Monday, October 23, 2006

Why Vote For A Penny For Transit

Starting today, through November 7, you will be able to vote on an additional 1 cent to go to transit. With all the additional expenses we face everyday, insurance, gas, taxes, electricity, why should anyone vote to raise more in taxes, let alone trust anyone to do what they promise with the money. Strangely, this should be the question to be debated to address a serious problem. So far the debate has been almost about everything but the issue and good government, and more on personal politics and personal power. This article is to address the question, and pose a solution, providing the reader with accurate information to base their decision upon.

Broward County is facing a transportation crisis. Every day traffic progressively gets worse. Our roads are getting clogged, and there is limited alternatives available. Over the next 20 years, we expect another 1,000,000 plus people to come. Add the additional 2,000,000 or so cars that will also come, and you can only imagine what it will be like to get anywhere. We have already admitted to ourselves, we will never be able to build enough roads to come anywhere near the demand. Besides we do not have the money for the roads anyhow.

Actually you do not have to look very far to see the not so distant future for Broward. Just look south to Miami-Dade County. It is so bad there that many, including myself, avoid entering the county for any reason. I avoid the airport, seaport, shopping, sightseeing, and even going through the county to take any vacation time in the Keys. I am not alone in this. Imagine this in the next 5 or so years in our county, except that it is projected to get far worse.

So what may be an alternative. As the Chair of the Broward County Metropolitan Planning Organization, it has been the MPO's job to figure a way out of this mess. Planning is what we do. The Broward County MPO has done such a fine job, as directed by these governments, that we have planned how to solve this problem. The only problem now is that it will take in excess of $10 Billion. That is Billion with a "B."

Implementing it requires cooperation of other agencies including the State, Federal and County governments. All of which have limited funds, and cannot be expected to be a great source of funding for these projects. At best, they may be a source of matching funds which requires a local dedicated revenue source, like other areas of our country have already done. The only dedicated revenue source we have available, which has been authorized by the State Legislature, is a one penny sales tax, which must be devoted exclusively to transportation.

It involves mass transit including a significant investment in rail. Rail along State Road 7, the FEC and a rail line running from the Airport/Seaport, to downtown Ft. Lauderdale, west along Broward Blvd., then south along State Road 7, turning west on I-595, then north into Sawgrass Mills. It will require Bus Rapid Transit, Express Bus Service, expanded Community Shuttle Bus service, signal synchronization, and much more. It must coordinate with all other forms of transportation and must interconnect with other transportation systems throughout the region. It must be a comprehensive system, that must be constructed now, not 10 or 20 years from now. Where people will start to be able to use the first pieces of it within the next 3 years.

The one penny referendum is the first, and has been the ONLY initiative that has addressed this serious problem. No one wanted to ever be the one to come out in favor of a tax. No one wanted to take the lead in trying to implement a solution, because they know it is an expensive solution. It has been easy to always say that you support finding an answer to a problem, i.e., "I support transportation," I support lower crime," "I support lower insurance rates." "I support lower taxes," " I support my Schools," "I support fill in the blank." It has been very easy to take the few dollars we have and send it to planning which will never see the light of day.

It is extremely difficult to say I am willing to support a specific answer that will cost money that you will have to pay for, i.e., "I am willing to raise the funds to build something critical and this is how it will work." And when you do, there is always someone that will find a way, whether correct in their information or not, that will oppose you on it.

The one penny sale tax is the ONLY source of revenue that will raise the amount of money needed to pay for this transit plan. To argue for less than a penny is to argue for waste. If you cannot do it right, then do not bother doing it at all. The money raised will be administered by an independent board to make sure that it goes to what has been promised. There is also the factor that many do not trust certain governmental agencies, which have had a track record of not fulfilling their promises in the past.

Some have said, quite correctly, that Miami-Dade County passed a 1/2 cent tax for transit, and it has not worked for them. This is correct. The difference has been that it was acknowledged that before their vote that 1 cent was really needed to fund their transit projects, though the public was only willing to support half the amount needed. So based upon half a loaf is better than none, they proceeded forward. As said before, to argue for less than a penny is to argue for waste. If you cannot do it right, then do not bother doing it at all. This is the lesson we learned from Miami-Dade County. They underfunded their needs and now they suffer from the exact problem they knew could happen. They do not have all the necessary funds required to solve their transit problems.

If you do not support this tax, then you must be prepared for the result. I truly believe that there is no other answer, and that this may be our only opportunity to fix this problem before we start seeing significant deterioration in our quality of life. If it takes you 45 minutes to get to work now, just wait until it takes you 1 1/2 hours or more. If you don't like paying $2 to $3/gallon for gas, wait until it is over $4/gallon. I promise you if we do not solve this situation now, then that is what you will be looking at soon. Then imagine what other problems this is going to cause us. Who will be able to afford to live here. Not most of the people I represent.

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