Miami-Dade admits it can't keep promises to voters on transit projects
By Lou Ortiz
Miami-Dade commissioners conceded Tuesday the county can't keep promises it made in 2002 when voters approved a half-penny sales tax to fund bus and rail projects over the next 25 years.
With the concession comes an apparent policy shift to using the sales tax money for existing transit needs rather than just expansions as promised.
"You guys in the administration lie to the people and nothing happens," Commissioner Javier Souto said at a commission Tuesday about June 15 bus route cuts. "The people of Miami-Dade were promised with the half-penny tax that bus routes were going to be expanded. At a time of rising gas prices, we are contracting the bus routes. This is insane.
"You're just telling the people: "you're a bunch of fools,'" Mr. Souto said. "If you keep eliminating bus routes, you're going to see lawsuits. This is a violation of the sacred trust between the people and the government."
Commissioner Katy Sorenson said the nine routes being cut and changes being made to others make the Transit Agency more efficient.
"I'm sorry we over-promised," said Ms. Sorenson about the 2002 People's Transportation Plan vote. "We need a transit system that works for the majority of the people. We have to become more efficient."
The county ran more than 80 public meetings before voters approved the tax and plan, which promised more buses and routes, improving service and creating thousands of jobs. No Metrorail expansions have occurred.
"Certainly, we over-promised," said Commissioner Dennis Moss, "but we have tried to meet the intent of the PTP [People's Transportation Plan]. We have to have a system we can afford."
The plan called for using the sales tax income to expand, not for the existing system. But that has changed.
In April, the commission approved buying Metrorail cars for more than $401 million with the tax proceeds, which brought accusations of a bait-and-switch.
Citizens Independent Transportation Trust Chairman Myles Moss has said some projects may go unfunded because "there may not be many funds available."
Seven Metrorail expansions are tied to the surtax. But, Mr. Moss has said: "There isn't going to be enough money to do four corridors… We'll be lucky to do three."
At least 31 municipalities share 20% of the surtax funds for local transportation and transit projects.
The surtax brought in $189 million in 2005-06 and $191 million in 2006-07. But earlier this year revenues were lagging behind last year's by $2.7 million.
On Tuesday, commission Vice Chair Barbara Jordan said the county could no longer view the transit system in halves, such as old and new. "We have one transit system and we should support the transit system; old and new as one," she said.
Commissioner Carlos Gimenez said the county is complying with the 2002 plan with regard to buses.
"We have increased bus routes," he said. "We have increased service."
He added that there is little demand on the routes being cut. "I think they're doing the right thing in eliminating some routes. You've got to be smart on this."