Feeding a Regional Transit Authority on Tampa Bay

 By Sharon Calvert 

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.

Here is a video showing the genesis of the Tampa Bay Transit Authority.

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 343.94. No 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)

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