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.
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