Tampa Bay transit agency tries to head off $2-million veto

In this tight budget year, rumors are circulating that Gov. Charlie Crist and his staff will veto $2-million in state funding for an agency that's planning a mass transit network for the Tampa Bay region.

Public officials and local business leaders say they will try to persuade the governor to put his veto pen down.

History is not in their favor. Last year, Crist vetoed $1-million in startup money for the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority.

"We're making sure we leave no stone unturned. It's critically important to keep the momentum going here on transit," said Stuart Rogel, president of the Tampa Bay Partnership, the economic development group that pushed for TBARTA's creation.

Representatives of TBARTA and the partnership will brief Crist's aides Monday in Tallahassee.

TBARTA, which hopes to eventually win federal funding for a passenger rail system, says it needs state funding first.

"The money is going to be used to move the agenda forward, and to start getting funding from other sources that are not related to Florida taxpayers," said TBARTA's vice chairman, Pinellas County Commissioner Ronnie Duncan.

By the end of the year, the agency intends to develop a regional plan that likely will call for a light rail network and expanded bus service. So far, it has held nearly 90 community meetings in seven counties.

The Governor's Office says it has made no decisions on vetoes. Once Crist formally receives the budget, he'll have 15 days to take action on it.

TBARTA's board has been forced to get by on an ad hoc basis, with Florida Transportation Department workers functioning as staffers.

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3435.

Tampa Bay transit agency tries to head off $2-million veto 05/15/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 16, 2008 10:30am]

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