Crist missed chance to jump-start region

Published May 26, 2007

Gov. Charlie Crist missed the point in vetoing $1-million in start-up money for the Tampa Bay Regional Transportation Authority. The explanation by his staff is that the Florida Department of Transportation never asked for the money, and besides, it was to come from the wrong pot - one for roads, not salaries.

But by denying the new authority the cash, Crist ensured that any work in the interim would likely fall to - you guessed it - Department of Transportation staffers. What's the logic in that?

The governor can still move this worthwhile effort forward.

The bill creating the authority sailed through the Legislature this year after lawmakers finally acknowledged Tampa Bay needs a regional approach to transportation. He should sign the measure, which creates a seven-county agency to plan roads and mass transit from Citrus south to Sarasota County.

Once formed, the city and county member-governments can commit either cash or staff expertise to write the regional master plan.

One organizer said the cost of the two-year plan could be a fraction of the $1-million Crist vetoed Thursday. Local governments can cover that. They also need to take the planning process away from the state transportation department. Though the DOT has a supportive role to play, the purpose here is for the region to plan for itself.

Indeed, the DOT's failure to plan for this growing region was the reason leaders got behind the idea of a local authority in the first place.

The push for a regional authority was a true collaboration between political and business leaders, who found a better way to address growth in a region whose population could double over the next 40 years. Crist's veto of the money is not a deal-killer; local governments can make up the money.

The imperative for the governor is to get the authority up and running so it can create a more efficient framework for moving goods and 7-million people.