Tuesday, November 27, 2018

New Tax, No Plan

All for Transportation's $16 Billion tax hike was created by a few urbanist transit advocates over drinks. Their campaign funded by special interests sold their creation as a 30 year "plan" to fix transportation in Hillsborough County.

But there is no plan for implementing anything.

At times All for Transportation touted their tax hike was funding Hillsborough MPO's 4 year old outdated 2040 long range plan. But MPO Director Beth Alden told us in September that MPO long range plans are not implementation plans.  Those plans are federally mandated to help forecast future transportation needs.

And the Hillsborough MPO does not forecast very well. Their 20 year 2040 long range plan created in 2014 does not include ride-share, the sharing economy, autonomous vehicle or connected vehicle technology. The MPO's 2040 plan excludes the use of value capture now being required by the FTA to pursue federal transit grants.

We warned that new road capacity intentionally had zero dedicated funding for 30 years in All for Transportation's $16 Billion tax hike. As we previously posted, questions are suddenly being asked about the $812 million 10 year of road funding plan for unincorporated that was approved by a previous Board - after the massive tax hike passed.

What about HART?

HART's overall ridership declined 10.3% over the last fiscal year according to this Tampa Bay Guardian post. Ridership has been declining for years.

Now $7-8 Billion or probably more of new taxpayer dollars will go to HART. At least $126 million will start flowing into HART's coffers in 2019. Where are those dollars going?

We spoke to interim CEO Jeff Seward of HART last Tuesday.  We asked him if he had spoken to All for Transportation about where HART would be spending the new tax dollars.

Seward, who is also HART's CFO, stated that he had met with All for Transportation spokesperson and Jeff Vinik employee Christina Barker for the first time that day.

That is correct. All for Transportation wrote their 30 year tax hike plan that hands HART at least $7-8 BILLION without ever speaking to HART.

HART has no infrastructure for managing the new billions flowing in and according to Seward, that is his first item of business. Seward is spending about $100K to hire an accounting firm to setup their internal infrastructure so HART can appropriately account for the flood of new tax dollars beginning in January. He will hire a new accountant as well to manage the new billions.

We asked Seward what HART would first be spending the new tax dollars on. Seward said he had recommended at HART's recent Finance and Audit committee meeting to first spend on tangible things and fast tracking their funded Transportation Development Plan. This includes expanding 5 existing routes to 15 minute frequencies and fast tracking 30 new buses. That may also include reviewing all their bus stops and adding benches and shelters at those that do not have them.

All five routes recommended to be expanded with the new county tax dollars are in the city of Tampa. Expect to see more and more transit spending in the city of Tampa that will paid for courtesy of taxpayers in unincorporated Hillsborough.

Seward said HART will need a new maintenance facility but he recommends using an existing footprint of property that HART already owns. He thinks that would save HART $15-20 million to not have to buy the land.

Seward stated HART will basically have to tear up their 10 year Transportation Development Plan and create a new one. To do that, HART will have to hire more consultants and do extensive public outreach. None of that was done prior to putting the massive tax hike on the ballot.

A good chunk of new tax dollars will go to consultants, PR firms and growing the size and scope of the transit bureaucracy. Those groups, along with the bankers and the financing community seeking to bond out huge portions of the tax dollars, are probably already lobbying to get a piece of HART's massive tax hike pie.

When I brought up rail, Seward believes that the CSX lines will be made a priority. That is a priority coming out of the commissioner Pat Kemp camp. With newly elected commissioners Kimberly Overman and Mariella Smith replacing Stacy White and Sandy Murman on HART Board, expect rail, rail and more rail to become HART's priority.

Apparently a priority of All for Transportation is light rail from downtown to the airport. That is why Janet Scherberger, who works directly for the airport CEO Joe Lopano, was an activist for the tax hike. That is why Aviation Authority Chair Robert Watkins was also closely associated with All for Transportation. Both are Directors of the nonprofit Keep Hillsborough Moving, Inc. that was directly connected to the All for Transportation PAC.

With so much money flowing into HART, we asked Seward whether HART would pursue federal/state monies to leverage those dollars. He said HART could but doing so requires HART to meet all the federal criteria and regulations and lengthens the implementation time. Pursuing federal dollars can add years and years to a transit project and raises the cost of any transit project.

HART could decide to fully fund the costly rail/transit projects with its new billions and not pursue any federal funding. Seward stated if that was done, federal ridership estimates would not have to be met. He stated he had heard that strategy mentioned as a way to expedite expensive transit/rail projects.

However, if HART fully funded the rail projects locally, would HART still have to abide by federal environmental, social justice and Title VI regulations? HART is a federally funded transit agency who receives federal transit funds every year. What are the issues associated with HART managing billions of non-federal assets with federally funded resources?

We asked Seward about the performance audit done of HART by OPPAGA. His background is a Chief Financial Officer and he said that was the fastest completed performance audit he's ever seen.

Florida Statute 212.055 Section (10) was added in this year's legislative session. It requires a performance audit be completed and the report published at least 60 days prior to the election for all local discretionary tax hike referendums placed on the ballot. The statute requires the performance audit to exam the program that will be funded by the new discretionary sales surtax placed on the ballot.

HART has no such program. HART does not have any program associated with the Billions that will be handed to them by the 30 year $16 Billion tax hike.

Seward stated they told the OPPAGA auditor there is no program that could be audited and the auditor agreed. Therefore, the OPPAGA auditor audited current operations and past performance for how HART "may" handle new programs.

Auditing HART's current $78 million operation to a new $200 million or more yearly operation is trying to compare apples to oranges. How does such audit fulfill the statute's requirement that the audit must exam the program(s) associated with the new tax?

Hillsborough County has the same issue. There is no program at County Center associated with this $16 Billion tax hike. It does not exist. Therefore, the OPPAGA auditor simply audited the operations of the county's Public Works department. How does that audit fulfill the statute's requirement that the audit exam the program(s) associated with the new tax?

The $16 Billion tax hike funds multiple programs in multiple entities. The tax hike will provide funding to the County, city of Tampa, city of Temple Terrace, city of Plant City, to HART and to the Hillsborough MPO.

We understand the County and HART asked the OPPAGA auditor why they were only ones being audited. The auditor replied because they were the primary recipients.

The city of Tampa will receive over a BILLION dollars of these new tax dollars over 30 years. A recipient who will get over a Billion dollars from this tax hike was not audited.

Who decided a government entity receiving over a Billion dollars is not important enough to require the performance audit? Is that common sense?

Nowhere does the state statute requiring the performance audit limit the audit to what OPPAGA auditors consider the "primary recipients".

Every entity receiving any portion of these billions of new tax dollars should be audited.

Go to about 16:35 in this video clip of the State Senate session where Senator Kelli Stargel clearly states the intent of the performance audit is to audit the program.

It appears the performance audits completed could not meet the required statutory requirements.

Legal minds will need to provide some answers to any of the legal issues.

The state legislature needs to add clarification and discipline into the performance audit requirement statute language to avoid pitfalls, confusion and unintended consequences.

Seward said that last week was the first time any reporter from the Times asked him anything about the tax hike.

No surprise! The Times was too busy providing All for Transportation free earned media to ask questions before the election.

We understand there are some disagreements about the language of the Charter Amendment itself amongst some lawyers of the government entities who will be receiving the tax hike monies.

If there are issues with the ballot language, how did Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer approve putting the charter amendment as written on the ballot?

Who's responsibility is it to ensure any county referendum placed on the ballot is legally solid and sound?

The tax hike legislation was not passed through any deliberative process. There was no consensus for what transportation and transit projects will be funded or when they will be funded.

That is why All for Transportation's Christina Barker finally had to meet with Jeff Seward last week. She knew HART has no plan.

Barker and her All for Transportation cohorts did not tell the voting public that because they were selling a "plan".

The reality is Hillsborough County taxpayers got a 30 year $16 Billion tax hike

That has no plan.


  1. There have been legal and procedural questions from the very beginning of this tax hike referendum. The lack of a credible audit as required by law begs the question, why was this referendum allowed to get rushed through the process? As a hint, you might want to look at the political leanings of the All For Transportation principals, the SOE, as well as, the financial windfall for certain land developers (Vinik, Shaw, and the Tampa Bay Partnership, just to mention a few). Our officials that were elected by the people are having the power ripped away from them and put in the hands of a pro-rail cabal? And when they shower HART with extra billions of dollars and they decide to put rail in, is anybody going to monitor the ridership so taxpayers can see how effective the billions spent will be? Probably not. This mess cries out for a legal challenge on a number of fronts!!!

  2. Yes the people voted for it with many promises made. The people will not want to take the blame when those promises start to fall away. They will look for heads to roll even though they voted for it. They should really pay attention more. Hope they can find some legal way to block it. Sharon if there was no plan where did all those safety claims come from and sidewalk and intersection improvements? I think they had more help then AFT wants to admit.