Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Bills to Divert SunRail Funding Earmark Money to TBARTA and Adds New Bureaucracy


Tampa, Fl
From: Eye On Tampa Bay
Posted by: Sharon Calvert

All state taxpayers were put on the hook to pay for SunRail's operating and maintenance costs for the first 7 years. Since SunRail ridership is so dismally low and farebox only covers 5% of its operating costs while state taxpayers are subsidizing 95%, thankfully the state funding of SunRail ends in 2021.

It's 2018 and the food fight over where those rail dollars will go has officially begun.

Bills filed this legislative session diverts $60 million of state rail monies beginning in 2021, grows government by creating another transportation bureaucracy and provides earmarks for TBARTA and Miami-Dade County.

The original sponsor of the House bill is Rep. Avila from Miami-Dade but the champion sponsors of both bills in the State House and Senate are from Tampa Bay - Rep. Jamie Grant and Sen. Dana Young. However, no one seems to know the genesis of the original bill.

The bills are HB535 and SB1200. They earmark $25 million to Miami Dade County and $25 million to TBARTA  if there is a one for one local or private match - not including any federal funds. The earmarks have no sunset or end date so they must go into perpetuity.

HB535/SB1200 earmarks $25 million
of state funding for TBARTA  
TBARTA was unnecessary when it was created in 2007 as a regional transportation authority. TBARTA is more unnecessary as another transit authority paid for on the backs of taxpayers. TBARTA was repurposed to a transit authority last year when transit ridership has been decreasing in Tampa Bay and nationwide, record auto sales is occurring as more people are buying cars and traditional transit is being disrupted. And taxpayers are already paying for their local transit agency.

The Eye had numerous posts about the unscrupulous politics last year used by special interests and then powerful Sen. Jack Latvala to ram the TBARTA bill thru. Latvala resigned in December last year amid allegations of sexual harassment and the recommendation that a criminal investigation be conducted regarding the abusive use of his power. Perhaps that TBARTA bill forcing another transit agency on taxpayers should be reconsidered - not funded.

HB535/SB1200 grows government by creating a new transportation bureaucracy, Alternative Transportation Authority, within FDOT. FDOT already includes their 7 Districts, the Turnpike enterprise, Transportation for the Disadvantaged and the Florida Rail Enterprise.

FDOT Org Chart w/new authority
(Click to enlarge)

"Alternative transportation systems" in the bills is defined as:

For purposes of this section, the term “alternative transportation system” means a system of infrastructure, appurtenances, and technology designed to move the greatest number of people in the least amount of time. The term includes, but is not limited to, autonomous vehicles as defined in s. 316.003 and transportation network companies as defined in s 627.748. The term does not include other traditional uses of a roadway system for conveyance.
Missing is cost-effectiveness, congestion relief, ability to more efficiently use our existing infrastructure or provide the ability to reduce travel times for the most amount of people. AV vehicles will use roadways like traditional vehicles today so the last sentence of the definition is not clear.

What is good in the bills is they repeal Subsection 5 of Statute 341.303 that funded rail projects out of the Florida Rail Enterprise. The Florida Rail Enterprise was established in 2009 when the Obama Admin was doling out the HSR debt dollars that Governor Scott thankfully rejected. (Actually voters/taxpayers rejected the bullet train in 2004.)

Over and over again we find that once bureaucracies are created, it's almost impossible to get rid of them. HSR was rejected but the bureaucracy remains. Bureaucracies need sunset dates!

Unfortunately, these bills do not eliminate the Florida Rail Enterprise but re-divert money from it that has been paying for SunRail since 2014. The local municipalities in Central Florida, who still have no dedicated long term funding source for SunRail, must begin picking up their own tab beginning in fiscal year 2021-2022.

So the food fight over what is being called "found" money has begun. It's not really "found" money because everyone knew the state funding of SunRail thankfully had a sunset date.

Beginning in fiscal year 2021-2022 when the state stops paying to operate SunRail, these bills change where the funds for the Transportation Regional Incentive Program, TRIP, (who knew…) are allocated. $60 million of Florida Rail Enterprise money will be diverted earmarked as follows: $25 million dollars on a matching basis to TBARTA, $25 million to Miami-Dade County and $10 million that can be allocated throughout the state based on county requests.

Was TBARTA or FDOT consulted? One would assume the entities specifically impacted would have been. When we inquired to both FDOT and TBARTA, we were told they had not been engaged and did not know about the bills until they were filed.

The only funding TBARTA requested this legislative session is a million dollars to create their Transit Development Plan as required by the State legislature. HB2451 was submitted by Rep. Joe Gruters for that specific appropriation this year.

Eligibility to receive TRIP funds requires partners that form a regional transportation area and requires those partners meet certain criteria to be eligible to receive those funds. Does the TRIP criteria still apply to the $60 million diverted from SunRail? If so, how can $25 million be earmarked to Miami-Dade or any funds go to a single county?

Bills HB535/SB1200, as currently written, are flawed. They create more bureaucracy, lack an end or sunset date, appear to duplicate some of what is already in place and have accountability issues.

The nebulous term “Alternative” should not be used in the title of any transportation authority. If the intention is for innovation, then use such terminology as innovative, new technology, advanced technology, etc.

The Florida Rail Enterprise should be eliminated, not just re-divert its funding. Eliminate Statute sections 341.303(5) & (6). This entity appears to either be very inactive and/or not very transparent. There is no federal/state money for HSR, BrightLine HSR is a private enterprise and SunRail has its own Board of Directors.

Let's get rid of an unnecessary bureaucracy if a new one will be created. Novel idea!

The bills duplicate some of what is already in place today in Florida. FDOT already has staff working on innovative transportation solutions. FDOT and Turnpike are partners of SunTrax: http://www.suntraxfl.com.

We already have Florida Statute 341.501 High-technology transportation systems; joint project agreement or assistance. That statute provides funding via FS 339.135 by FDOT for high tech transportation projects meeting specific criteria, including it must be implemented within 5 years and it is in the transportation improvement program of any MPO that is within the boundaries of where the project is located. 


Why aren't innovative transportation projects being funded via what has already been put in place?

We need efficiencies in government not duplication that causes wasteful spending, confusion and convoluted processes. The path of least resistance in government is to add something new, regardless of what is already in place.

The $60 million being diverted with these bills needs disciplined accountability, clear concise criteria for its use that can be measured, and have a sunset date. No state funding should be earmarked into perpetuity. 

State transportation grants must go thru a competitive process and awarded on merit not be earmarked. The monies awarded should not be used to leverage debt or be used to bail out any local or regional transportation/transit authority. All monies distributed must be used for project design and construction only and prohibited from being used for public outreach, advocacy, education or electioneering.
The $60 million being diverted from rail comes from Statewide Documentary Stamps Tax revenue. The estimated future doc stamp revenues can be found here. It is a big pot of money that funds the Land Acquisition Trust Fund - the Florida Forever Amendment 1 passed by voters in 2014.

The top third of State Documentary Stamp revenues is lopped off for the Land Acquisition Trust Fund (Florida Forever). The balance, currently over a half billion dollars, goes to the State Treasury with $75 million to the General Fund and the remaining $470 million to the State Transportation Trust Fund.

The State Transportation Trust Fund funds the TRIP program and Bills HB535/SB1200 will divert $60 million of TRIP funds to earmark $25 million to TBARTA, earmark $25 million to Miami-Dade County and $10 million available to any county in the state for supposedly innovative transportation projects.

TBARTA has no plan, very little staff, and they have not even created their transit development plan. They currently have no staff or skills to operate any major transit system. The $25 million earmarked to TBARTA cannot be used for the recently proposed regional Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project proposed by Jacobs Engineering because it is not innovative or uses new technology.

Earmarking state funding for TBARTA beginning in 2021-2022 today is the cart before the horse and into perpetuity is appalling.

Eliminating the rail funding is good. But if the state legislature wants to create a new transportation bureaucracy, the hatches must be tightened down. If the state wants to divert rail dollars to innovative transportation, that should include all forms of innovative transportation not just transit.

These bills are flawed and the earmarks must be eliminated. Just because the SunRail earmark expires in 2021 does not mean those funds should simply get earmarked elsewhere and with no end date.

What about considering getting rid of unnecessary bureaucracies and returning some of our hard earned money back to us?

Let's see bills to repeal TBARTA, eliminate the Florida Rail Enterprise and reduce the state Doc Stamp rate!
This post is contributed by EYE ON TAMPA BAY. The views expressed in this post are the blog publisher's and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher of Bay Post Internet.
Cross Posted with permission from: Eye On Tampa Bay

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