The regional transit agency wants more pennies from local governments to help make up for the millions of dollars vetoed from the state budget the past two years.
The Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority plans to ask seven local governments to kick in more money for the agency’s operations instead of seeking a million-dollar appropriation from the state Legislature in 2022. Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed a $1.5 million legislative earmark for the authority each of the past two years.
Without additional dollars, the authority, charged by the state with developing a regional mass transit system, won’t be able to pay all its bills after July 1, 2022. The agency, known commonly by the TBARTA acronym, has projected operating expenses for the 2023 fiscal year of just less than $1.26 million.
Currently, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco and Hernando counties pay a per capita amount of 15.82 cents to generate $550,000 toward the agency’s annual operations. The cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg do not contribute financially.
Under a plan approved Friday by the authority’s finance committee, the agency will seek 17 cents per resident from each of the counties and the two cities to raise $722,565 and then seek a state match of the local contributions.
“The feeling was this might be a little more palatable to the state,” said Pinellas Commissioner Rene Flowers.
Authority board members noted the Tampa Bay Area Regional Planning Council assesses local governments 32 cents per capita to finance its operations. But that formula has received previous criticism. Two years ago, Pasco Commissioner Mike Moore questioned what his county received in return for its $167,000 annual investment and he briefly advocated amending state law so local governments wouldn’t be required to join the council.
The regional transit authority has a different issue to overcome. State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, recently filed a bill to dismantle the agency. His effort to do likewise in the 2021 legislative session was unsuccessful.
Ron Pierce, the authority’s Tallahassee lobbyist, said there is no companion bill filed in the state House of Representatives. The agency’s official position previously was not to oppose Brandeis’ bill, but to educate legislators on the benefits of the regional transit authority’s mission.
A majority of the agency’s board members supported a similar strategy for the 2022 legislative session. The outlier was Pinellas Commissioner Janet Long, a former state legislator, who noted the dichotomy of seeking funding on one hand, but not officially opposing a bill to disband the agency on the other.
“To me, that’s disingenuous,” said Long. “... We’re not going to be able to get a project done for this region if we don’t have the full support of the Florida Legislature.”