Five reasons to say no to an eighth cent
November 28, 2009
I appeal to the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners to not allow the recommendations of the Hillsborough County Transportation Task Force to proceed to a ballot initiative in November 2010. The BOCC should not be satisfied with the poorly researched recommendations.
By approving the recommendations for the ballot, the BOCC is certifying that all the technical, financial, planning and governance issues with the recommendations are resolved - which is clearly not true.
The merits of mass transit as a transportation option in Hillsborough are not the issue. If you really think that transit is the most important issue facing Hillsborough County, why not request sufficient funds from the transportation planning agencies to pay for an independent study of the sufficiency of the task force's work before asking voters to decide?
Given the economy and lack of a business plan for transit, we can wait until 2012, at least.
Reason 1: The timing is horrible. When the task force began its deliberations in 2006, it may have seemed reasonable that there was enough cushion in the pockets of local taxpayers and businesses to absorb another penny in sales tax. No analyst or elected official can make that assumption now. There are 70,000 unemployed Hillsborough County residents, and the value of all our homes has fallen dramatically. It should be obvious to commissioners that the referendum is going to fail given current economic conditions.
The timing is also unnerving from the perspective of accurate data. The invalid population projections behind the task force recommendations need to be recalculated with 2010 census data, and the financial projections need additional trend data on sales tax collections. A sales tax is an extremely unreliable source of revenue in Florida, as has been documented by its decline since 2007 and data from previous recessions.
Reason 2: The task force recommendations are extremely poorly documented and would not be accepted by any private sector lender as sufficient. The Phase II Final Report does not contain any information concerning the total cost of the transit portion of the ballot initiative (75 percent) - construction, operating and maintenance costs. There is also absolutely no information provided about revenue for the transit portion of the ballot initiative other than the sales tax increase and hypothesized sources of federal and state revenue. It is difficult to visualize voters approving a new transit system without a price tag or a defined revenue stream.
Reason 3: The recommendations are based upon invalid and unreliable demographic and economic projections. The underlying demographic and economic data being used by HART to prepare the plans for Transit Routes 1 and 2 (USF-downtown and downtown-WestShore) is fallacious and lacking the most basic of scientific rigor.
For example, the underlying data shows "Tampa's Core" adding an unbelievable 91,000 people and 100,000 jobs between now and 2025. "Tampa's Core" is the area bounded by Hillsborough Avenue on the north and State Road 60/downtown on the south, with the city's boundaries on the east and west. Visualize this comparatively small area. The task force's projected increase in density and intensity over the next 15 years is equivalent to increasing the size of Tampa's core by the current population and employment south of Kennedy Boulevard, including MacDill Air Force Base.
Reason 4: The local governance is not in place to properly implement the task force's recommendations and monitor the expenditure of funds from a one-penny sales tax. It is likely that Hillsborough County cannot (and should not) handle the transit portion of the ballot initiative by itself. Why not share some of the risk with the rest of the region? The BOCC needs to sort out the long-term responsibilities of the numerous local transportation agencies that will have a piece of this action and fund the agencies accordingly.
Reason 5: The recommendations are a simply bad investment of scarce resources. The 8th cent of our local sales tax is extremely valuable. The first leg of our transit system should be a success and be placed between locations that have an existing relationship. There is no rationale provided for the selection of the USF-downtown leg as the first portion, perhaps because there isn't any. There is currently no documented flow of goods, services or people. The level of redevelopment needed to make the USF-downtown link work is unknown, but it would certainly involve massive local government incentives that have yet to be developed or approved.
Commissioners should vote no on the resolution to proceed with the drafting of ballot language for the 8th penny. Please stop spending money on this process now.
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