Transportation tax facing obstacles with Miami-Dade voters
By Frank Norton
For the second time in three years, Miami-Dade County faces an uphill battle to win voters' approval for a transportation tax and spending plan.
What is viewed as a necessity to some may be overshadowed by the average voter's lack of confidence in government.
"This is a referendum on trust, not on whether the county has serious transportation problems," said Joel Volinski, of the University of South Florida's Center for Urban Transportation Research.
Voters in 1999 rejected a 1% transportation tax amid perceptions of backroom dealing, special-interest lobbying and bureaucracy.
This year, the People's Transportation Plan proposes a half percent sales tax on most items to pay for projects such as doubling the bus fleet, adding 90 miles of rail lines and expanding mass transit.
"The biggest challenge is in getting voters to accept the county's ability to manage this thing and let a truly independent oversight committee exercise authority and control its spending," Mr. Volinski said.
The county this time is using a simpler plan that includes a citizens' oversight board on spending.
"The biggest obstacle in the county is trust. You can't separate trust from transportation," said Dario Moreno, director of the Metropolitan Center at Florida International University.
As part of a grassroots campaign, county employees and volunteers are meeting with community groups, churchgoers and civic leaders to explain the tax.
"I think they're going in the right direction by going to the community," said Dr. Moreno. "The problem is the issue is falling off people's radar screens."
As the Nov. 5 vote nears, polls are showing crime has surpassed transportation as the hot local issue, he said.
While some radio ads may be broadcast just before the vote, the county will not rely on media. Campaign director Hilda Fernandez said volunteers have met with 80 groups and plan to reach 140 more.
"There is a very cautious effort to make this initiative as different as possible from the last one that failed in 1999."