Editorials

County should pay up

TNS

Miami-Dade Commissioner Xavier Suarez is floating an intriguing long-term solution to traffic gridlock, one that comes with an all-important funding stream — that will likely ruffle county officials’ feathers.

Mr. Suarez — who along with others on the dais should be praised for seeking out meaningful solutions to rescue us from gridlock hell — is leading a campaign to get Miami-Dade to return millions in taxpayers’ money to the Citizens’ Independent Transportation Trust. The CITT manages the controversial half-penny surtax, which generates a quarter of a billion dollars annually.

This is the same surtax that past politicians promised would secure our transportation future. But it has failed to do so.

Commissioner Suarez told the Editorial Board that he wants the county to return the estimated $81 million that the county “unified” — basically, commandeered — in late 2008 to keep its struggling transit department afloat. Not all at once, but possibly in $16 million annual installments over five years. After all, that economic downturn is pretty much over.

Siding with Mr. Suarez in this effort is CITT chairman Paul Schwiep, who joined the commissioner in crafting a memo to the county requesting the money.

“We urge the mayor to return to the CITT the $81 million that was taken away six years ago, so that the CITT trustees can use it for its original purpose, which is to complete a system of public transportation. That amount can fund up to $1.5 billion of new rail linkages, which is roughly half of what is needed to add the most pressing new lines: to South Dade, North Dade, West Dade and Miami Beach,” the memo says.

That is likely unwelcome news at County Hall. Mayor Carlos Gimenez is about to unveil next year’s budget, which does not tackle the issue of returning millions.

Besides the CITT money, Commissioner Suarez says he’s exploring creating a billion-dollar transit-fix bucket by acquiring $20 million a year from the toll-taking MDX. And he says he’s also exploring the idea that Miami-Dade keep a percentage of license-tag renewal fees. Add potential matching state and federal transportation funding, and the county could find itself with enough capital to pay for one transformative transportation fix.

Is Mr. Suarez’s plan pie in the sky? Not necessarily. But too often elected officials’ response to our traffic gridlock is: “Sorry, we don’t’ have the money, so just grin and bear it, folks.” That’s a knee-jerk response that taxpayers no longer should accept.

Many things need to fall into place in Mr. Suarez’s plan, but it’s a common-sense course of action that should be raised up the flagpole. Anyone else have such a comprehensive plan? We didn’t think so.

Commissioner Esteban Bovo Jr., head of the county’s transportation committee, fears the plan may not generate enough money. “How much can we move back to the CITT is questionable,” Commissioner Bovo told the Editorial Board.

“However, we are in agreement with Commissioner Suarez on using the half-penny surtax money for its intended purpose.”

We, too, think that the county should come up with a long-term plan to reimburse the taxpayers’ money it took from the CITT in dire financial times.

By restoring the money, elected officials have a better chance of restoring taxpayers’ confidence that not all of the half-penny-tax promises have been broken.

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