Gov. Ron DeSantis has slashed the $1.5 million appropriation to the Tampa Bay Regional Transit Authority as part of his $1.5 billion veto list released Wednesday.
The cut is the latest development for the agency, which was a disputed topic among Tampa Bay lawmakers in the 2021 Legislative Session. DeSantis vetoed a similar appropriation for the agency last year, too.
The $1.5 million appropriation request (HB 2037, SF 2127), filed by Tampa Bay Republicans Sen. Jim Boyd and Rep. Jackie Toledo, was approved in the final legislative budget proposal. The appropriation would have provide additional funds to the agency, which oversees regional transportation projects across the area.
The request called for a nearly $275,000 salary and benefits package for TBARTA Executive Director David Green. It also included 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.
The appropriations request also allocated $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 allotted for consultants and contracted services for financial and administrative services, transportation planning, project management, strategic communication, public awareness and marketing.
Two years ago, the agency received $4.8 million, including $1.5 million for staffing.
This past Session also illustrated a divide between Tampa Bay lawmakers on the future of the agency, with calls by some to dissolve it completely. 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. The bill ultimately died for lack of consideration.
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 died.
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.