TBO.com: Tampa Bay Online, The Tampa Tribune and The Tampa Times - breaking news and weather.
Friday, Nov 28, 2014

Jackson: Stiffed cities don't even get jelly membership


Published:

Yes, it's only the first week of June, putting Christmas more than half a year distant. But as Scrooge understood once the ghosts had wised him up, the lessons of yuletide apply evenly across the calendar. This includes, as we have lately discovered, the uncharitable lessons as well.

The evolving matter of Pasco County vs. its assorted municipalities over the future distribution of local-option gasoline taxes (an otherwise sleep-inducing topic perfect for reading to excited tots after sundown on Dec. 24) is reminiscent of the moment in "Christmas Vacation" when Clark Griswold rips open the late-arriving envelope containing his bonus only to discover he'd been waylaid by his boss and the company bean-counters.

In this case, it's the cities in the role of the beleaguered food chemist and now-retired County Administrator John Gallagher as Frank "I Cut Out Bonuses" Shirley. So hallelujah and pass the Tylenol.

Not that David Goldstein, Pasco's chief assistant county attorney and author of the ordinance in question, can't advance a compelling argument defending the administration's recommendation to county commissioners. That scarcely matters to city policy-makers who are understandably fixated on the early numbers crunched by the county's accountants.

If projections hold, under the proposed new distribution arrangement (more about which in a moment) Pasco's six cities will realize a collective $700,000 shortfall. With a majority vote and a stroke of a pen, suddenly money municipalities had counted on as part of their income would be gone. Worse, they're not even getting a jelly-of-the-month club consolation prize.

About this, Goldstein says two things: The projections may be only slight improvements over wild guesses. But if they hold up, tough marbles.

All this has emerged just now because Pasco's local-option 6-cents-per-gallon gas tax and the interlocal agreement created for its distribution, both passed in 1985, expire Aug. 31. Interestingly, extending the tax until 2042 - the statutory limit - is the least controversial aspect of this entire intramural dustup, bringing to mind Commissioner Jack Mariano's wariness regarding an additional nickle-a-gallon bump the board is scheduled to consider this summer.

"Once you throw in another tax," he told The Pasco Tribune's Laura Kinsler, "it'll never go back down."

By now, motorists are accustomed to the county's 6-cent hit, just as cities have grown accustomed to their portion of the gas-tax pie which, as provided in the interlocal agreement, has since 1985 been based on the amount of roadway under each government's jurisdiction.

That was fair, then, says Goldstein, when the county's stock answer to transportation was simply to lay more pavement. But the truth of how Pasco budgets its getting-around dollars has shifted dramatically to include a county-wide bus system and an emphasis on sidewalks and bicycle paths in addition to - because growth happens disproportionately in unincorporated Pasco - lopsided obligations for new roads.

The county also has been a long-time collector of transportation impact fees, recently supplanted by mobility fees, as a way to address traffic and sprawl. Commissioners' willingness to endure the attendant political heat compares favorably, Goldstein notes, to cities that either rescinded impact fees or never got around to passing them in the first place.

Spending on transportation projects that don't show up in roads-under-jurisdiction prompted Gallagher and his chief aides, Michelle Baker and Heather Grimes, to recommend adoption of the Legislature's "historical spending" model. In short, the more a local government spends on transportation projects, the larger claim it has on local-option gas taxes.

If the new arrangement shifts money to the county, it will be, Goldstein hints, because Pasco's municipalities have been comparatively neglectful. You spend more, you get more.

"What it comes down to is cities want to keep doing what we've been doing the last 27 years, whether it's fair or not," Goldstein says. "I don't think it's fair, and I don't think it rewards good behavior."

As noted above, it's a compelling argument. But if it's budget-season eve and you're left standing there with an empty envelope instead of a six-figure check, you can't be expected to like it.

All of which should make Tuesday in Dade City, when commissioners have scheduled a final vote, a lively one. Hope they don't have to call in a SWAT team.

email: tjackson@tampatrib.com

(813) 371-1851

Facebook: www.Facebook.com/TomJacksonTribune

Twitter: @tjacksonTBO

Subscribe to The Tampa Tribune

Comments