Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Will Nonsense or Common Sense prevail?

Re-posted from Eye on Tampa Bay

By: Sharon Calvert

Now that the Go Hillsborough law enforcement investigation found no criminal wrongdoing, Tribune reporter Joe Henderson decides it is time to move on to putting another huge sales tax hike boondoggle on the 2016 ballot. His column today Go forth with Go Hillsborough so people can make their choiceIt is almost comical to watch the schizophrenia. 
First, though, the Hillsborough County Commission has to decide whether to proceed with the referendum in November, and it’s anyone’s guess how that will play out. There’s a 3-3 split on the board on whether to proceed, with Commissioner Victor Crist waffling. 
But I say they should go ahead and have the vote. 
I have said, and still believe, that it will get stomped like a bug at the ballot box. Even if my prognostication skills are dead on, though, it’s no reason not to put this before the people. We’ve certainly been talking about it long enough. 
If a transportation tax is whomped at the ballot box again like the one in 2010, leaders will have gotten the message — maybe. They’ll be forced to go to Plan B, just as soon as they can come up with one. 
Joe admits the referendum will fail and it will. 

When I spoke to Joe and asked him what the upside was for putting a referendum that is DOA from the get go on the ballot, he gave the same lame excuse we heard in 2010 - "let the people vote".

There's two huge issues with that excuse now. 

The people did vote in 2010 and overwhelmingly said no. Go Hillsborough is simply 2010 all over again funding high cost trains that highly subsidize the affluent, will do nothing to help commuters or reduce congestion. 

Go Hillsborough may be worse than 2010 because the county revenues continue going up and up and up yet the county has continued to neglect our roads and transportation needs. The county has money but they continue spending our current budget on lower priority items. It is absurd to ask taxpayers to raise our sales tax for revenue the county already has. That will never sell. Since our roads have been neglected for almost a decade, we need the county commissioners to use their own political capital to start funding our roads and transportation needs now within the powers they already have - no referendum needed.

The second big issue with "let them vote" excuse is "they" went to Tallahassee and intentionally got the Children's Board property tax reauthorization off the 2016 ballot. Don't forget the Children's Board had their own scandal just a few years ago. Apparently, the excuse of just "let them vote" is selective of course, as Ken Roberts accurately points out in his Tribune letter to the editor we reposted here. County Administrator Mike Merrill applauded the removal because it would make the way clear……[for the sales tax hike referendum]. Really?


May 2015 text messages between Leytham and
County Administrator Mike Merrill
Go Hillsborough may also be worse than 2010 because it cost taxpayers $1.35 million. As we posted here, what Parsons Brinckerhoff handed to the Policy Leadership Group (PLG) on November 5, 2015 did not deliver what was presented at the October 21, 2014. County Administrator told the county commissioners multiple times that Parsons PRISM tool was needed and a reason they handed them the work.
Parsons Brinckerhoff's PRISM tool presented
 at 10/21/2014 PLG meeting
What did we get for $1.35 million? A proposed 30 year tax for a 10 year list of projects.

Parsons Brinckerhoff handed the county/PLG a 10 year alphabetized laundry list of projects, not a prioritized project list. Where is the benefit and cost analysis we were promised? Where is the output from Parsons Brinckerhoff PRISM tool? What is the benefit for spending all these billions - Improved road levels of service, reduced congestion, better throughput, safety, what? If that information exists, it is in hiding somewhere for the public to never see. No one at County Center can or will provide such information.

Why isn't Joe and the Tribune asking these questions? It's not rocket science.

Back to Joe's sales tax hike schizophrenia. Here's Joe's Oct 2, 2015 column It’s time for Plan B on Go Hillsborough effort (emphasis mine)
The effort is not exactly overflowing with public goodwill right now, given that the sheriff’s office is investigating how $1.3 million of taxpayer money was funneled to a contractor involved in the project. 
Was it an inside deal and ethically shaky, as a recent TV report made it out to be? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, it’s all about credibility. A skeptical electorate tends to tune out after hearing words like “tax” and “investigation” used in the same sentence. 
That leaves the county with two options. Officials can wait until the morning after the election to get the message that voters don’t trust them, or they can go to Plan B.
We’ve been talking about traffic solutions around here for years, and all we ever do is vote down referendums and build more roads. The goal of Go Hillsborough is to address that with a comprehensive plan and then sell it to the public, but it’s not working.  
That doesn’t mean the plan is bad, but the execution has been. I think people understand the need to address this problem and they’ll be willing to pay for it, but they have to trust the process first.  
Right now, they don’t. 
It’s time for Plan B.
As I told Joe when we spoke the other day, the PLG was ironically created in March 2013 because former county commissioner Mark Sharpe correctly stated there was a lack of trust in Hillsborough County. The Urban Land Institute told the county commissioners that back in 2012 when Commissioner Murman brought them in during her Economic Prosperity Stakeholder Committee initiative. Gee - What happened to that initiative? 

Does the Go Hillsborough debacle and mess create more trust or distrust? I think Joe answered that question in his October 2nd article.
It also raises the question that if the county can’t even handle a relatively small amount of money like that without controversy, what will officials do with a pot of dough in the billions? 
I was on Rob Lorei's Florida This Week on PBS with Joe on Sept 25, 2015. The segment can be found here.  

Go to 16:58 of that segment and listen to what Joe said about Go Hillsborough then: 
"What part of no do they not understand", 
"yes they should have had a plan b, c, d, e and f",  
"people aren't going to vote to approve this stuff, they are just not".  
Talk about speaking in exclamation points (which Joe said I do) - too funny.

In Joe's article Tribune today, he states
"So for the love of congestion, can we please move on?" 
If he or the Tribune were truly serious about addressing our roads and congestion, they would stop pushing a sales tax hike referendum that is DOA and they know it will fail. 

If they were truly serious about addressing our roads and congestion, they would start holding our electeds accountable for the mess that's been created and demanding they start fixing the problem now.

If they were truly serious about addressing our roads and transportation, why do they want to kick the can down the road and lose another year and another budget cycle neglecting our roads and transportation needs. That is fiscally irresponsible. The longer our roads continue deteriorating the costlier it becomes to fix them.

Throwing another sales tax hike on the ballot that has no natural base of support and will fail is not good governance and then we all lose. That is not smart politics nor an indication of any common sense.

Yes Joe we need to move on…..move on from nonsense to common sense.

And Common Sense demands we move on to a Plan B NOW!

#NoGoHillsborough
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