who facilitates the audits OPPAGA is located, pulled some strings or called in some chits. OPPAGA had hired the auditor and set the audit up before the SOE had even finished validating the petitions while OPPAGA left the School Board's audit request whistling in the wind.

But there are some BIG questions about what exactly is being audited and who all is being audited for the Vinik massive tax hike referendum.  Performance audits are independent examinations to evaluate the effectiveness, economy and efficiency of a program or programs. They normally take months not weeks to complete.

Section 10 of Florida Statute 212.055 governing local tax referendums states that the performance audit is a "performance audit of the program associated with the surtax adoption…"

The auditor selected by OPPAGA to do the performance audit was at Hillsborough County Center last week meeting with county staff. We understand the auditor is looking at a list of transportation and road projects in the county's Public Works Department.

The county commissioners have already funded a 10 year transportation/road funding plan. What county transportation "program" associated with the Vinik 30 year transit tax hike is being audited? Does the county have a 30 year transportation program? If so, where has it been?

Six entities would receive funding from Vinik's $15-18 Billion tax hike - the County, the three municipalities (Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City), transit agency HART and transportation planning organization Hillsborough MPO. There are road programs, transit programs and planning programs specified with Vinik's complex massive tax hike across all these entities who have different procedures, processes and measurements.

It is logical to think that every entity receiving money from any program associated with Vinik's tax hike would be audited. That does not appear to be the case.

The only other entity we are aware of being audited is transit agency HART. HART would receive $7-8 Billion (or perhaps even more) of the transit tax revenues specified in Vinik's tax hike regulations over 30 years. The HART memo confirms OPPAGA is "fast tracking" their performance audit.
Vinik tax hike audit of HART by OPPAGA
fast tracked
HART is a legally constituted special taxing district enabled under Florida Statute 163.567 with its own governing Board and locally funded by county ad valorem property taxes. They also receive state and federal tax dollars, advertising and farebox revenues. HART's property tax revenues, two-thirds of which are paid by county taxpayers, are rising while farebox recovery has been declining. (Note Plant City is NOT a member of HART and those residents do not pay the HART property tax.)

Vinik's massive transit tax hike is IN ADDITION TO HART's current growing ad valorem property tax revenues. 

HART has a required 10 year Transit Development Plan (TDP) mandated by the state. The TDP is HART's planning document and is the aspiration plan determined to best suit Hillsborough County after extensive study and outreach with the community.

HART has already used taxpayer money hiring consultants to help facilitate public outreach and recommendations for their TDP. HART's TDP is a 10 year plan resulting from a 5-year major update and comprehensive operational analysis, 7 public workshops, 22K+ participants, direction/vision set by community, market forecasts, ridership forecasts, etc.

Below is a graph that charts HART's service hours to ridership from 2011 to 2017. HART increased service on the streets (blue bar) but ridership continued to decline (red line).
HART service hours increases while ridership tanks

Transit ridership in Hillsborough County is less than 2% and HART's ridership continues to decline even as they continue reconfiguring their routes (latest available ridership report below).
HART Summary Ridership
continues to decline
Technology, innovation and a better economy are disrupting traditional transit. HART is simply following the national trend. Transit ridership is tanking all across the country as the FTA data reflects:
Nationally, ridership peaked in 2014, and has declined in every fiscal year since then. Although the nationwide decline since 2014 was just 7.5 percent, declines in many urban areas were much larger: 29% in Memphis; 27% in Charlotte; 26% in Miami; 25% in Albuquerque; 24% in Cleveland; 22% in St. Louis; 21% in Milwaukee, Sacramento, and Virginia Beach; 20% in Los Angeles.
HART's basic TDP is fully funded with existing revenues. The "Needs" plan which is aspirational, would "only" need an additional $610M over 10 years to fully fund it.

But the massive Vinik transit tax hike gives HART approximately $1.6B over 10 years…or over 2.5 times more than what is "needed". This should mean that audit findings of the Vinik tax hike funded program, at least in regards to Transit-restricted funds, is not economical, not efficient and loosely effective.

As we reported here, the FTA wants their $5 million dollar ferry grant money back. Simply throwing billions of taxpayer money around is not the answer to solving problems.

Vinik's massive regressive 30 year tax hike that forces taxpayers to spend billions on transit is a costly solution looking for a problem.

Vinik's massive transit tax hike includes pages and pages of big government brute force regulations and adds a new transportation bureaucracy that usurps the power of HART's own governing Board for 30 years. A new bureaucracy that requires a 75% super super majority to change anything in the Vinik massive tax hike plan - for 30 years.
Increase bureaucracy decrease efficiency 
We await the publication of the "fast tracked" performance audit of HART but there is only one realistic outcome.

Vinik's massive transit tax hike is a boondoggle!

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