This blog has moved.

Please visit our new page here

« Shield of police body camera videos tightened | Main | Marco Rubio follows presidential launch with media blitz »

Raquel Regalado: Don't make Baylink 'a priority'


Miami-Dade mayoral candidate Raquel Regalado told a Miami Beach breakfast group Tuesday that she doesn't want the proposed Baylink light-rail system to be first in line for county transit dollars.

"I don't think Baylink should be a priority," the two-term school board member told about 70 people gathered for the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club, a venerable Beach gathering dedicated to civic speakers. "I think Baylink is a good opportunity at the state level to take some bed-tax money and use it for transportation."

The pricey light-rail system envisioned as a speedy connection  between the beach and the mainland is a stated priority for Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who often cites Baylink as a central part of his transportation agenda.

Regalado's father, Tomás Regalado, and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine also support the Baylink plan, though the funding formula hasn't been proposed. A recent price estimate put the cost at $775 million, but a new study is underway to update the 2004 report that first projected costs for the long-delayed rail line.

On Tuesday, Levine took a jab at Gimenez over a scrapped meeting scheduled that afternoon for all three mayors to discuss Baylink. "It was canceled as transportation is not really that important in Dade County," Levine said in a text message. In an interview, he added: "It's really better to focus on building a mega-mall. Everybody wants their children to grow up and work at a mall."

The remarks were aimed at Gimenez's support of American Dream Miami, a 200-acre retail theme park to be partly built on state land Miami-Dade is securing to sell to developer Triple Five. The land deal was set for approval by the Florida Cabinet Tuesday, and Gimenez traveled to Tallahassee to advocate for the transaction.

"The mayor could not attend the meeting today due to his travel to Tallahassee," Gimenez spokesman  Michael Hernández said of the Baylink panel, part of the county's Metropolitan Planning Organization. "The meeting will be rescheduled."

The Baylink dust-up comes as Miami-Dade's transportation woes are getting more political attention. Baylink would be an alternative to the bus routes that run between Miami and Miami Beach, and the working plan is to build a rail attached to the MacArthur Causeway and then extend the car system onto streets on both ends.

One potential funding source for Baylink would be the county's half-percentage transit sales tax, which funds rail and bus operations throughout Miami-Dade. Often called the "half-penny" tax, Regalado said it should not be used for Baylink. Instead, she endorsed using county hotel taxes (often called "bed taxes") for the rail expansion.

As a rail running between Miami-Dade's largest hotel markets -- Miami Beach and downtown Miami-- Baylink could be considered a tourist amenity, she said.

"I was not saying it was a bad project," Regalado said of her morning remarks, which came at the end of a 45-minute talk after she mentioned nobody had asked her about Baylink. "I just don't think it should be a local-taxpayer priority."

A July summary of some broad financial options for Baylink contemplated using hotel taxes to subsidize the system. The problem: with Baylink costing as much as $45 million to operate each year, a special hotel tax was only estimated to bring in about $10 million. 

Mayor Regalado said he also did not want transit tax used for Baylink. "We should take a hard look at tourist-development dollars," he said, citing the technical name for one of three hotel taxes charged in Miami-Dade. "It makes sense. It is a tourist-driven project." 

The Regalados already are on the other side of Gimenez on another high-profile transit project. Both opposed Gimenez's push to bring a Tri-Rail station to downtown Miami, with most of the $69 million cost coming from the city and a city-controlled taxing district. Mayor Regalado threatened to veto city funding, and Gimenez offered to bump the county's funding from about $8 million to $14 million in transit-tax revenue.

City commissioners voted in late March to pursue other sources of local funds beyond Miami and Miami-Dade.