Thursday, July 31, 2014

"Whole Lotta Love" for the Super HART Plan?

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill hastily called a media briefing Tuesday, July 29.  Why has the media not questioned why Merrill was presenting a transportation plan to them prior to presenting it to the Transportation Policy Leadership Group on August 12th? Why was Merrill's media briefing closed to the public? So real and challenging questions could not be asked?
County Administrator Mike Merrill
What we found out:  someone from County Center leaked plan information to an advocacy group who was going to publicize the information. Merrill decided to intervene but apparently he did this without even telling the county commissioners. Doesn't Merrill work for them?

This is the second time we know of, where someone in County Center has leaked information prior to it being presented to the Transportation Policy Leadership Group, to an advocacy group who uses their  "friendly" media to advance their agenda.

Who the leaker is remains unknown, but we do wonder whether this type of behavior instills trust with voters and taxpayers. The media knew the plan before our county commissioners.   Guess the elected officials can say what Obama often does, that they found out about the plan like you did - they read it in the news. 

Back to the plan, the Tribune yesterday, July 30, had a front page article titled Leaders unveil details of Hillsborough transportation tax plan from Merrill's media briefing.  As usual, Tribune titles are disingenuous as we must note that NO Leader or elected official has approved this plan because it has not even been publicly presented to them. 

We looked at the plans on the BOCC website under the section Manager Meeting and Media Briefing, July 29 yesterday, did the math and posted here that the huge 30 year $6.1 Billion sales tax increase will only fund half or less of this $15 Billion "I have a dream" plan. Where's the rest coming from?

What's wrong with this "something for everyone to vote for" plan?
According to Creative Loafing article July 29th"
"It really is the nature of this not to be fully cooked. It really is focused more on getting input from the community on, do they like this project?" Merill asked, adding that he expects they will, since many of the projects in the plan have been on the proverbial shelf for awhile. "We're really at a stage where we just need to get feedback from the public before we can hone in on a total number and begin refining some of the revenue projections."
But wait. We have tons of road projects already approved that have been sitting on the shelf for years due to no funding. Aren't those a no-brainer? More feedback is needed? Didn't we give them some feedback on priorities in 2010? What have they been working on since then? This TED/PLG group certainly could have taken some time over the last year to prioritize and whittle down their wish list rather than all things for everyone. They are the self appointed leaders to take over HART and "take responsibility" for this thing. How about they take responsibility of their plan now? It's not a plan to have twice as many projects as money to pay for it, and then expect the Feds or the state to cover. That's a pipe dream.

My experience in the private sector, having worked on multi-million dollar projects and programs, if I came up with a plan that costs twice as much as the budget, I'd be fired. In government planning, we get feel good videos with no regard for the cost of anything, that set expectations so high beyond reality for a plan who's budget will never cover its cost.  Will we see a taxpayer funded marketing campaign of targeted groups like Greenlight Pinellas did last year descend on us?

If there is so much confidence in this plan, why would our county commissioners consider putting a massive sales tax increase referendum in a low turnout, off-cycle election? The Tribune reported "a vote that could come as early as March 2016" (emphasis mine) instead of the normal November 2016 Presidential election with a much higher turnout.  Previous commissioners put the 1/2 cent Community Investment Tax on an off-cycle, low turnout September ballot targeting specific voters and it passed. But this is a 30 year tax so why else would they have to rush it through six months prior to a normal election? Especially when told off cycle elections cost taxpayers millions.

Wouldn't that be bizarre? Our county commissioners can't find road money in the $3.9 Billion budget but could find millions for a low turnout, off cycle election? 

We already have experienced a 30 year "something promised to everyone" Community Investment Tax debacle.  Unfortunately, it over promised and under delivered because a previous county commission decided to spend it all 11 years into its 30 year life. Comprehensive plans like CIT always cost more and deliver less.  Instead of a comprehensive single massive plan with a single massive 30 year tax hike, the elected officials should allow the voters to decide where they want their money spent.  Put single issue referendums on the ballot. 

If the elected officials won't prioritize or make the hard decisions, then the voters should be able to at the ballot box. 

This plan also includes a hostile takeover of the HART board, our local transit agency, by the Transportation Policy Leadership Group.  The Transportation Policy Leadership Group, all elected officials, will appoint themselves to the HART board to manage this $12-15 BILLION bucket of tax dollars.  And we're told it's for accountability reasons. Well we have already experienced how accountable our elected officials were with our CIT tax. This plan is CIT on steroids. The restructure is not for accountability reasons. It's because HART has access to and is the recipient of federal transit funds. Mayor Buckhorn stated just that at the PLG meeting when this idea was presented. It's all about going after federal dollars as if they expect the spigot to keep flowing as we approach $18 Trillion of debt.  

The plan not only restructures HART but also expand its current transit mission to include non-transit: roads, sidewalks, bike paths, complete streets, landscaping and transit-oriented development to get you out of your car.  The reality is HART has no experience or qualifications for managing roads, economic development, complete streets, sidewalks, bike paths and trails. They manage our bus service/transit.  Ask an engineer -  road engineering is totally different than transit engineering. The only road work HART currently is authorized to do is for right-of-ways for their transit projects.

Is this plan even legal?  Would it take another referendum or legislative action to expand HART's authority? We anticipate legal wrangling - cha ching.

The Tampa Bay Times article July 30 also disingenuously titled Hillsborough officials: Put 1-cent transportation tax to vote in 2016 since no official has approved or voted to do anything states:
If the referendum passes, HART's budget would go from the current $86 million to $5 billion.
"If we're going to be serious and move forward with a transit plan,'' interim HART chief operating officer Katharine Egan said at the briefing, "we need a little more love." (emphasis mine)
Where are the people who will be supporting this $5 Billion HART plan? This is creating a brand new bureaucracy - Super HART.  No existing, overlapping, duplicative and wasteful bureaucracy is being eliminated with this plan. Apparently, no process work has been done to actually streamline anything. So how is this really going to work? Clumsily?

Out of the $12-15 Billion plan, $4.3 Billion is for non-transit projects. Out of that $4.3 Billion,  $680 million is for sidewalks, bike paths, trails - projects that do nothing to reduce road congestion. Road improvements including roadways, intersections and technology like traffic management systems, bridges, repaving, landscaping and complete streets is $3.5 Billion. It appears that some of that is dedicated BRT lanes which should instead be highly utilized bus/managed toll lanes where tolls can go back into maintaining the roads.

The rest of the $12-15 Billion plan is for all kinds of transit, from buses to BRT to rail.
That's $3-5.7 Billion for transit capital.  Assuming a full build out, the operational costs for the transit projects over 30 years is almost $4.5 Billion, approximately $150 million a year.   Nowhere specified in this plan are the transit replacement capital costs which will have to occur after 20-30 years. That is another several Billion dollars which means this tax never goes away and it will have to be extended into perpetuity. Will anyone honestly state that?

Merrill stated at the June HART board Strategy meeting when he presented that the plan would be split 50/50 between roads and transit. What happened since then? That's not this plan which looks more like 25-30% roads, 70-75% transit.  And remember we are already spending 10-15 times on transit today than we are on roads.  

What's missing from this plan er pipe dream, along with some sense of reality?
Considerations for what is occurring in the private sector with autonomous vehicles, ride-sharing, car sharing, telecommuting and drones for delivery.  Considerations to reduce regulations and reform community plans. 

But with a budget increase of $4.9 Billion, an over 5,000% increase  - Super HART's certainly getting more than a little love, they are getting a "whole lotta love"!


A majority of people when they hear the facts about GreenLight decide that it is a bad deal for Pinellas County and indicate they will vote NO.

The problem is the only serious effort to get the facts out is taking place right here where you're reading... Social Media.

Big news organizations are reluctant to go against powerful advertisers like the Board of Realtors, and the Chamber of Commerce with all their members.. Big media needs the ad revenue.

Quite frankly No Tax for Tracks is out gunned in the money department by several fold.

The Polls consistently tell the story. As pollsters ask more detailed questions about the sales tax increase, reluctance turns in to opposition.

So here is what you can do.

Up there in the picture are three icons that are the key to getting the word out.

Somewhere on every Blog page and on-line newspaper article  are a series of boxes with those ICONs. If you click the one that looks like an envelope you can mail the post your reading to up to five e-mail addresses. So every time you see something about the sales tax that you think is good information, click the e-mail envelope and send it to 5 friends.

You can click the envelope and send to as many groups of 5 as you want.

While you're at it, ask your e-mail contacts to forward the post to five of their friends. That will spread the word.

Use Facebook and Twitter to like Posts you think are relevant and let your friends see them.

Give it a try.

Check out my video Post GreenLight - It's a Bad Law . If you agree with my thinking, e-mail the post to everyone in your contact list and ask them to do the same.

Help save this county from the biggest tax grab boondoggle in Pinellas County History.

E-mail Doc at: Or send me a Facebook (Gene Webb) Friend request. Please comment below, and be sure to share on Facebook and Twitter.
Disclosures: Contributor to
No Tax for Tracks.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

It's 2010 All Over Again

In short notice, the Hillsborough Transportation Economic Development (TED) also known as the Policy Leadership Group (PLG) released their plans today at County Center. The several billion dollar plan, such as it is, is posted here.

It seemed to be of a rush, since everyone was expecting some grand fanfare on the announcement on the TED/PLG workings over the past year or so. So much for anticipation. County Administrator Mike Merrill,  invited the media to brief them on the plan. Apparently, he publicized the plan before it was scheduled to be presented to the TED/PLG at the August 12 meeting.

Were they ready? It seemed a bit contrived and rushed to release this much awaited plan in a conference room.  Especially since our very recent conversations at County Center with those who would know confirmed the plan would be released on August 12.  Or perhaps a transit advocacy group was leaked the plans and made a public records request, forcing the TED/PLG to release the plan prematurely?

Of the media that covered the unveiling, Mitch Perry at Creative Loafing had the most detail as of this writing.  He wrote
If the referendum were to pass, it would raise $6.1 billion over 30 years time, or "less than 50 cents a day," says the narrator in a short video produced by county staff that will be distributed to the public. (A second, lengthier video was also presented.) County Administrator Mike Merrill emphasized that the extensive list of transit and non-transit needs are proposals and not the final end product. That will come after the draft plan is circulated throughout the community later this year.

When asked if there was a grand financial total for all of the projects listed in the plan, Hillsborough County Chief Development & Infrastructure Services Administrator Lucia Garsys said the total for non-transit projects would be at $4.3 billion. She said she could not be so specific about the transit projects, instead giving an estimate of somewhere between $3.1 and $5.7 billion, not counting receiving grants or funding from other sources.

Merrill acknowledged that those combined totals exceed the $6.1 billion that the penny sales tax would generate, which is why the County would hope to receive additional funds from revenues generated by the projects or grants.
Let's be clear, this is still in the draft, feel good, "I have a dream" stage, that includes some planning cost estimates.  The planners will be seeking public input for refinements, prioritization, fiscal sanity... and hopefully realism.

We did the math, and confirmed the $4.3 billion for non-transit (that includes roads, sidewalks, bike trails, complete streets, street reconfiguration, etc.), as well as the $3.1 and $5.7 billion numbers above.

Missing in the media coverage was the estimated (recurring) operational costs, which average around $150 million per year.

Over a 30 year period, this adds up to $11.7 to $14.7 billion for capital and operational expenses.

We can pay for it!
The TED/PLG is proposing to pay for this with a 14% sales tax increase in Hillsborough County. Echoes of 2010.  This is estimated to raise about $6.1 billion over 30 years.  This is expected to be a ballot referendum in 2016.

If we're lucky, the $6.1 billion covers half the proposed the costs over 30 years.  This results in what is known in mixed audiences as a "shortfall". Otherwise known as "Oh crap!"

Who covers the shortfall?  The TED proposal will be looking for the Feds and State government to cover.  As we've written, good luck with that.

Regarding the plan, its hedging their bets, proposes something for everyone, all about "choice", with all transportation modes except jetpacks and flying cars covered.  Something for everyone to vote for!

The plan includes the proposal to take over HART and position them as the central planner for transportation in Hillsborough, growing HART's budget form $86 million to about $5 billion.  All managed by elected officials on the reconstituted HART Board.

Katharine Eagan, HART Interim CEO, was quoted by the Times
"If we're going to be serious and move forward with a transit plan,'' interim HART chief operating officer Katharine Egan said at the briefing, "we need a little more love."
Compared to $86 million, $5 billion is a lot to love.

The plan avoids making hard decisions. Yet stereotypical of the modern central planner, the plan has recurring themes around Transit Oriented Development (more retail and restaurants... as if we don't have enough?!) to bicycle commuting, to complete streets, nature trails, urban trails, to walkable communities.

According to Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, "It's as close to perfect as you can get."

What's missing?

Ridership estimates.  Where the 600,000 people expected to move to Hillsborough by 2040 expected to live.  New residents mode preferred mode of transportation. Autonomous vehicles. Horse and buggy. Ride share. Deregulation. Private services. Simplifying the oversight from the dozen or so agencies that get to weigh in on transportation projects in Hillsborough. Camels. Replacement costs.

The 1/2 cent Community Investment Tax is briefly mentioned... that they spent it all, while we are still paying until 2026 yet receiving little benefit.

We are now expected to trust them with a 1 cent sales tax over 30 year to  raise $6.1 billion after they blew out the CIT? The 1 cent sales tax increase that will cover maybe 1/2 of their plan?  They'll politely ask the Feds and our state government to cover the shortfall? Please, may I? Really?

It's 2010 all over again.

While the plan mentions rails solutions as part of improving transit, it does not commit to them.  That's a bit of the glass half full or empty.  The better plan to improve transit would be to utilize lower cost, more flexible bus solutions, and if, and only if, there are dramatic increase in transit utilization, should we consider rail in the future.

For example, the FDOT plans I-275 Express lanes between the Howard Frankland Bridge and downtown Tampa. The TED plan expects enough room to add premium transit, either a light rail or a BRT.  Those lanes will also connect to the Howard Frankland Bridge.  If we want reliable transit connecting across the bay, only bus with managed tool lanes spanning the HFB and the I-275 Express should be considered.  The managed toll lanes shared with vehicles can serve as a hurricane evacuation route for Pinellas, as rail will shut down with moderate winds, and BRT from Pinellas can connect directly to downtown Tampa without any transfer to a rail at the planned Westshore Regional Multi-Modal Center.

Yet they had difficulty committing to common sense.

2010 Light Rail Tax vote in Hillsborough
It's 2010 all over again.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Fun with numbers!

Here's a quick little fun with numbers from HART's 2015 budget plans compared to Hillsborough County 2015 budget plans.  While the final budgets may yet change, this fun with numbers will help illustrate Hillsborough County's priorities.

4th Grade Math tools
Hillsborough's current 2014 - 2015 budget plan is at  Page 415 states:
The Transportation Program Adopted Capital Budget for FY 14 is $19.1 million and the planned FY 15 Budget is $6.5 million. states on page 26 that the Transportation Program "has no new projects in 2015."

City of Tampa's 2015 budget plan at  includes about $12.5 million for capital in the Right of Way operations department (pg 199), where they enjoy a $4 million increase for road re-paving in 2015.  It's not clear where the rest of that budget is spent.  There is also another $15 million in capital in the Transportation Department (pg 209), but it does not mention any road projects. An exercise left to the reader is to figure out the real spending plans in these budgets documents.

HART's 2015 budget will get about $31M from Hillsborough County Ad Valorem taxes paid for by all Hillsborough County property owners, including those in Tampa.

Hillsborough County 2015 budget for roads will be about $6.5M, mostly paid from gas taxes. Total Hillsborough County budget for 2015 is about $3.9B.

HART is used by < 2% of the population... lets be generous and use 2% for this exercise.

Roads are used by nearly 100% of the population... the taxpayers, and everyone is dependent on roads even if they are not a driver....even if they are a HART rider.  We will assume that roads are used by 98% of the population of Hillsborough County.

Currently there are about 1.29 million people in Hillsborough County.

Time for some 4th grade math!

people in Hillsborough – 2014
HART riders as a percent of population
road dependent people as a percent of population
HART 2015 Ad Valorem Taxes
Hillsborough County 2015 Road budget – gas taxes
City of Tampa 2015 Road budget

The above numbers results in 

# of HART Riders
# road riders and road dependents
Tax $ per HART Rider - County+Tampa
Tax $ per Road Rider – County
Tax $ per Road Rider – County+Tampa
Percent of Roads vs. HART tax budget – County
Percent of Roads vs. HART tax budget – County+Tampa
Percent of $ per rider spend Road vs. HART rider – County
Percent of $ per rider spend Road vs. HART rider – County+Tampa
Hillsborough tax $ to fund roads at same level as HART

The above numbers are annual based on the planned 2015 budgets for HART, Hillsborough County and City of Tampa.

For 2015, Hillsborough County's current plan funds roads at 20% of the real dollars compared to HART's funding.  On a per rider basis, HART is funded by the county taxpayers at $1233 per rider, and road riders are funded at $5.14 per rider. 

If the county funds 1,265,746 road riders at $1233 per rider, same as HART riders, 
the county would spend $1.56 BILLION in 2015 alone.

Some may state Hillsborough benefits from roads paid for by FDOT and the Feds. HART also receives money from the Feds, fares and advertising.  However, this is a budget and tax comparison of Hillsborough and HART only. This will be close to what any new transportation/transit referendum budget will be based on. It will be extracting funds solely from the taxpayers of Hillsborough to pay for roads and transit at some ratio. This IS a valid comparison.

Additionally, municipalities in the county are responsible for their own roads and funding. However, Temple Terrace and Plant City are not even rounding errors, and City of Tampa is not spending $1.5B to bring parity into the equation.  

If we did include City of Tampa, that adds another whopping $12.25 million in to the road spending, or about $14.81 per road rider, still minuscule compared to the $1233 in taxes spent on each HART rider every year.

Now we'll sharpen our pencils for 2040, when another 600,000 people are expected to move into Hillsborough County.

Net population growth
Forecasted 2040 population in Hillsborough
HART riders as a percent of population
(assume HART triples ridership percentage in the county)
Number of HART riders 2040
Number of ROAD riders 2040
Number of net new ROAD Riders 2015 – 2040

Assuming HART triples transit ridership as a percentage of total population in next 25 years, which NO transit agency has achieved in the last 25 years, HART will grow from 25K to 113K riders. That will result in an increase of 512K more road riders on Hillsborough County roads in 2040 than today.

Does anyone really think we can pay for another 512,000 road riders with $5.12, or even $14.81 per rider per year in taxes spent on our roads?

This elementary math exercise shows that Hillsborough County is not serious about roads.

We need our roads fixed!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Sunday Post July 27, 2014

Greenlight Polling turns negative
Take a look at this Poll by St. Pete Polls as presented in the Blog Eye on Tampa Bay: Poll Shows Opposition to Greenlight Pinellas. Those Voting NO 55.2%, those Voting YES 34.7%, Undecided 10.1%, Margin of error 3.5%.

In the meantime, PSTA paid a vendor $48,125 of your property tax money to host three conference calls to "inform" you about the benefits of adding a $100 million dollar tax load to Pinellas County; mostly for a train that goes nowhere near where the 2% of Pinellas County residents who actually use public transportation live or work.

You might want to dial into the next call and express your opinion.

Most uninformed quote of the day: Brad Miller PSTA CEO, "No one looks at sales tax rate before hitting that buy button for a vacation on Expedia."

You can rest assured the states and even Florida counties competing with Pinellas for those precious tourist dollars will be sure to mention their lower tax rate in their tourism ads. And it's the ads that cause those "buy" buttons to be pushed. Welcome to the real world Mr. Miller.

As seen on TV
Also queued up by the folks out at PSTA is TV pitchman Anthony Sullivan.  In addition to some very humorous TV ads, you may remember Mr. Sullivan signed on to the St. Pete LENS issue with great gusto as a supporter. Another really bad idea.

Either Mr. Sullivan is deeply enamored by large, expensive non functional public projects or he just can't resist the opportunity and the challenge to sell something to people they don't need, won't use and costs too much.

In any event Mr. Sullivan does bring some clarity to the Greenlight issue.

If your are so desperate to get something past the voters that you resort to infomercial style marketing, the voters, many of whom have probably had the "as sold on TV" experience, should now know the value and durability of the train to nowhere. You can read the whole debacle in Christopher O'Donnell's St. Pete Tribune Article: Pitchman throws support behind Green Light.

The people in St. Pete figured it out and the LENs is history. Such should be the fate of Greenlight.

The PSTA Honey Pot
Just in case you don't believe my comments about Greenlight being the biggest redevelopment plan in Pinellas County history take a look at this Tampa Bay News Papers Article: Developers present Seminole Mall vision.

If you read down far enough in the article you will find this quote: "The project would also require cooperation from the county. Other funding possibilities include Penny for Pinellas money, community grants, Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority participation, utility taxes and franchise fees."

Every developer in Florida is looking to dip into the PSTAs $130 million dollar revenue flow to help fund their next massive Pinellas County public project. Really interesting since the train goes nowhere near Seminole Mall and the real objective is to move retail, and residential to the train stations.

Watch My Video Green Light - It's a Bad Law before you vote.

E-mail Doc at: Or send me a Facebook (Gene Webb) Friend request. Please comment below, and be sure to share on Facebook and Twitter.
Disclosures: Contributor to
No Tax for Tracks