Show Me the Money

By John Dorschner

    Transit activist Adam Old has set himself an immense challenge: Figuring out existing funding sources that could be used to expand rail and bus service in traffic-choked Miami-Dade.
    The underlying issue: Many residents and pols embrace growing mass transit -- just not the costs. Jack Stephens of the Tri-Rail East Coast Corridor project, put it this way in a recent Miami Today story: "Everybody wants it, but nobody wants to pay for it."
    So where's the funding to come from? It's like that line from the movie Jerry Maguire, when tight end Cuba Gooding Jr. shouts at his dream-spinning agent: "Show me the money!"

    Old's starting point is a state-produced flow chart published by the  Florida Department of Transportation in January. Some of the sources, like aviation fuel taxes, may be limited to air transit operations. But others -- including car tolls and gas taxes -- might be switched from the ever-widening roads and bigger fly-overs to funding mass transit, Old believes.

Source: Florida Transportation Sources: A Primer, published by FDOT January 2015.
  "My concern with the current form of this flowchart is that, while it is clearer than anything I've yet seen, it is still way too complicated for most politicians to make sense out of," Old wrote in an email.
    "It represents a number of funding streams—some of which could be used for transit and are instead going to roadway widening," wrote Old, a former El Portal council member who is part of TrAC Miami, a transit political action committee (
    "Our politicians are starting to say 'We want transit, but there isn't enough money!' and this complex set of state, county, and federal funds makes it very difficult to hold them accountable and say, 'No, there actually is money and we should be investing it wisely.' "
    Much of the funding to expand transit was supposed to have come from the half-penny sales tax that voters passed in 2002 after political leaders promised it would fund 90 more miles of rail and another 800 buses. As of today, the half-penny has paid for a 2.4-mile rail extension, and the number of buses remains essentially the same.

               Half-penny Gets Spread Around  
    The county's pro-forma projections for the transit tax show that in 2016, it's expected to generate $279 million in revenue, but $133 million will go for transit's operations and maintenance, $72 million for debt service for various transit and street projects and $57 million to municipalities. Only $10 million is expected to be set aside in 2016 for expanding rail and bus service.
     The Citizens' Independent Transit Trust recently asked the county commission to end the operations and maintenance funding -- over the next five years -- so that the half-penny can return to its original goal of expanding mass transit. (That story available HERE.)
        Another possible source of funds: Tapping into the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority's toll revenue, which has soared with the spread of electronic tolling. (More on that later in a later post.)

                                  Suarez Plan 

    County Commissioner Xavier Suarez meanwhile is proposing that it's possible to get $3 billion in bonding for four new rail lines by putting together $169 million in annual funds: $20.4 million from MDX tolls, $68 million from auto tag renewals and $81 million from the half-penny (after transit operations get removed). 

                   Forrest: Increase Gas Tax

    Yet another possibility was voiced at a CITT meeting earlier this month when Trust member Peter Forrest suggested that, with gasoline prices low, "this is an appropriate time for increasing the gas tax."
    His suggestion was met with silence from his fellow board members.
    Raising any taxes has generally not been a popular subject among county commissioners, who would have to approve any gas tax change.


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