Funding Mass Transit: It’s Easier Than You Think

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Xavier Suarez

For those who may not be aware, there has been an ongoing battle of the numbers in relation to transit funds generated in Miami-Dade County and what should be a return to the county of a similar amount of money. 

In particular, we have seen Mayor Gimenez argue that Miami-Dade County should get the lion’s share of the money that is paid into the turnpike system where it traverses our county. 

That itself is not a crazy idea. However, it is only a portion of the analysis that should be done, which entails looking at all of the funds that are derived from Miami-Dade County sources, sent to Tallahassee, and returned to us for transit projects. 

My staff and I have painstakingly analyzed that, used multiple public records requests and produced a simple chart with the information that we have been given. That chart is shown below for your reading pleasure. You will note that there are three sources of funding earmarked for transportation, to wit: gas taxes, toll monies, and auto tag renewal fees (which are not totally dedicated to transit). As you can see in the chart, we have been sending somewhat in excess of $600 million a year, for which the state has been sending back in transit projects close to $750 million. 

The problem is that the state does not spend the money the way that we want to spend it, and that can be solved in two different ways. One is to take an element of the source and ask that that particular element be considered individually. The best such “closed loop analysis” would be the auto tag renewal fees. We did that research three years ago and found that the only benefit obtained by the citizens of Miami-Dade County was a little sticker that goes on the renewed auto tag. We made public records requests and found that it costs exactly 5.88 cents to produce the stickers. So if we were going to seize on one of these sources and its fair return to the county, we would justifiably ask for the rest of the approximately $170 million less the cost of producing the stickers– which is about a million dollars a year for the approximately 2 million vehicles. 

Ironically, when I first submitted this idea to the Miami Herald, which published a very favorable editorial, Mayor Gimenez responded by saying that he disagreed with the entire idea because “if Miami-Dade County gets its fair share of the auto renewal fees, then every other county will do the same.” Somewhere along the line, the mayor has realized how absurd it was for him to say that when now he wants to do the same thing with the turnpike tolls. In that case, it is not so simple because the entire turnpike system is analyzed by the state with a view to supporting each county’s transportation needs and allocating the money fairly. What would really be creative and appropriate is for all of us to unite behind the concept that we want the monies that are directed to our county to be spent towards the purposes that we have collectively indicated as the priority: a mass transit system. 

To summarize, the county receives close to three quarters of a billion dollars from the state each year for transportation improvements. Take that figure and add the revenues that we have been squandering for the last couple of decades – the unobligated portion of what we currently receive from the half-cent tax and the MDX tolls.

In other words, we stop all projects of MDX, including tearing up any more highways (which have been in perfect shape for the past 30 years) before they started tolling us. From a stream of revenues of $230 million a year, we take the unobligated portion (about $100 million per year). We do the same thing with the half-cent, which produces $275 million per year, of which about $100 million are obligated for existing debt and another $50 million for the trolley systems run by the cities.

In sum, we have a cool billion dollars that could be used in our county every single year, if we had the political will to work with the state instead of fighting them and to keep MDX from building more highways and using the half-cent as mandated by the voters in 2002. 

Think about it: with a billion dollars in one year we could fund a turnpike extension without having to impose tolls for 30 years. We could fund it in one fell swoop. I should add that it should not be of the configuration proposed by the administration, but rather using the CSX line which can be purchased for 30% of the billion dollars and reaches to every corner of the county.

It’s not that complicated, folks. It just requires common sense and honest discussion among the various governments that tax us and build our transit infrastructure. 

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Xavier L. Suarez can be reached at 305-669-4003 or via email at

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