In its latest offer, the House has joined the Senate in agreeing to give $1.5 million in additional funding to the Tampa Bay Regional Transit Authority, after it left out the appropriation in its original budget.
The House initially left out Rep. Jackie Toledo’s $1.5 million request to fund the TBARTA in its budget proposal at an Appropriations Conference committee Saturday. But, the Senate was on board with the additional funding.
The appropriations request, filed by the Tampa Republican (HB 2037) in January, would provide additional funds to the agency, which oversees regional transportation projects across the area. Manatee County Republican Sen. Jim Boyd filed a Senate version of the request (SF 2127) for the transportation agency, which was included in the Senate’s first offered budget to the Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations Committee.
The request calls for a nearly $275,000 salary and benefits package for TBARTA Executive Director David Green. It also includes more than $992,000 for additional staff salaries and benefits including technical support, financial administration and oversight, grants management and administration, marketing and public relations, project management and procurement administration.
As budget negotiations continue throughout the weekend, things could change — the House could agree to take the Senate’s offer and include the funding, or it could refuse.
Toledo filed a similar request last year, which was initially included in the state budget but was vetoed as part of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ $1.66 billion budget cut, the largest in Florida history. The cuts were needed after the Legislature finalized its proposed budget due to expected economic losses related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
There’s been a divide between Tampa Bay lawmakers on the agency, with calls by some Senators to dissolve the organization.
St. Petersburg Sen. Jeff Brandes filed a bill (SB 1130) to dissolve the agency in February, saying it would allow other entities to focus on getting things done and eliminate an agency Brandes sees as duplicative and ineffective. However, the bill has yet to receive a committee hearing — a likely death sentence at this point in the game.
“I don’t think it needs to be a state funded, state authorized entity,” Brandes told Florida Politics. “In many ways, it’s duplicative to the federal and state programs that are currently operating.”
Other Tampa Bay legislators also filed bills this year seeking to alter TBARTA. Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson joined Republican Rep. Amber Mariano in refiling a bill to give mayors more flexibility as members of the agency.
Under the law currently in place, mayors who serve on the regional transit group must be present to vote, but under the proposed legislation (HB 389, SB 422), a Mayor could send a designated alternate to serve as a member of the governing board, with the ability to act as a voting member. Both proposals have cleared one committee out of three assignments.
TBARTA oversees regional transit planning in the Tampa Bay region. The agency received $4.8 million two years ago including $1.5 million for staffing.
The requested appropriation is for nonrecurring funds, however. The appropriations request anticipates $3 million to $10 million in funding request over the next five years, with funding needs expected beyond five years.
The appropriations request would also allocate $213,214 to expenses for rent and utilities, phone and internet, travel and parking, training, printing and copying, office supplies, postage, office furniture and equipment and various other fees and expenses, and $20,000 would be allotted for consultants and contracted services for financial and administrative services, transportation planning, project management, strategic communication, public awareness and marketing.
The Legislature created TBARTA in 2007 to develop a transportation master plan for a seven-county region of West-Central Florida. The agency covers Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas and Sarasota counties.
Its original name was the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority and while its mission was broad, it served limited purposes including operating a regional van pool. The Florida Legislature voted to change the transportation in its name to transit and restructured its purpose to serve as a regional transit planning agency to coordinate intra-county plans.
However, that change established an unfunded mandate and every year since lawmakers have come back asking for funding to keep operations rolling. Critics saw the agency as a wasted and duplicative endeavor while supporters considered it a way to establish regionalism for transit in a system where individual county transit agencies tend to focus only within their borders.