Will the Tea Party sabotage any chance of a 2016 transit referendum?

TP Cover 2

UPDATE – 6/6/15

Sharon Calvert’s latest “Eye on Tampa Bay” blog post is out. And as usual, she has nothing good to say about the Go Hillsborough process. Please take a few moments to read her post, then come back here to see what she REALLY wants for Hillsborough County transportation.

ORIGINAL POST – 6/3/15

With the mainline phase of the Go Hillsborough public outreach process officially concluded, Tea Party activists, insiders, and supporters are gearing up for what could be an extremely heated battle against the public transit supporters and activists. In fact, this battle could be far more polarizing than what occurred during the Greenlight Pinellas campaign. It is very clear that the Tea Party is willing to go leaps and bounds to ensure that Hillsborough County continues its UTTERLY FAILED pro-road status-quo at the expense of not placing another dime towards public transit or even pedestrian/bike facility improvements.

The truth is, the Tea Party would rather see Hillsborough’s public transit system be completely de-funded, slashed, and privatized; something that activists like Sharon Calvert continue to vehemently deny. Sharon has already made it clear that she wants ZERO PUBLIC INVESTMENT in Hillsborough’s transit system. Instead, she would rather continue her “Fix Our Roads First” facade to pitch for NEW ROAD FUNDING, including the MONSTROSITY that is the east county tolled beltway (also known as “The Green Swath of Death”).

Why is the Tea Party so desperate to derail transit expansion in Hillsborough?

The answer to this question is quite simple. The Tea Party wants to ensure that Hillsborough is FOREVER CAR DEPENDENT, just like how many Tea Party activists, politicians, and supporters want the entire United States to remain car dependent. These insiders, activists, and supporters continue to spew out “articles” and “studies” that “conclude” that people are willing to stick with the failed pro-road status quo and that transit ridership is plummeting across the nation, except in the so-called “legacy cities” like New York and Boston. These same folks also argue that the future of transportation lies within ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft, as well as autonomous vehicles, while failing to acknowledge that technological advances have been made in railway travel since the 1970s. If these such advancements, like automated subway and people mover lines, are acknowledged by the Tea Party, often times, it is a very negative outlook that is meant to sway public opinion against passenger rail transport. Instead, these insiders, activists, and supporters are continuing to point out that “boondoogle” rail is “antiquated” and “wasteful”.

Children’s Board Vote can no longer be used as a “puppet show” for the Tea Party

Some of you here in Hillsborough may recall that the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County, which only a few years ago was drenched in a scandal, had it’s property tax funding originally up for a renewal vote in November, 2016…the same time that county leaders are aiming to place a possible transit referendum. Having two crucial voter-mandated items on the same ballot would have been a voter education nightmare because the fear was…that voters would not want to vote on two important funding matters at once. Furthermore, having the Children’s Board vote at the same time as the transit referendum would have, without a doubt, given Sharon Calvert and No Tax For Tracks prime opportunities to delay – if not completely derail – the transit referendum in favor of getting voters to only vote on the Children’s Board funding re-authorization. However, state legislative action has effectively removed a mandate that Hillsborough County hold the Children’s Board vote in November, 2016, allowing the agency more time to focus on what really matters…children and their families.

Of course, Sharon and co. are just down right HOPPING MAD over the state’s actions. They REALLY WANTED the Children’s Board vote to be in 2016.

What do you think about this change to our state law at this time?

The property tax to support the Children’s Board was to expire next year and go on the 2016 ballot for voters to decide whether to continue funding. Remember this board was full of scandals a few short years ago. The Children’s Board lobbied our local delegation to change the state law requiring children’s services councils to hold tax referendums and the change passed. This change just happens to coincide at the same time some of our county commissioners have already stated (Ken Hagan and Les Miller) they are pushing for another transportation referendum on the 2016 ballot.

The Calverts posting as No Tax For Tracks Hillsborough – May 29, 2015.

We are NOT out of the woods just yet…

Even though the Children’s Board vote is no longer a blockade for a possible transit referendum in November, 2016, there are still plenty of opportunities for the Tea Party to derail efforts for the referendum. Tea Party supporters and others who are against the referendum could very well still lobby county commissioners to not place any transit referendum on the 2016 ballot…or any foreseeable ballot in the next two to five years at least. I’m sure that there are some outlandish Tea Party activists out there (because we know that there are) who probably wouldn’t mind lobbying state leaders to pass some sort of moratorium banning local transit referendums statewide unless some crazy criteria is met first.

Sharon’s Tea Party Pipe Dream for Hillsborough

 For those of you who read my last post on Sharon, I mentioned a presentation that she and Tampa Tea Party co-founder Karen Jaroch gave to the Hillsborough Transportation for Economic Development group last year regarding transportation. Well, in this post…I’m going to break things down bit by bit so that you have the full picture of what Sharon, Karen, and other Tea Party activists, insiders, and supporters would like to see. Let’s not forget that the both Sharon and Karen are both staunch GOP political operatives. Sharon is currently the secretary of the Republican Party of Hillsborough County, and Karen is the Grassroots Manager at the Koch Brothers-connected Hertiage Action – the political advocacy arm of the Heritage Foundation – and she is also a HART board member.

Acknowledgements

The first page of the presentation handout (not including the title page) lists some acknowledgements about Hillsborough County’s transportation situation. Although I agree with nearly all of the points made on this page, the very last point that Sharon makes on Millennials, I heavily disagree with. You’ve probably seen in recent months, Sharon quoting/referencing an article by the Business Insider that has some data and conclusions made by the well-respected J.D. Power and Associates. The problem here is, those conclusions aren’t true. I’m really wondering where J.D. Power got their data from, because things just don’t add up when you look at some figures.

There are real problems with the idea that the drop in driving was only temporary or due to the recession — and a closer look shows that the picture is more complicated.

Consider again the J.D. Power data, which showed that Generation Y bought 27 percent of new cars in 2014, up from 18 percent in 2010 and more than the slightly older Generation X. On its face, that would suggest that young people are buying more cars again, now that the economy is improving.

The problem with this analysis is that generations are arbitrarily defined groups. So, as Joe Cortright points out at City Observatory, you need to analyze these numbers on a per-capita basis.
Redoing the numbers, Cortright found that the survey included 77.9 million people in Generation Y (born between 1977 and 1994) and just 49.2 million in Generation X (born between 1965 and 1976). So members of Generation Y were still buying way fewer cars per capita: 47.5 for every 1,000 people, compared with 67.1.

(Source: Vox Transportation)

Once you’ve read both articles, you’ll really start to wonder just how some have arrived at the flawed conclusion that Millennials are following the same paths as previous generations when it comes to cars.

Guiding Principles

This page will want to make your head spin and probably vomit at the same time. These are the guideways that Sharon and other Tea Party members use when trying to argue their “vision” for transportation here in Hillsborough. For instance, they do not want any Community Investment Taxes to go towards transit, nor do they want any federal dollars going towards transit. They also believe that Transit Oriented Development (TOD) is some sort of evil spell that either happens overnight or doesn’t occur at all along transit corridors, and that the public should have nothing to do with funding them. And, they also believe that any transit improvements should be done in piecemeal. I have no idea where these people are getting such flawed logic from. It’s really laughable when you think about it.

The only point that I agree with on this page is that transit DOES INDEED require some sort of dedicated funding source. However, would such a transit-only funding source pass via voter referendum in this county? We already know what that answer is given the outcome of Greenlight Pinellas. Think about it. Sharon is presenting us with a loaded gun here…better head for the hills!

Transportation Options

The next few pages go over what Sharon and other Tea Party members would like to see explored while keeping in tune to “fiscal responsibility”. I don’t know about fiscal responsibility here, but clearly some of these ideas will not work for parts of the county. Remember, we really DO NOT NEED ANYMORE NEW ROADS! We need to first complete the infrastructure that is incomplete…like the Veterans Expressway through Lutz, which Sharon is vehemently opposed to.

Yes, intersection improvements are very important, as is upgrading traffic signals. However, these measures will only do so much to improve traffic flow before we are back at square one. Many roads are also getting to the point where adding additional lanes, even just turn lanes, are becoming inefficient and impractical. We simply cannot keep adding lanes to existing roads…it’s not going to do much in relieving congestion in the long term. Even projects like adding overpasses and flyovers at specific intersections (like US 19 in Pinellas for example) will only lead to induced demand. Once that overpass or flyover has exceeded its intended capacity, do we add more lanes? Do we build even more bridges? Do we double-deck the highway like the Embarcadero? What do you think we should do in cases like these?

Page 5 of the presentation handout is by far my favorite. This is where Sharon and Karen mention the dreaded “Green Swath of Death” that I talked about in detail in my last post. I cannot believe that these two actually think that this tolled beltway from Pasco into Manatee via eastern Hillsborough would do ANYTHING to relieve traffic congestion, specifically in Brandon. The TRUTH is, this highway will likely exceed $2 Billion Dollars in just construction costs, will do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to relieve congestion along State Road 60 – which is getting worse by the day, and will likely destroy environmentally sensitive lands throughout northeast, east, and south county. Not to mention create more and more and more opportunities for urban sprawl, something that Hillsborough definitely DOES NOT NEED!

Page 9 describes how Sharon and Karen strongly believe that Bus Rapid Transit-Lite, which is what HART’s MetroRapid system is structured on, is simply “good enough” for Hillsborough County transit. The two also continue to believe that HART has some sort of magic wand that they can wave…and voila! Double the bus service in five years. Keep in mind, I also support the HART Transit Development Plan (or TDP). However, the “status quo” scenarios is likely what we will have to go by unless we have further funding. With state and federal funding sources dwindling, passage of a transit referendum – whether it be a sales tax or a gas tax – is required to help fund the various needs that HART has in store. Without that additional funding, HART remains at risk of having to one day trigger massive across-the-board service cuts if the economy should go southbound again, let alone if HART runs into a budgetary shortfall, which I’ve mentioned that they are projecting to do so by Fiscal Year 2018/19.

Page 10 mentions “Private toll roads for new lane capacity”. Is Sharon implying that we should build toll roads and toll lanes that are PRIVATELY OPERATED? Let’s stop for a moment and think hard about what has happened to a privately owned/operated toll road in Indiana. That toll road could not generate enough traffic to meet projections and has thus forced the private toll road operator INTO BANKRUPTCY! And at last check, the operator has since been bought out by an Australian firm that is apparently obligated to meet the same performance guidelines as the company it bought out. We’ll have to check back in a few months to see how the highway is doing. But in short, is this what we want to see happen here? Privately owned/operated toll roads in Florida going bankrupt? How about useless jitney shuttles like what is currently in use in Atlantic City, NJ? A city roughly the size of Largo that has been on an economic decline due to its casinos going bust. Obviously Sharon must somehow think that jitneys are the way to go too, right?

A side note, I do support the high speed ferry project, which is a privately-driven endeavor.

Finally, page 11 suggests that bike facilities be kept physically separated from vehicle lanes. While I think this should be mainstream, there are many situations where completely separated bike paths are not possible. I don’t think Sharon realizes this.

The flawed Tea Party “vision” for the Howard Frankland

Sharon and many other Tea Party and GOP operatives seem to realize that having toll lanes on our interstates needs to be further vetted, yet they love the idea of having these lanes in general, especially when it comes to the upcoming rebuild of the northbound span of the Howard Frankland Bridge. They believe right off the bat that passenger rail, specifically light rail, is a bad deal, and that the bridge would function far better with tolled lanes at a “fraction of the cost” to build light rail.

Embracing Technology

If Sharon and co. think that autonomous vehicles, drones, and smarter traffic signaling and traffic control systems will just magically relieve our roadways, I’m sorry…that is just beyond hideous! All of these technologies are no doubt huge game changers in the society that we live in, but they will only play a role in the larger transportation picture and will NOT be a substitute in any way, shape, or form to public transit systems. So in short, yes…we do need to address and resolve F-rated roadways, but we do NOT need to be expecting that autonomous vehicles will suddenly replace transit systems. Because what Sharon and the rest of these Tea Party insiders, activists, and supporters seem to not want to realize, is that many technological advances have been made in railway transportation, as I’ve also mentioned in my previous post. We have automated subway, people mover, and monorail lines that have been around for at least two decades. But as usual, these Tea Party folks would rather keep talking about how “wasteful” and “antiquated” rail is.

Reduce/Reform Regulations

One of the few major points that I agree with the Calverts on is the elimination of the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission, which regulates taxicabs and other vehicles for-hire. The agency has been filled with corruption in recent years, and had made it clear that they are in no way willing to work with ride sharing companies Uber and Lyft. Many previous opportunities to abolish or reform the agency have come and gone without action.

Funding Principles/Options

Pages 15, 16, and 17 are pretty much self-explanatory, but some of the points that Sharon tries to make are quite laughable. How can it be that some of these people are preaching for more government transparency when Florida has a Tea Party governor that has been doing all he can to effectively KILL government transparency?

Economic Development/TOD

Sharon states once again that TOD should not be publicly subsidized. Once again, she believes that TOD is evil and must only be done through fully private investment. Yet there is this notion that TOD must happen overnight, or it doesn’t exist at all. I wonder if that is referencing publicly subsidized TOD, or if these Tea Party folks are just making stuff up. Oh, and that point she makes about economic development occurring based on “the market needs with independent private sector investment”. Uh…hasn’t it been proven that Keynesian Economics DOES NOT WORK?

 Results

Sharon concludes her presentation by presenting various “benchmarks” that the county should follow in order to “protect the taxpayers”.

Do you agree with Sharon?

With exception to a few things, I sure don’t. What Sharon and the Tea Party have in mind for Hillsborough is NOT what we the transit activists and supporters have in mind.

AMENDMENT – 6/6/15

Let’s now go through some key points in Sharon’s latest “Eye on Tampa Bay” blog post, where she critiqued the final portion of the outreach meetings. Of course, it should be no surprise that Sharon did her best to make it out to the Go Hillsborough meetings. She wanted to make sure that citizens were swayed into following her pro-road agenda…plain and simple. Notice the wording in her first paragraph…

These last meetings forced you into small groups with a facilitator and a scribe to record your comments on what types of transportation projects each person in the group would like to have funded and what funding options each person would support.

SERIOUSLY SHARON?

The word “forced” makes the reader think that sitting down as a group with a facilitator, and discussing how we can reach a common consensus on a transportation plan, was a terrible thing. Knowing how Sharon is with stuff like this though, it really shouldn’t be a surprise. Sharon clearly believes that the entire Go Hillsborough public outreach process has been a joke since day one. And quite frankly, I think for the remainder of the process…she will continue to think that the whole process is one huge circus act. Go figure right?

Here’s some other key takeaways from Sharon’s post:

  • Parsons Brinckerhoff is a “crony-connected” entity: The biggest thing that Sharon and her minions try to project throughout her various posts on Go Hillsborough, is that the engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff, is nothing more than some “crony-connected” entity who is simply continuing the “gravy train” across Hillsborough. This is simply not true. The county has done a good job in selecting Parsons Brinckerhoff, a renowned engineering and design firm, as the consultant for the Go Hillsborough process, and the county did what it was supposed to do when it narrowed down and selected its consultant, something that Sharon and other rail haters have heavily disputed…unfortunately without the facts.
  • Existing funding options should be explored first…before new ones: Sharon argues that existing funding sources, like farebox revenues, weren’t even discussed at these meetings. Now, while I am unable to confirm any of this because I was not present at the meetings, I can say that when crunch time comes around…I’m pretty sure that all funding options, new and existing, will be considered. Keep this in mind, even if we do all we can to creatively use existing monies and financial sources, these sources will not be able to fully suffice the funding gaps that exist within Hillsborough’s transportation network. This is especially the case when state and federal transportation dollars remain in question for the foreseeable future.
  • Go Hillsborough is intentionally hiding information from the public: I wonder what some of these rail haters drink each day, I mean seriously, some would really have to wonder. Yes, there are some assumptions that certain funds may be available. But I’m sure county officials are fully aware that there is that chance that certain federal and state funds will not be available. I don’t call that deceiving the public, yet Sharon and the other rail haters certainly think otherwise.

To conclude this opinion, let’s see what Sharon wrote at the end of her post…

Thus, the GoHillsborough campaign ends attempting to gain consensus on transportation funding options, especially new revenue sources, that has no association to the costs of what is to be funded.

These last meetings confirms that the GoHillsborough campaign has basically been a taxpayer funded opinion driven and opinion driving campaign.

Do opinions make for good policies, especially opinions from those who are first timers to a GoHillsborough meeting and came basically uninformed?

Maybe another sales tax referendum was already written and defined by an unelected bureaucrat and a politically well connected PR person and GoHillsborough was simply a million dollar taxpayer funded front for it.

We will find out on June 11.

Really Sharon? This entire process was a circus act to begin with? Sheesh, these words make me want to PUKE! I really have to wonder about the TRUE ASPIRATIONS of the Tea Party. It’s more clear than ever before that Sharon has absolutely no problem with taxpayers funding more new roads, and especially more new toll roads. But at the same time, anything that has to do with transit is an automatic death sentence for any transportation plan. With that said, yes…we will find out on June 11 what the next steps of the plan are…and then see if Sharon’s head will explode yet again…

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