Taxpayers should be appalled at this latest $1.5 million transit campaign and Senator Latvala's mischief making shenanigans in Tallahassee.
Taxpayers are enriching the same consultants who gave us Greenlight Pinellas, the Go Hillsborough debacle and the 2010 rail tax aka Moving Hillsborough Forward. And surprise! Tampa Bay Times posted this article stupidly titled Long-awaited Tampa Bay transit study identifies five corridors for future transportation systems reporting the premium regional transit campaign has identified transit corridors. Long awaited? This latest campaign started last October (7 months ago) and we've seen it all before.
Jacobs Engineering transit corridors map
It looks like Go Hillsborough, Greenlight Pinellas and Moving Hillsborough Forward packaged together and adding the bridge between Hillsborough and Pinellas. According to the Times article:
The five corridors Jacobs selected are a mix of routes between Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties, connecting the area's densest regions and busiest road corridors:
• Westshore to Brandon through downtown Tampa. • Downtown Tampa to the University of South Florida. • Wesley Chapel to USF, then to Tampa and St. Petersburg. • Clearwater to the St. Petesburg Gateway area to downtown. • South Tampa to downtown Tampa.
It's not much of a regional mix because most of these "corridors" are in Tampa/Hillsborough. Anyone who has travelled throughout Tampa Bay for a week knows where traffic is and could have drawn these lines for FREE. We know where traffic congestion is in Tampa Bay - that's easy. But these corridors do not equate or translate to transit ridership, especially at a time when transit ridership is declining and innovation and technology are disrupting traditional transit. This corridor map is not even shown on the Jacobs website except in the link to the news article. Is Jacobs just feeding their media accomplices a story line? That's what PR campaigns do for favorable press. And taxpayers are paying Jacobs $1.5 million to look backward at old studies (some decades old) so are they using old and outdated data? There's no back up data that has been provided at all by Jacobs for this map. Where's at least the daily traffic counts? This effort was sold to the public as a feasibility study. It is not and the contract awarded to Jacobs confirms that. Jacobs and HART rebranded it as a plan but it's not that either. It is a campaign that includes the very same campaign elements we saw with the failed Go Hillsborough debacle.
Scroll down to Attachment 1 of Exhibit G in the contract that lists all the subcontractors. Lots of taxpayer money again being spent on "public involvement" using PR firms, including B2 Communications, the same PR firm for Greenlight Pinellas. As we previously posted, B2 Communications presented their Lessons Learned about the Greenlight defeat at the 2015 Transit Initiatives and Communities Conference sponsored by the transit advocacy/lobbying group Center for Transportation Excellence (CFTE). These CFTE conferences are where transit advocates gather for advice on how to win transit ballot measures. CFTE provides information and an entireCampaign Toolkit for how to combat opposition - people like you the taxpayer. (Remember Jason Jordan who presented at a TMA meeting last year.)
B2 Communications personally targeted those who opposed rail boondoggles such as Randal O'Toole and the Libertarian think tank, the CATO Institute. We must assume they will locally target those who oppose boondoggles.
These are the same people working on this regional transit campaign.
Think B2 is using their own lessons learned medicine this go round? Their presentation at the CFTE conference indicated this time they will not be staying "above the fray". B2 will be putting on their boxing gloves [against the taxpayer]. Taxpayers should not be funding anyone with such a cavalier attitude.
B2 Communications will put on their boxing gloves
No matter how this latest campaign is sliced and diced, transit projects that spit out will require funding. No new transit project can get any federal or state funding without committed long term local/regional funding.
Enter the mischief making shenanigans by Senator Latvala in Tallahassee which is directly tied to the regional transit campaign. Latvala attempting to force feed an unnecessary regional transit agency, requested by special interests, on taxpayers in Tampa Bay is simply egregious. The special interests who wrote the TBARTA bill headed to Tallahassee to get Latvala to amend his TBARTA bill after the rail oversight was inserted by Senators Brandes and Lee. Latvala obliged and added an amendment, probably written by the special interests, trying to water down what Brandes/Lee inserted. The Latvala lackey's at the Tampa Bay Times immediately wrote an editorial falsely accusing Senator Brandes of mischief making. The Times does confirm what we have been saying - this bill is all about special interests Tampa Bay Partnership, and ignoring the will of the people in Tampa Bay who have consistently rejected higher taxes for transit. The real mischief maker who created this crony mess is Senator Latvala! Remember the Genesis of this bill to take away local control, thwart local voters, ignore the will of the people and empower special interests. It's called tyranny.
Latvala hastily filed the crony TBARTA bill written by special interest the weekend before session started. Latvala ensured his crony bill never went thru the local delegations of the counties impacted. Latvala bent the rules of normal bill process to keep his crony bill from going through Senator Brandes's Transportation Appropriations Committee. The Times accusing Senator Brandes of mischief making is simply a lie. But just think of the Times as a complicit partner in Latvala's crony mischief making with a byline.
The Times may have spoke too soon as Senator Brandes has added another amendment neutering some of Latvala's mischief making shenanigans. There is still time for the TBARTA bill to die, especially in the House. There are multiple versions and they will have to be reconciled in the short amount of time left in the session to pass. In addition, Governor Scott could veto the bill as he de-funded TBARTA in 2011. This latest taxpayer funded transit campaign is a waste of taxpayer money but is obviously part of Latvala's crony mischief making in Tallahassee. Did FDOT know they were funding what looks like another taxpayer funded Go Hillsborough campaign for higher taxes when they handed HART $1.5 million?
The public was misled from the get go on its intent and its timing is horrible - declining transit ridership, innovation disrupting traditional transit and good probability of no or little federal dollars for new transit projects. The intent is all about pursuing transit projects that can get state/federal capital money. That is totally disingenuous and unfair to taxpayers. Pursuing state and federal capital grant money does not mean those project(s) are financially sound or sustainable, especially over the long term. Just look at the fiscal mess of SunRail and the Tri-Rail mess that all FL taxpayers bail out every year. There is a huge fiscal burden of on going operating, maintenance and major rehab and replacement costs that will be borne by local taxpayers. The honest truth about these burdensome costs too often are ignored and transparency to taxpayers about them grossly lacking or nonexistent. If Jacobs, B2, special interest, politicos, etc. are going to put their boxing gloves on to push another tax hike referendum, then the taxpayers of Tampa Bay can put their boxing gloves on too. And this time the Taxpayers in Tampa Bay will take the knock out punch to shatter once and for all tax hike referendums for transit boondoggles.