Florida transportation budget lax, experts say
TAMPA - Gov. Rick Scott's recommendation last week to raise state transportation funding by 11 percent raised some eyebrows, but perhaps a more notable figure is one that isn't found anywhere in his proposed budget. That number is $75 billion, the amount Florida falls short in fully funding its transportation needs, according to a recent report by the Florida Metropolitan Planning Organization Advisory Council. The amount dwarfs the $9.1 billion Scott is proposing to spend on transportation in the next fiscal year. "It is good the governor is going in the right direction on the transportation budget," said Michael P. Howe, executive director of the Sarasota/Manatee MPO, one of 26 such agencies statewide. "You can still argue where the money should go within the budgets — what share to roads, to transit and so forth. "But the big problem is the shortfall that Florida faces and how to go about making up some of the difference."The governor's transportation budget — subject to legislative approval — allocates $8.3 billion for work programs statewide. The remaining $800 million would be dedicated to salaries and benefits, equipment costs and the budget for the Florida Commission for the Transportation Disadvantaged. Among the governor's funding recommendations are: $3.6 billion for highway project construction, $765 million for maintenance and operations, $401 million for public transit development grants, $288 million for seaport infrastructure, $169 million for aviation improvements and $144 million for safety initiatives. "By expanding capacity, relieving congestion and moving people and freight more efficiently, we create a state that keeps down the cost of living," Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad said. Major West Central Florida projects include the following: "Though the largest ships that can transit the expanded Panama Canal will not be able to call on Tampa, our port will be able to handle ships of a similar size (handling 8,000 cargo containers) of what other ports in the Gulf such as Mobile, New Orleans and Houston can handle," said John Thorington, senior director of communications and board coordination for the Tampa Port Authority. Though Scott has not been a supporter of mass transit, his budget does call for $25 million for The Wave, a streetcar in Fort Lauderdale. The Metropolitan Planning Organizations, which are required by the federal government to do a regular analysis of transportation needs, recommend spending much more on transportation and finding additional funding options. Such additional funding sources would have to be approved by the state Legislature. In April, the MPO's advisory council proposed six revenue sources: index all fuel taxes not currently indexed to the Consumer Price Index; approve a one-cent sales tax option that municipalities could impose with a referendum rather than depending on countywide referendums; increase fuel taxes by two cents a year for five years; study a user fee based on how many miles a vehicle travels; impose a five-cent local diesel tax; and return motor vehicle license, registration and title fee increases to the state transportation funds. "It's up to the Legislature," Howe said. "No one wants more taxes. I understand the legislature's trepidation."
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