Thanks to the ITeam for looking into the misuse of transit surtax revenues, but there were a few things missing from your report. While cities in Miami-Dade do have parochial and shortsighted transit planning spending patterns, it’s the system that is at fault; forcing cities to jockey for an insanely low amount of money to apply to a worthy ‘transit’ project which typically run in the hundreds of millions - leaving them far short of what they would need to run a credible system. Not to mention the anemic leadership at the County Commission and their decade long fleecing of the 1/2 Transportation Tax for anything but transit. Wider roads? Check. New intersection lights? Check. Road repaving? Check.

The report also chides the City of Miami for doing the smart thing and saving the money it gets from the trust (not hoarding it as the article states). The small payments the cities get based on their population should be saved. With most of the cities occurring along or around an existing or future major transit corridor (the South Dade Busway, Metro-Rail, or the future SFECC) these funds could amount to the all important operations and maintenance costs that plague investments in premium transit. The constant mantra of the County Commission is that it must bear the burden of these costs - but what if the cities were able to leverage their portion of the surtax against the future operating costs of the system. That would be a powerful bargaining chip for the 20-odd cities that occur around the SFECC in particular - especially at a time when the MPO is not likely to support continuation of the project for the foreseeable future.  

A recently completed audit found that the cities have spent millions of dollars on projects that have nothing to do with transit or are specifically forbidden.

Miami Lakes spent part of their money for an on-demand taxi service. North Bay Village used the cash to build storm water drains. And Sweetwater used transit money to buy a garbage truck and pay police officers.

Charles Scurr is the executive director of the Citizens Independent Transit Trust, the agency which makes sure the money is spent appropriately. In cases where the money was misspent, the CITT can demand repayment.

The big missed story: what happened to the voter mandated (and legally required) independent trust that was to steward these funds through the morass of Miami-Dade County politics? It never materialized. The Citizens Independent Transportation Trust is a joke - and not because of a lack of effort on the part of its staff, but because it is not independent! To claim to be so is disingenuous, laughable, and probably illegal. We need a truly independent auditor to plan and implement a multimodal transportation network in Dade County. As long as the same tired politics play out in the County Commission chambers, transit will remain stagnant for years to come.

5 Responses to Looking for Answers: the CBS4 ITeam Investigates Municipal Use of Transportation Surtax

  1. kevin says:

    Useless county commissioners, and Miami politicians. It’s truly such an embarrassment, and such a sad shame, that they don’t care enough about our city and our people to move our city ahead, instead, they swim in corruption for their own benefit.

    We need a huge cleaning in Miami. We need to leave the days of corruption behind us, and move ahead! We need better transit, we need Metro line expansions, we need better schools, a financially stable Jackson Memorial, parks, etc.

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  2. B says:

    The Palmetto Bay “I-Bus” that’s highlighted in the article is a joke. The busses run every 50 minutes and not all day. In general, the community busses are a huge waste of PTP money. The only viable one is Sunny Isles Beach, which runs their service every half hour all day and weekends. Private jitneys could do the job much better, if the County ever allowed them to compete with Metrobus. Either that or allow the shuttles to charge a fare and increase their frequency to 15 minutes.

    PTP money should be going into Metrorail and Metrobus, NOT useless community “shuttles” and cosmetic roadway improvements.

    There ought to be an audit process to 1.) force cities to return the wasted PTP money, under threat of lawsuit, and 2.) make sure the future PTP money is dedicated to transit expansions (you don’t seriously think they’ll ever repeal the 1/2 cent tax, do you?) At least we might be able to milk a light rail line out of the remaining-and future-PTP funds. Doesn’t the Citizens Independent Transportation Trust have the authority to do this, under the PTP law?

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  3. Tony Garcia says:

    “Doesn’t the Citizens Independent Transportation Trust have the authority to do this, under the PTP law?”

    Yes and no. The PTP law allows cities to spend the money on circulator buses and other silly transportation projects, so the CITT can’t do much short of advocating the rewriting of the law.

    Ultimately a truly independent office of the auditor is what is required to properly manage the PTP. This could be an elected position or a governing board, but they would be responsible for planning our transportation network and setting funding priorities.

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  4. Mike Moskos says:

    I’m going to conjecture that one of the ways the 1/2 penny sales tax was sold was that every city in the county would get a portion of it for their own transit projects. Makes a lot of sense for big cities (Miami, Hialeah, etc.), but for all the small cities, it is an enormous waste of accounting and administrative time. I’ve been attending CTAC meetings for about a year and you cannot imagine the enormous amount of their time they devote to having CITT come in and explain this. Trust me, the CITT is following the exact letter of the law on this one, but at an enormous use of staff time. Sounds great on paper, but what it means is that more transit money goes into administrative costs and not into drivers/buses. All you have to do is see how much office space MDT has to realize the true cost of compliance for getting federal, state, or metering out portions of county dollars. We create these crazy laws and then wonder why government spends all its resources spinning in circles. (Don’t even get me started on welfare, where more money goes into salaries to ensure that not one welfare recipient gets an extra penny of benefits, than goes into the actual benefits.)

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  5. TransitDave says:

    While they’re at it, they might ask where the 250 million dollar federal share of the earlington heights metrorail extension is…………And why the project is being funded with 80% PTP funds, instead of the originally estimated 25%……..(Hint: M-D County Commissioners know……)

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