Update 6/17: TR is pleased to call your attention to a more thorough answer to the question below by TBARTA Chair Mr. Shelton Quarles himself in the comments. He describes himself as someone familiar with the situation - a humorous understatement. Tip of the hat to Mr. Quarles for participating directly in this wonderful forum we call the blogosphere. We and the readers much appreciate your response!
One of the joys in running this blog is learning about the complex processes that lead to rail systems getting developed in the first place. I do know that, generally, such processes are dynamic. And by that I mean there is no "one way" even if there are "popular" ways or ways that it's "always been done".
Still, it's always a pleasure to have an excuse to post questions related to the basics when TR receives them. Here's one that came in this weekend from an Orlando attorney:
I enjoy reading your blog. I have a question that I'm curious about. I haven't
had a chance yet to attend a TBARTA meeting yet, and they don't really post
their minutes as far as I can tell.
...has there been talk about how TBARTA is going to raise operating capital? I know
that the statute gives them the right to issue bonds, but there's no way that
passenger revenue would pay for everything, and TBARTA can't assess taxes, as
far as I know.
I imagine that financing, especially in the early stages, is going to take
commitments from the counties and cities in the service area to pitch in with
local option tax money. Has there been talk about how finance responsibilities
are going to be apportioned to the counties, and whether individual counties
like Hillsborough, Pinellas and cities like Tampa, St. Pete and Clearwater are
going to put sales tax options up for referendam?
The $2 million that
Charlie secured for TBARTA is great, but how is TBARTA going to sustain itself
for the next few years in planning, and in the future for financing bonds for
So what's the answer? I am posting the e-mail to attract more qualified response and discussion. But, in the interim, here is my understanding.
TBARTA can only spend the money from any funding they actually pick up. Their ability to acquire money directly, at least in the form of a direct tax, is not part of their authority.
When they are finished planning a system or perhaps any series of them, they are limited, as any plan holder would be, into convincing local authorities, and by extension, local constituents, to fund them - which is where those local referendums come into play. But that quest for local referendums would be independent of the authority itself. Generally speaking, it is presumed that TBARTA would gain such a benevolence that member counties more or less agree to its plans and thus tie in their efforts as a matter of understanding.
As well, TBARTA could find another way to pay for build outs and maintenance which does not involve taxation. When there is public support, local business community support, and, general political will, light rail and other transit systems get done whether taxes have anything to do with them or not. That's one of the major values of TBARTA despite the overhead of this county by county pitch it will eventually have to engage. TBARTA is now the branding epicenter for transit in our region which is crucial in terms of mind-share, irrespective of its ability to tax directly.
I should point out that as a rail development enthusiast, I could care less whether I am taxed to build rail or transit or not. I just as soon see the "big old nasty government" come in tomorrow and declare that they are going to plow out Florida Avenue to make way for a monorail system, and be done with it (though, I guess I'd be talking about roads then because that's about what happened throughout much of American road building history it seems), as anyone else private or public. But, I live in a conservative town and TBARTA is the best manifestation of a pro-rail development agenda we can reasonably hope for as normal people who must contend with the conservative reality. When people begin to work for big objectives exactly as they are, rather than succumbing to the way they are, things get done. Finally.
I think my summeration is a good one, but folks, the floor is open.