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Florida bill may bring sweeping changes to JTA after Action News Jax investigation

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Florida lawmakers are pushing sweeping legislation after an Action News Jax investigation exposed questionable spending at the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA).

We’ve told you about more than generous executive salaries and travel, significant spending on lobbyists, and a budget surplus that dropped from $50 million to $4 million in just a few years. All that, while ridership struggles to rebound, on-time service fails to meet the mark, and the agency narrowly avoided a strike.

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Action News Jax Investigator Emily Turner has been covering JTA for months. She found this new legislation takes direct aim at the way JTA operates. The bill analysis mentions JTA by name and if it passes would slash the agency’s administrative budget, including the salary and spending of its top executive, Nat Ford.

HB 1301 would make sure the money agencies like JTA spend at its top level is “not greater than 10 percent above the annual state average of administrative costs.” That includes things like salaries and benefits.

HB 1301 by ActionNewsJax on Scribd

Action News Jax Investigates has already reported how Ford makes more than his counterparts in both New York City and Chicago, taking home more than $620,000 a year, including his most recently approved year-end bonus of more than $50,000. If this bill passes, he will likely take a big pay cut. How much that cap will be hasn’t been calculated by the state yet, but it would mean drastic changes for Ford and JTA’s board because of how they’ve been spending money.

An FDOT report shows JTA spends significantly more money to do its job than other big metro transit agencies.

We checked and Tampa, Orlando and Miami all spend about $10 or less to move people around. JTA is almost double that per passenger trip:

Operating Expense per Passenger Trip

Tampa/Hillsborough Area Rapid Transit $8.52

Orlando/Lynx $7.30

Miami/Miami-Dade Transit $10.11

Jacksonville Transportation Authority $18.80

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Here’s part of the reason why: according to JTA’s own budget materials, almost a quarter (22.03%) of its operations budget of $33,002,884 is dedicated to administrative costs. That number is exactly what this bill aims to curb, because it isn’t “directly related to the operation and maintenance of a transit system.”

We broke down JTA’s administrative costs. That $33 million includes things like salaries at $14,126,572, fringe benefits of $7,283,597, services at $9,832,873, and for travel, $846,232. We found it also includes $1,700 for Ford’s fraternity dues to Gamma Beta Boule of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity Inc.

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When it comes to travel, Action News Jax found Ford himself has spent $189,573.03 from January 2016 to June 2023 to fly around the world on JTA business while also paying lobbyists $288,000 a year to curry favor on his behalf.

That’s a bill footed by the taxpayer that could come to a screeching halt if this bill passes.

We reached out to JTA for comment on this story and did not hear back.

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