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Miami Herald 1/22/02
Funding plan for transit project in works -Proposal may call
for `penny tax'
By Karl Ross
Miami-Dade Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, in a likely precursor to another ``penny-tax''
vote this fall, is crafting a plan to finance billions in mass-transit projects
over the next 25 years.
Since October, Barreiro -- who chairs the county commission's transportation, infrastructure
and environment committee -- has been piecing together a funding proposal similar
to the failed 1999 penny-transit tax.
That proposal, defeated in July 1999 by a 2-1 margin, called for a one-cent sales
tax and would have secured the ``dedicated funding source'' the county needs to
be eligible each year for tens of millions of dollars or more in federal matching
Barreiro's top legislative aide, Alfredo González, said his boss hopes to
bring a draft proposal before the commission Feb. 12.
``He wants to be able to get back to his colleagues on the commission and get them
to acknowledge at least that there is a need [for the tax] and to get them to support
a referendum for some kind of dedicated funding source in the fall,'' González
said. ``That's the only chance we have to get in on the next federal funding cycle.''
González said that a funding source needs to be created by the end of the
calendar year in order to meet the deadline for the next five-year funding cycle
for light-rail and other capital-intensive transit projects.
It is not yet clear whether Barreiro's proposal will mesh with a similar one being
hatched by Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas' office. Penelas was the architect of the
penny-tax proposal that was rejected by voters amid outcry over higher taxes and
misspending of public funds.
``The mayor's going after a half-penny tax,'' González said. ``His people
up on the 29th floor [of County Hall] are all gung-ho about that.''
Penelas recently acknowledged that he intends to mount another campaign to secure
a transit tax, but is waiting until his state of the county address in early February
to release details.
According to a memorandum prepared by the county manager's office, a half-penny
sales tax would yield $95 million yearly in revenues. By contrast, a full penny
tax would generate $191 million yearly.
Federal funding rules for costly transit projects such as a Metrorail expansion
require a local match of between 20 percent and 50 percent.
While a sales tax is not the only possible funding source, other options -- such
as raising property taxes -- are even more politically unpalatable.
While it remains sketchy, Barreiro's plan entails levying the penny tax over 25
years, at which time a ``sunset provision'' ending the tax would kick in, González
González said the $112 million a year the county is presently allocating
for public transportation from its general fund would be placed into a trust fund.
After 25 years, the money would be tapped to subsidize free public transportation,
One of the reasons Penelas' proposal attracted criticism was because the county's
annual operating subsidy would have been divvied up among arts groups and others
who helped raise money for the ``Transit Not Tolls'' campaign.
González said Barreiro is aware the penny sales tax could be a hard-sell
at the polls. Similar initiatives have been rejected by voters on five occasions