By Sylvia Gurinsky
Anyone who has any connection to public transportation in Miami-Dade County should be angry about how dollars from the voter-approved half-penny sales tax have been abused.
But that is still not a good reason to repeal the tax.
Commissioner Carlos Gimenez asked his colleagues to put a measure on an upcoming county ballot to ask voters to decide on repeal. By 7-4, the commission said no.
There will now be a petition drive to put the measure on a ballot. I suspect the drive will succeed. I hope a ballot measure doesn't.
The reason rests in County Manager George Burgess' comments in a memo, according to yesterday's Miami Herald, about "cataclysmic impacts" if there's a repeal. You'd better believe it. Add the possible effects of repeal to the predicted elimination of Tri-Rail (See yesterday's Sunshine Statements entry.) and you have a disaster.
The county should make changes using former President Bill Clinton's onetime statement about affirmative action: Mend the way the transportation tax is used, but don't end it.
*First, the county should eliminate free rides on Metromover, which goes around Downtown Miami and the Brickell Avenue area, and restore the fee to 25 cents. Money is needed to maintain those cars, the stations and the security, and a quarter wouldn't be too much to ask.
*Suspend any free rides for seniors until the economic need of those seniors can be reviewed. There's no question that many seniors do need to take Metrobus in particular for health and social service functions. Extend the Patriot Passport criteria - free rides for veterans making less than $22,000 a year - to seniors in a similar economic situation.
*Get rid of that busway in South Dade that was never a good idea and is still not needed. The volume of traffic in that area is not heavy enough to justify it.
*Resume efforts at tri-county cooperation with Broward and Palm Beach, which may help save Tri-Rail as well, and communicate with members of Congress and the White House about what might be done at the federal level. Communicate with the state as well, but anticipate that no help will be coming from Tallahassee until at least after the 2010 elections.
*Start planning for future transportation again, including Metrorail extensions to North Dade and (somehow) the beaches.
Those measures have to be for starters, and they must come now, before a petition drive succeeds. Miami-Dade government must work to regain the trust of the people it serves.
A topical sidestep: To the matter of former U.S. Sen. John Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth, who is coming out with a book. I'm not interested in writing about this right now, but I will post a link to a great column by Wendy Button, who was John Edwards' speechwriter:
That says it all.