Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Transportation for Hillsborough; the games must end

Posted By on Wed, Mar 20, 2013 at 8:33 AM

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Transportation is in the forefront of people's minds in Hillsborough, as well as the entire Tampa Bay Area. Almost everyone agrees that we have a problem. In Hillsborough we have a $15B+ deficit in transportation funding, our roads are failing and there's almost no money to upgrade capacity of public transportation as growth occurs, and there is no doubt, we will grow.

The problem we face is that Hillsborough county is about to propose a sales tax increase as the nucleus to solving the transportation problem.

Unfortunately the tax increase proposal is approaching the problem in a bass-ackwards manner.

The first step in resolving the transportation problem is realizing what, and who, caused it. Once we learn how these deficits were created we can attack the causes, instead of focusing on getting the money without addressing what we're doing wrong.

It's surprising that not many people are asking how we ended up with an exponentially exploding transportation deficit. Elected officials don't talk about it. Some refuse to talk about it. They treat it as though the deficit was an act-of-God. They say, "well folks, the deficit is balooning and we don't have money to fix it so the only thing we can think of is to increase your sales tax". But in fact, God didn't create this deficit, they did. And they're going to continue doing it if we allow it.

The truth is that the citizens of Hillsborough have been victims of a scam. The scam has been perpetrated for decades. The perpetrators are the county commission, both past and present. Those in charge have mismanaged our future by approving growth without requiring developers to fully pay for the impacts. The beneficiaries are the land developers, as well as, those that have a financial interest in land development.

The scam works like this - local officials approve growth without requiring enough to cover the transportation impacts. The beneficiaries receive better profit margins and, in turn, help get the pro-developer commissioners get re-elected over and over again to ensure that they'll continue to get subsidies, at our expense.

But if you keep approving growth without enough funding to cover transportation, don't we implode when the deficit gets big enough? Yes, and that's exactly what's happening. Commissioners knew this was going to happen when the economy first faltered in 2007, but they knew they could sit back and wait for the public to ask for transportation relief. So when the public asks for relief, as they are now doing, the scam perpetrators will make it look like the citizenry is longing for a tax increase.

They'll probably agree to a referendum because they will be able to blame the public for giving themselves a tax increase, even though the deficit is their fault, and we've been forced unknowingly to subsidize developers for decades, all while degrading our own quality of living, as well as, destroying our transportation budget. If we don't attack the root cause for our financial problems, referendums and tax increases will not resolve anything.

Before we hear about any solutions/referendums/tax increases, we need to ask the Hillsborough Commission to answer the following questions, as well as, make the following commitments:

1) How was this transportation deficit created and why has it continued to grow exponentially ?
2) Do you think that every time something is built in Hillsborough County existing residents must subsidize a portion of the impacts for developers (roads, schools, safety, water etc)?
3) In spite of these deficits that keep growing, what is the reason for reducing building fees last year and then this year considering the further elimination of development fees (as per the recommendations of developer committee, Economic Prosperity Stakeholders Committee)?
4) Before we talk about a referendum, we need a firm commitment on the part of the BOCC to make growth be budget neutral, as far as, transportation funding goes. We want to see steps taken that will begin reducing the deficit before we entertain any tax increases.

If the BOCC will not agree to make growth pay for itself, they will end up coming back every few years with a sales tax increase. They will entice people hungry for better transportation with a hollow promise that a half cent or one cent tax will fix the problem, when that will only be a band-aid approach if the subsidy scam isn't resolved and developers don't pay their fair share of impacts.

It's time to stop the games, stop the subsidy scam and put the best interests of the public first, before we approve any proposed solutions.

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