Monday, August 19, 2019

Time for Sunshine to Get Rid of the Transit Tax Storm Cloud

The All for Transportation (AFT) transit tax is a storm cloud of dishonesty and deception hovering over Hillsborough County.

Hillsborough County must get out from under the AFT storm clouds for the county to begin honestly and transparently addressing its transportation issues.

AFT created a myth in their $4 million marketing campaign last year about their 30 year $16 Billion transit tax. AFT claimed their massive tax hike will "fix roads" and reduce traffic congestion.

But the reality of AFT's pre-determined spending mandates proves otherwise.

The Hillsborough County Commission held a Transportation Budget Workshop on April 9, 2019. The county estimated they would receive, in the first year of the tax, at least $110 million of the total first year $300 million AFT tax proceeds collected.

County staff presented a breakdown for how those tax proceeds would be spent if forced to be spent according to AFT's mandated allocations and pre-defined spending buckets.
AFT's mandated spending buckets
(click to enlarge)
Missing is an AFT mandated spending bucket to fund new roads and road widening.

The county will receive $1.4 Billion or more of AFT tax proceeds over the first 10 years of the tax. The actual impact of being forced to spend those tax proceeds according to AFT's pre-determined spending allocations was presented at the Workshop:
  • Bridge replacements - 350% funding increase
  • Repaving - 30% funding increase
  • Sidewalk repairs - 250% funding increase
  • School safety - 600% funding increase
  • Complete streets (most expensive streets that often narrows roads and/or eliminates lanes of vehicle traffic) - 800% funding increase
  • Intersection improvements - 200% funding increase
  • Traffic signal technology upgrades - 800% funding increase
  • New sidewalks - 600% funding increase (160 miles of new sidewalks)
  • Trails and bike paths - 1,400% funding increase (122 miles of new trails)
Is this what voters thought they were funding with the massive AFT tax hike?

AFT spending mandates include a 1,400% spending increase
highlighted in red for new Trails
(click to enlarge)
There is no funding increase for new roads and road widening because AFT excluded and specifically prohibited funding for new road capacity in their $16 Billion tax - for 30 long years.

After the AFT spending mandates related to any road purposed projects are funded, there is only $16.5 million remaining that can be used for any transportation project - including transit.

(Note: none of these funds relate to AFT's mandate that 45% of all tax proceeds must go to transit agency HART and be spent on transit. HART expects to receive at least $124 million in the first year of the tax).

But if every penny of the remaining road purposed funds was spent on new road capacity, there is a huge funding deficit for new roads/road widening. Below is the reality of the new road capacity funding deficit over the first 10 years with the AFT $16 Billion transit tax.
AFT does not fund road widening needs highlighted in red
Basically, the only new road purposed infrastructure the county can fund with AFT's mandated spending allocations are new sidewalks, new trails and new bike paths.

Did voters know this last year when they voted?

Of course not, because voters were not provided this important information before they voted.

This is not the picture AFT painted in their $4 million marketing campaign and the gobs of mailers they bombarded voters with last year.

It is also not the picture AFT painted in their ballot summary language. AFT excluded all reference to any of their spending mandates in a referendum they titled "Funding for Countywide Transportation and Road Improvements by County Charter Amendment"
All for Transportation ballot language excluded
their spending mandates
The ballot summary is the only information all voters are guaranteed an opportunity to read before voting. AFT knew voters would reasonably assume "Road Improvements" meant funding new roads.

The damaging evidence presented by the county proves otherwise.

The county has confirmed what a transportation funding disaster AFT's road purposed spending allocations are for Hillsborough County. They will increase traffic congestion and create gridlock.

All for Transportation was not truthful with voters last year.

The county confirmed in April that All for Transportation's spending mandates are totally unbalanced with no funding for new road capacity that is much needed in unincorporated Hillsborough.

AFT's spending allocations are unfair to those residing in unincorporated who will pay 74% of the total tax, but get little to no benefit and no congestion relief, for the billions they will pay.

Tyler Hudson is Chair of All For Transportation and Director of their nonprofit Keep Hillsborough Moving. Hudson was asked at his Deposition on 4/1/2019 numerous questions about how AFT calculated and created their spending allocations and percentages. Hudson's attorney replied for him that information is "protected by the First Amendment, it's political speech, free speech, it's not relevant".

AFT admits their spending allocations is a political strategy, exactly what we posted here.

All for Transportation has little regard for transparency. They created their $16 Billion tax and spend policy in the dark with no transparency and refuses to disclose critical information necessary for evaluating their massive tax hike policy.

County commissioners cannot govern in the dark like that. They must govern under our state Sunshine laws requiring open records and transparent deliberation of public policy. They must make available to the public information, communication and documentation about those policies.

That is why county commissioners are clearly given the appropriations and spending authority of the tax proceeds pursuant to State Statute 212.055.

The county's transportation spending policy cannot be bootlegged from AFT's spending allocations created in the dark.

A circuit court judge has confirmed AFT had no authority to create their spending allocations, ruled them illegal and unlawful and threw them out.

But as we reported here, AFT wants to be rewarded for their wrong doing. They want the county commission to reinstate their disastrous spending allocations that would create traffic havoc.

AFT wants to keep the storm clouds of dishonesty and deception hovering over Hillsborough County.

That should be roundly rejected. All efforts to reinstate AFT's damaging transportation spending allocations must stop.

Condoning the creation of tax and spend policies in the dark is unacceptable and could create more legal issues.

The big legal mess All for Transportation created is now headed to the Florida Supreme Court.

The All for Transportation transit tax may be catastrophically flawed. The entire AFT transit tax may be thrown out on appeal.

We hope truth and transparency prevails over deception and dishonesty so bad precedence is not established.

Time for Sunshine in Hillsborough County to replace the storm clouds created by a legally flawed transit tax crafted in the dark.

Time to send the All for Transportation transit tax and their damaging transportation spending mandates to the ash heap.

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