Monday, February 24, 2020

April Fools Day Mischief: The Rail Tax Do Over

The Tax is Back!

Hillsborough County BOCC Chair Les Miller and Commissioner Kimberly Overman proposed at the February 19 BOCC meeting to put All For Transportation (AFT) 2.0, another $16 Billion 30 year 1% transit tax, on the November ballot.

And to top that off, the public hearing for the All for Transportation (AFT) transit tax 2.0 is scheduled for April Fool's Day.

A lower court confirmed AFT subjected voters to an unlawful transit tax referendum in 2018. Since White's lawsuit was filed December 4, 2018, Miller has vigorously pushed actions trying to make AFT's legal issues irrelevant.

But after the Florida Supreme Court oral arguments were heard on the AFT lawsuits on February 5, 2020, panic set in. Reality struck the AFT transit tax may not survive at all.

AFT's lawyers got so hammered at the oral arguments hearing it was an embarrassment. The conflict AFT's charter amendment had with state law FS 212.055 is so obvious, that Plaintiff's attorney told the Court "any second year law student should understand".

Actually anyone who reads 212.055 Section 1, can understand the authority to appropriate and decide how to spend the transportation sales surtax is with the elected county commission: "Proceeds from the surtax shall be applied to as many or as few of the uses enumerated below in whatever combination the county commission deems appropriate".

BOCC Chair Les Miller is a former state legislator who we expect understands state law. How could he not know AFT's charter amendment was filled with legal problems? But instead of raising warnings in 2018 the County could be sued, Miller championed AFT's unlawful transit tax.

Then once the County did get sued, Miller championed all the BOCC "after the election actions" trying to "moot the points of the lawsuit" while the case was being litigated in the Courts.

Overman invited Tampa Bay Partnership, the major funders of AFT, to present at the February 5 BOCC meeting, ironically or simply karma the same day as the AFT oral arguments. The Tampa Bay Partnership is a lobbyist organization for transit in Tampa Bay. The information they present is often tied to their agenda and can be suspect.

Miller and Overman were quoted in a December 4, 2018 Times article after White's lawsuit was filed:
County Commissioner Kimberly Overman [Democrat] said the referendum language was vetted closely and voters clearly spoke. "This is a waste of taxpayers' money and that's a shame," Overman said.
Democrat and County Commission Chairman Les Miller said, "This is just a way to stop this sales tax from being implemented and is going against the will of the people."
More shameful are these commissioners being A-Okay with AFT subjecting voters to an unlawful transit tax referendum.

With a disregard for the final ruling by the Florida Supreme Court, the BOCC continues to display their cart before the horse behavior.

In addition, the Florida House Ways and Means Committee has committee bill PCB WMC 20-01. This bill has a number of taxation reductions and modifications and includes limiting the local transportation sales surtax to a maximum of 20 years in duration. The bill passed the Ways and Means Committee meeting, ironically on February 19, and we will closely watch it's movement.

The video recording of the February 19 BOCC meeting is found here. The discussion on AFT 2.0 starts at about 1:29 in the video, first with an update from the county's lawyers on the AFT lawsuits. Then they jump right to putting AFT 2.0 on the November ballot.

At about 1:54 in the meeting video, Commissioner Smith, a long time Sierra Club activist and big supporter of AFT, brings her activism to the BOCC dais. Smith states we must get cars off the roads with transit. Smith's ideology gets in the way of any reasoning because nowhere has transit reduced traffic congestion. Neither Hillsborough County or Tampa Bay have any large central downtown job center, jobs are dispersed across the Tampa Bay area.

Smith laments the cost of road widening but fails to mention anything about the over $100 million cost of extending the Tampa Streetcar 2.6 miles. Smith says nothing about the cost of rail projects running $100 million per mile and benefits very few.
County provided cost estimates during
2016 Go Hillsborough 
Roads are highly utilized assets that benefits many - used by cars, school buses, buses, delivery trucks, commercial trucks, semi-trucks, pedestrians, cyclists - 24 hours a day. The Tampa Streetcar benefits a tiny fraction of those who benefit from our roads.

Miller's proposed AFT 2.0 is tweaked to mandate 40% ($6.5 Billion) must go to transit, 59% ($9.5 Billion) goes to the county and cities and 1% ($160 million) goes to the central planning bureaucrats at the Hillsborough MPO.

Originally Miller proposed a simple 40/60 split but he must have gotten a call from the MPO demanding their share. Miller decided to take 1% from the county/city funds, not from the transit bucket, to hand to the MPO central planning bureaucrats.

Less than 2% use transit in Hillsborough County and the transit agency HART has no plans for how to spend the AFT billions. HART never asked the County for such money or presented any viable plan for how to spend those billions. We're just supposed to "trust" HART with $6.5 Billion of new found money.

But HART recently fired their CEO Ben Limmer, they hired less than a year ago, for blatant policy violations. Limmer fired HART's Chief Financial Officer and Chief Administrator Officer within months of him being hired, leaving HART in a state of at least semi-chaos.

Commissioners Miller, Kemp, Smith and Overman, all big AFT supporters, sit on the HART Board and Miller is the Chair. This HART scandal reflects poorly on the HART Board and displays poor judgment.

What is worse is that it took a whistleblower complaint to the HART Board to bring forward Limmer's blatant policy violations and his going around the Board on procurement issues. This mess confirms the rushed OPPAGA performance audit, hurriedly done in a few short weeks in August 2018 to put the AFT transit tax on the November ballot, was a joke.

In the Hillsborough MPO's 2040 long range transportation plan implemented 5 years ago, the MPO stated they would need $16 million over 20 years to do their federally mandated planning. Exploding the size and scope of the MPO bureaucracy is absurd. Handing the MPO central planning bureaucrats $160 million over 30 years is irrational. Bloating the MPO bureaucracy is blatantly irresponsible.

Furthermore, the Hillsborough MPO, taken over by the Anti-Car Brigade, are downright hostile to the 98% of us who drive everyday. Their priority is to fund transit at any cost.

The Anti-Car Brigade MPO is pursuing tearing down 11 miles of I-275 from downtown to Bearss Avenue. They are studying replacing the interstate that 200k people use everyday and serves as a major evacuation route for Tampa Bay, with a street level rail boulevard that will create gridlock in Tampa Bay. Of course, the AFT transit tax is required to attempt such effort.

This MPO is even hostile to fixing and improving the accident prone I-4 malfunction junction. Their Vision Zero safety policy must be selective.

Commissioners Miller, Kemp, Smith, Overman and Hagan sit on the MPO Board and Miller is the Chair.

AFT created their $16B rail/transit tax initiative behind closed doors. The taxpaying public provided no input to it and was never provided any opportunity to weigh in on it.

AFT refuses to divulge any information or inform the public/taxpayers how and why they calculated their mandated spending percentages. AFT hides behind a claim that such information is their "free speech", aka as their political agenda, protected by the First Amendment.

The BOCC cannot make such claim, they must be transparent. The BOCC must rationalize AFT 2.0 with the voting public.

The BOCC must provide the voting public with a specific list of the transportation/transit projects AFT 2.0 will fund - just like the school board did in 2018. With AFT 2.0, the voting public gets to demand the BOCC tell them how and why they plan to spend $16 Billion of new tax monies.

All For Transportation was always a rail/transit tax. It was never intended to fund new road capacity.

All for Transportation was dishonest, deceptive and devious and they tried to bamboozle the voting public.

Now the BOCC is rewarding the AFT perpetrators by putting AFT 2.0 on the ballot.

How appropriate that Miller scheduled the public hearing on AFT 2.0 for April Fool's Day.

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