HART Board wants Gov. Scott to veto Latvala bill on merger study with PSTA

Complaints about Tallahassee not caring about local control were expressed once again.

Murman voiced concerns about the political ramifications of alienating Senator Latvala. She said she thought the governor should hear the boards' sentiments, but wondered "Sometimes when you operate under fear, you've gotta be very careful about what that risk gets you as a result."

But other board members had no problem expressing their opposition to the new legislation.

"I'm prepared at my own expense to drive to Tallahassee if I need too to articulate my justification or, just have a conversation about why this item should be removed" said Board member John Melendez, one of Governor Scott's hand-picked board members.

Board Chair Fran Davin said once HART was aware that Latvala was bringing a new bill back regarding potential consolidation this session, the board issued out letters to the Transportation Committee in the House and Senate and the entire Hillsborough County state delegation expressing the sentiment that they did not want another study to be undertaken. And she laid out how the 2013 legislation made its way into becoming a law.

"We were told when this whole issue came up, if PSTA or HART were not in favor of consolidation, the sponsor would drop the issue. We went on record not in favor of pursuing it," Davin said. "And yet, with no delegation member from Hillsborough County supporting this new effort, it came into the budget on the last night of the conference committee. It wasn't something that was debated on the floor...it just went in at the very last minute into the conference committee report."

Tampa City Councilman and HART voice chair Mike Suarez said Latvala's move goes directly towards the governance of local authority as to whether HART will have any voice in determining whether they will ultimately become a part of a larger agency. "It goes back to local control and local decision makers."

Dr. Steven Polzin wondered why only Hillsborough & Pinellas' transit agencies are under such scrutiny to merge, mentioning others around the state that might be more logical. "We've clearly been singled out," he indicated. "I think it sandbags the two existing agencies. It creates a tremendous challenge for PSTA that's trying to move ahead with an initiative to have the shadow of consolidated agencies and that uncertainty out there, and it adds uncertainty to us and our deliberations about what to do in the future."

Later in the meeting, HART board members heard about a Memo of Understanding (MOU) between HART and the transit agencies of Polk, Pasco and Pinellas Counties for the development of a regional approach to fare collection. That prompted Suarez to sarcastically utter that "there's a lot of talk about how we don't cooperate with anyone...but we are always looking at partnering in all kinds of different ways."

Earlier this year HART & PSTA agreed to continue to collaborate on benchmarks and cost-efficiencies beginning this month.

  • Clearwater GOP state Senator Jack Latvala

Over the course of the past year HART & PSTA, the transit agencies representing Hillsborough & Pinellas counties, respectively, spent $100,000 on a study mandated by the Florida Legislature about a potential merger of their respective organizations. The preliminary study showed a merger could save about $2.4 million a year, but researchers said more analysis was needed.

In January, the HART board rejected a vote for a second "desk" study," and all talk of a possible merger died after that.

But Clearwater state Senator Jack Latvala, the man spurring the study in 2012, apparently wasn't satisfied with that conclusion, and was able to get the Legislature to pass a measure last week that requires the state to fund another consolidation study at the cost of $200,000 to state taxpayers.

HART board members for the most part never supported the original consolidation idea, and thus it was no surprise this morning that they are now calling on Governor Scott to veto the funding for the new study, with only one board member - County Commissioner Sandy Murman - dissenting.

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