Tuesday, August 4, 2015

More on Millennials

Attracting millennials is a recurring theme in Tampa Bay, particularly around the downtown development strategies for both Tampa and St. Petersburg.

As Bob Buckhorn is quoted.
[On attracting millennials] “I don’t think there’s anything standing in our way of accomplishing that. We’ve just got to be focused. We can’t be divided. We can’t worry about who gets the credits. We can’t worry about who’s Democrat, who’s Republican. We know what our plan is, and we’ve just got to go execute it and we’ve got to be relentless about doing it. There’ s a tendency for cities to rest on their laurels, and we’ve had a good couple years, but we can’t rest on our laurels. Every day we’re out there competing for talents, jobs, corporate relocations.”
And another, Buckhorn expressing satisfaction with success.
One accomplishment Buckhorn takes great pride in is his success in luring millennials to Tampa. Explosive growth is attractive, so is Tampa's new, aggressive attitude.
"As evidenced by the RNC or Bollywood awards, when we set our mind to something we can accomplish it, and we can set the bar as high as any city in America," said Buckhorn.
Another recent analysis identified St. Petersburg and Tampa among the top destinations for millennials.
The Tampa Bay region is a top destination for millennial job seekers according to an analysis by NerdWallet. Both St. Petersburg and Tampa ranked in the 10 best cities for those ages 20-34 to find a job. In fact, St. Pete ranked No. 1 in Florida with Tampa coming close behind at No. 3.
Despite the concerns of our local leaders about our future relevance and our ability to attract millennials, St. Pete  comes in at #1, and Tampa lands at #3! Nice!

We keep coming up well in many of these rankings, for whatever its worth. There are others we don't always do so well, but that's the nature of these lists -- many can be subjective, perhaps this NerdWallet study less so than others.

Yet, there are concerns about our continued focus on millennials as part of our economic foundation.
About 42 million 18-to-34-year-olds lived independently of their families on the eve of the recession. About 42 million of them live on their own today, even as the size of this age bracket has grown. That means a young adult is even more likely to live at home in 2015 than back in 2008.
So now we have a modest, more perplexing new trend: Millennials are finding work, but they still seem stuck at home.
Reasons? Student debt overhang, increasing rent outpacing their increasing incomes.
"What I [Richard Fry, a senior researcher at the Pew Research Center] do know is the number of households being run by young adults is stuck at 25 million. It was 25 million in 2010, and it’s still 25 million in 2015," he says. "That does have serious larger economic ramifications. A lot of money gets spent when you set up your house, whether you’re a renter or an owner. Realtors care. Home Depot cares. The cable company cares."
It's possible other sectors of the economy are benefiting — maybe restaurants and bars — from the money these particular Millennials aren't spending on build-it-yourself bed frames. But it's also possible they're saving it. Or maybe they're paying rent at home. Back in a 2011 Pew survey, about a third of 18 to 34-year-olds living at home said they pay rent there, and three-quarters said they contribute to household expenses. Maybe their parents could use that money.
No millennials here
(source Flickr, Nicholas Fitzgerald Kidd)
Steven Ratner picked up on this theme in the NY Times.
Americans between 18 and 34 are earning less today (after adjustment for inflation) than the same age group did in the past. A typical millennial averaged earnings of $33,883 (in 2013 dollars) between 2009 and 2013. That was down 9.3 percent (after adjustment for inflation) in just a decade and is the lowest since 1980. Older Americans have fared considerably better; earnings of all full-time workers were roughly flat between 2000 and 2011.
Still more striking is that millennials have endured falling earnings even though they have attended college in record numbers. . . .
Another huge drag on the finances of younger Americans is the mountain of student debt that has been piled up in recent years. Members of this year’s graduating class left their campuses owing an average of $35,051, about twice the levels borne by their counterparts two decades earlier (after adjusting for inflation). That’s in large part because college is becoming less affordable even as it has become increasingly necessary. Since 1993, average tuition has risen by 234 percent, far above the 63 percent overall inflation rate.
Saddled with debt and thin paychecks, millennials are delaying purchasing cars and new homes, low mortgage rates notwithstanding.
Here's another point of view, confirming the above points, and adding a couple of more explanations, including

  1. Declining birth rates, thus fewer siblings, thus less stifling to live at home.
  2. More single parents, which may be more amenable to companionship of their children.
  3. Rising ethnic diversity, in which blacks, Hispanics, and Asians are more likely to live in multi-generation households.
  4. Changing attitudes towards sex, "Living at home might have meant forfeiting one’s romantic life. Today, thanks to more permissive sexual norms, that may no longer be the case."

Perhaps a generation of helicopter parenting is paying dividends as well.

Even as the job market has improved for millennials, there are plenty of other factors why they are still living at home.

Regardless, this all points to concerns about building our economic foundation on millennials. Yes, we want to attract millennials. We also want and need to attract all generations to contribute economically, culturally, spiritually... or just enjoy the Tampa Bay area.

We should also make sure we building a foundation for millennials as well. The foundation to support all of us.

That is built on a solid plan of jobs, affordable housing and rent, and low regulations and taxes.

Something we all can benefit from.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Go Hillsborough Violates Sunshine Laws: Time to Shut It Down!

The EyeonTampaBay continues to post about Go Hillsborough's lack of transparency.

The latest outrage is my attempt since April to get detailed information regarding activities Go Hillsborough conducted at taxpayer expense. I began asking for the focus group information on April 26, 2015, at the same time I asked for the poll details. I submitted follow up emails that included cc'ing County Administrator Mike Merrill who hired the Parsons Brinckerhoff/Beth Leytham team. Merrill never responded.
An email requesting details for activities conducted
by taxpayer fundedGoHillsborough
How did I learn of the focus groups, market analysis and polling being done by Leytham? I got the invoices submitted to the county from Parsons Brinckerhoff. I did not trust how the cronies running the Go Hillsborough campaign would use our tax dollars. All these activities were right there on the invoices that the county was paying.
Parsons Brinckerhoff invoice includes
PR lobbyist Beth Leytham charges
I contacted County staff numerous times, contacted Go Hillsborough directly and submitted Statute 119 Public Records Requests for the focus group details. Same as with the poll details, the County, Leytham, and I assume Parsons, all stonewalled or ignored me. No one associated with Go Hillsborough even acknowledged they received my request. Go Hillsborough apparently thinks they are "above" having to provide any details to a citizen Jane taxpayer who asks. Are the Go Hillsborough cronies that arrogant that they forget or simply do not care that it's the taxpayers footing "their" bill.

It was odd that County staff kept telling me they did not have the information as if that would make me go away.  Since I had the invoices I responded back that the County paid for these activities so how could they not know what they paid for. That's another disturbing thought. Certainly the County's Accounts Payable process has controls in place to ensure the county actually has what is being paid for.

The County should have all the details related to activities conducted at county taxpayer expense, especially for an important transportation initiative. These details must be part of the public records readily available to the public via Statute 119 public records requests.

I brought this non-compliance issue up with some of the County Commissioners, that I was not being given the information I requested. I was trying to understand how the county commissioners can be pursuing multi-BILLION dollar decisions when they don't even have all the information to make these decisions. 

Why would the county and county commissioners only be given specifically selected "filtered" information or a filtered finished work product? If the county had performed all these activities, they would have the details. Outsourcing the work to consultants and contractors does not mean our Sunshine laws are null and void. The county cannot wash their hands of information the public has a right to see and access.

Why weren't our county commissioners asking for this information? While we understand the commissioners may not be able to read every single detailed piece of information, they all have staff to help them. The county commissioners created this transportation initiative. They put it out there front and center. Yet they weren't curious enough to ask questions. That is astoundingly disturbing. Are other big decisions  being made by them based on selected "filtered" information?

Knowing that Parsons and County Administrator Mike Merrill planned to present their proposal(s) at the June 11, 2015 PLG meeting, I wanted the detailed poll and focus group information PRIOR to that meeting. Instead, Leytham and the County preferred to stonewall me.

Parsons and Merrill proposed another huge 30 year $3.5 Billion sales tax hike at the June 11 PLG meting. If the county did not have the details behind the work product Parsons handed to the PLG as they announced a multi-BILLION dollar proposal on June 11, that is shameful! 

I finally got some of the focus group information Thursday, July 30th, over 3 months from when I originally asked for information.  Same as with the polling details I requested, it took a media request by Channel 10 Investigative Reporter Mike Deeson for Leytham and the County to ante up some detailed information about activities paid for by county taxpayers. As Channel 10's Deeson reported Thursday:
After repeated public record requests, Hillsborough County required the consultant on the Go Hillsborough transportation initiative to release information on the focus groups taxpayers funded.
It is obvious the County, Parsons and Leytham's intent was to not hand over any details of what they were doing with our tax dollars prior to the huge sales tax hike proposal on June 11th.  Is that using tax dollars against the taxpayer? Isn't that illegal?

Why did it take a media request to the county for the county to finally require the politically well connected PR lobbyist Beth Leytham to release the information requested?

This is wrong and it is outrageous!

Public Records Request from ANY citizen must be taken as seriously as those requested by the media. Go Hillsborough and the County apparently think otherwise.

I am not surprised because I have been fighting a transparency battle with the Go Hillsborough campaign since they first launched. 

Back in February when Go Hillsborough first launched, I found out that a crony ad agency, Chappell-Roberts, owns the GoHillsborough.org website. I noticed the website launched without any of the required disclaimers that information on that website is subject to public access.

I immediately contacted the County and some county commissioners at that time. I spoke with the county's new Communication's Director, Liana Lopez. (interesting the timing of the county hiring a new communications director.....just as this campaign was launching...for another referendum...)

I not only asked Lopez that the disclaimers be added to the website (they were) but I also asked her who owns all the data gathered and assimilated by the taxpayer funded GoHillsborough campaign since the county did not own the GoHillsboroug.org domain name. Lopez confirmed with me that the county owns all the data. Also on that call with myself and Lopez was an IT person the county had recently hired. Apparently the county was hiring some new IT folks to work on data being transferred from Go Hillsborough over into the county domain.

I raised my concern with Lopez, as I did with others including some county commissioners at that time, about the county not owning the GoHillsborough.org domain name. My concern regarding how this campaign was unfolding went back to there never was a transparent bid or RFP or even any requirements documented from the county for this effort. The county simply directed work orders to Parsons Brinckerhoff under an umbrella "Miscellaneous Engineering Services" contract. How would the county ensure they get all the data the county should own for all the activities conducted by the taxpayer funded Go Hillsborough campaign? 

Back in February I was assured by Lopez that the county owned all the data and the county would get all the data from the Go Hillsborough campaign.

Obviously that is not the case.

The other issue I raised with the County and Lopez was whether there was a document between the county and the consultant/contractors that specifically states the county owns all the data and prevents the consultant/contractors from handing over or selling any or all of the rich information they gathered at taxpayer expense to anyone else, e.g. a private sector advocacy campaign. To my knowledge, there is no such document so it appears the consultant/contractors could hand over the rich cache of data they gathered  at taxpayer expense to the highest bidder or to the cause they support.

We will point out once again that he county has gotten themselves into this precarious position because they never used a transparent process up front, no bid, no RFP, no requirements. The county's rules of engagement with Parsons Brinckerhoff was simply handing them a million dollar taxpayer blank check.

As we have documented, the taxpayer funded Go Hillsborough has a systemic transparency problem. The County or GoHillsborough or a crony PR lobbyist cannot refuse to comply with Public Records Requests from the general public. This is a legal issue and the non-compliance must stop.

Better yet, someone(s) at County Center needs to be held accountable and responsible for the mess the county has created with taxpayer monies. Someone(s) need to shut down Go Hillsborough now. 

The County Commissioners need to stop ANY further county tax dollars from going to Parsons Brinckerhoff, Beth Leytham or anyone else associated with Go Hillsborough.

Next up we will look at the Focus Groups and the information collected....because there are serious questions about these activities.

To Toll or not to Toll?

We've noticed a concerted vocal effort lately to stop the expansion and tolling of the interstates in the Tampa Bay area, and across the state of Florida.

We'd like driving and all transportation to be free.  And I want to believe in unicorns and fairy dust.

Neither is going to happen.

From the Orlando Sentinel, there is now a state wide petition movement to require toll roads to be put up for a vote of the public.
A South Florida-based group wants to put a constitutional amendment on the November 2016 ballot that would give voters the final say over fee increases on Florida's growing network of toll roads, including ones in Orlando.
"We're not anti-toll or getting rid of tolls. We're saying no more tolls without voter approval," said Chris Wills, the volunteer chairman of DRIVE, which stands for "drivers ready to improve, vote and empower."
So far, they have about 12,000 signatures, and will need 700,000 by February 1 to make the 2016 ballot. Even it they get all the signatures, there's no guarantee it will pass with the required 60% super majority.
Susan MacManus, a distinguished professor of political science at the University of South Florida, said even if the issue of no tolls without a vote makes the ballot, it still might fail.
Potential opponents, she said, could argue: "Would you rather have a toll or higher gas taxes because we have to fix the roads?"
She also wonders whether people would be passionate enough to really get out and support the drive.
"There are negatives on all sides of this issue," she said.
Perhaps they have a point if Tampa Bay Express (TBX) and other toll roads were to toll existing capacity. But that is not the case. The TBX plan is only for new capacity to be tolled.

They'll get their vote every time they chose to take a toll road or not.

They'll vote with their own money, the ultimate form of democracy.

Did we get to vote when the state of Florida funded $15M a year for Tri-Rail in South Florida? No.

Did we get to vote when the state of Florida funded SunRail in Orlando until 2021? No.

Where were these folks then? They could have saved the state hundreds of millions of dollars.

Locally, groups are organizing to stop the Tampa Bay Express, which includes plans to widen and toll new capacity on I-275 through Tampa Heights.
Speakers from several local community groups organized the town hall meeting to put pressure on the Department of Transportation and Metropolitan Planning Organization to stop plans for the Tampa Bay Express project that would widen portions of Interstate 275 with toll lanes.

The Metropolitan Planning Organization will meet Aug. 4, and community organizers expect residents to show up in throngs.

More than 2,000 people already have signed a petition on stoptbx.com to remove the project from road plans. At Tuesday’s town hall meeting, activists and businesses owners helped answer residents’ questions about the 175-page expansion plan. Boxes of postcards were covered with messages, and a video camera set up in the back of the hall recorded residents’ complaints to send to public officials. County Commissioner Les Miller’s phone number was read out to the crowd.
We're sympathetic with the planned the demolition that will occur in parts of Seminole Heights. We're far from proponents of the government abuse of eminent domain. However, this has been in the FDOTs plans for years, as the historic church in Tampa Heights sits on land owned by FDOT. They've known this day would come.

Tampa Bay Express project map
The Tampa City Council recently voted to oppose the I-275 expansion.
[T]he City Council voted unanimously on Thursday to ask the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization to withdraw support for funding the FDOT project and to reach out to local legislators, especially state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, who chairs the Senate's Transportation Committee. It voted to try to make sure it plays an active role in reviewing the project's plans, which were drafted in the mid-1990s. It asked city lawyers to report on June 25 whether the city could challenge the project under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
The next MPO meeting is August 4 at 5:30pm in the second floor commission board room at the County Center, 601 E. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. Get ready to further gum things up in the courts.

Perhaps FDOT is trying to work things out, as FDOT is suggesting they may help pay for transit expansion with TBX.
For the first time Tuesday, the Florida Department of Transportation indicated it may be willing to help pay for expanding express bus service that would run on proposed toll lanes along Interstates 4 and 275.

And with a strong enough commitment from Hillsborough County and its cities, the state also may be willing to help fund more elaborate transit options on the interstates, possibly including light rail, said Debbie Hunt, director of transportation development for the transportation department’s District 7
The timing is rather interesting as opposition is mounting. Are they trying to trade something here?

The TBX plan does present the opportunity for managed bus toll lanes for express bus transit, shared with automobiles, which will be a win - win for everyone. Light rail will inhibit the project, as it will require a dedicated corridor, even more real estate acquisition and destruction, more residential dislocations, and drive expenses and time up.

We're hopeful the city of Tampa, Hillsborough County, FDOT and residents in the affected area can work something out that can be beneficial to all. We have a transportation problem, and we are breaking under the weight of delay after delay.

We wonder where the protests were against the proposed demolition of the North Boulevard homes, which will result in the relocation of 2,000 poor and minority residents, all in the name of Buckhorn's gentrification plans.

Its only those people. It's not my back yard.

Trust me, I understand no one is excited to pay more in tolls, perhaps $8, or even up to $20 a day with congestion pricing by the time TBX gets built. None of this is free, but with tolls, we are at least asking the users to pay their full and fair share. And it is their choice.

As a comparison, if HART today charged its riders their full and fair share to cover operational and maintenance expenses, fares would be about $8 a ride.  Transit is not free either.

What is the toll road opponents plan? We will continue to have diminishing gas tax revenues, increased fuel mileage with our vehicles, and more electric cars not paying any gas taxes. Something has to give on the revenue front.

We have a problem we have to solve, how to pay for transportation. Tolling or some other mileage or user or mileage fees will have to be part of the solution. At least tourists will pay their share with tolls.

Will this problem lead to more discussions on who pays for consumption of transportation resources? The closer we can get to a user pays solution the fairer it is for everybody. This will also make the budgeting and planning process less political and reduce wasteful pork barrel projects.

Hillsborough County will continue to grow in population, with forecasts of an additional 600,000 residents by 2040. Most of that growth will continue to be in the county, as well as another 200,000 in southern Pasco. This growth will require new capacity on the Tampa Bay interstates.  If we fail to address our transportation needs and build new capacity, it will eventually impact the local economy.

Few of these new residents will be walking or biking to work or around their livable, walkable community in any significant numbers to reduce the need for automobile transportation.

We'll have to do something, and tolling and user pays models must be part of the plans.

What are the toll road opponents plans?

If they don't want toll roads, can we start a discussion on using the gas tax solely for roads, rather than on transit, bike paths, side walks, trails, and roadside gardening?

We stand by.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

BOCC and the $23 Million Oil Spill $: The Twilight Zone

The BP Oil Spill money issue was discussed at last Thursday's Budget Workshop and I just have to post how that discussion went. I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. Is there something in the air down in County Center that keeps our county commissioners from logically thinking where this one-time windfall should be spent? How about where it's needed the most? Like on our roads???

It's the Twilight Zone at the BOCC Budget Workshop
It appears the county will net almost $23 million (after lawyer's fees) from the BP Oil Spill settlement. Lo and Behold the commissioners have their sights on another pot of money separate from this settlement. The Restore Act, a national settlement, is still in litigation but the county has high "hopes" to get some of that pot too.

County Administrator Mike Merrill noted that there are no restrictions on the use of the BP Oil Spill monies but that the basis the county submitted a claim for was loss of tourism and loss of economic development....

Immediately, Commissioner Hagan chimes in and states there are a number of investment options for this money from ELAPP, transportation, EPC, Ferry and his favorite those nebulous economic development projects. According to Hagan, there's NO urgency to spend these dollars now and the prudent and fiscal approach is to kick spending any of these dollars down the road. Maybe there wasn't enough time to contact his favorite PR person and take a poll.....

Hagan proceeded to make the motion to hold off spending the BP Oil Spill monies until next budget cycle. Victor immediately seconded.

The surreal conversation then went as follows:
Commissioner Beckner decided that we need a "philosophy" for how to"strategically" invest this one-time windfall. This is a one time $23 million windfall (not a $230 million windfall) and we need a philosophy for how to spend it. That is comical.

Beckner's philosophical suggestions starts with his first priority to give money to the EPC for "capital tools"  - he did not provide any specifics but it's his priority. Next Beckner suggested the county use the money to educate the public about our lands. He would like to hand over our tax dollars to partners like Busch Gardens and Lowry Park Zoo to help do just that - again laughable. Last, Beckner wants our BP Oil Spill monies used for a safer community for pedestrians and cyclists. He ends his comments  again by implying his suggestions are a "more strategic approach". That is a joke.

Commissioner White and Commissioner Miller had already made proposals to give most of the money, $15 million to ELAPP for both acquiring more environmentally sensitive county lands and maintaining those lands. The remaining $9 million would go to green way trails and kayaking blue ways, beach restoration, boat ramps, ecotourism and native plants in our parks.

ELAPP has a dedicated property tax and the county is strained today to maintain the property they already own under ELAPP. Does it make sense to buy more land when the county can't maintain what they already have? The BP Oil Spill had nothing to do with what White and Miller proposed using the windfall settlement for. It would be ridiculous to spend this one-time windfall on these lower priority activities when the county has much greater needs elsewhere.

White saw the writing on the wall that his proposal was going nowhere. Therefore, he wanted to amend Hagan's motion to put the funds into a separate budget line item that cannot be spent until a specific appropriation was approved by the commissioners.

Miller then defiantly states that these dollars should not be used for transportation, that the county should look for "other" dollars (more from your wallet) for transportation.

Crist, normally not shy to speak up, meekly commented that the commissioners need to "work together" to gain consensus and indicated the windfall should be spent covering the county's economic losses resulting from the spill.

Last were comments from Commissioner Chairwoman Sandy Murman who stated that transportation and economic development were linked and transportation was a priority. Murman even called out a couple of us who were sitting in the audience. 

Murman (and the rest of the commissioners) know a number of us have been calling out for a long time to re-prioritize our budget and start funding our roads and transportation within our existing budget.

Again, that request fell on deaf ears.

The motion had been made and seconded to kick spending the BP Oil Spill windfall down the road to next year's budget. Of course, the Wizard had already orchestrated behind the green curtain to kick this can down the road. The "kumbaya" crowd simply cannot air much dissension in public.

Commissioners proceeded to unanimously pass the motion to kick spending the one-time windfall until next budget cycle 7-0. 

Want to take bets for how this money will be spent? Want to bet that Merrill aka the Wizard of Oz, will build consensus for how to spend this $23 million one-time windfall, all behind the curtain and outside of Sunshine? 

Want to take bets on what the consensus will be? 

Want to bet the consensus will be that the Wizard orchestrates sprinkling these dollars around the county on low priority projects?

Hillsborough gets a one-time $23 Million windfall.

Our local roads are literally crumbling, especially after all this rain.

The county commissioners tell us there is no "urgency" to spend it.

But they want another 30 year $3.5 Billion sales tax hike.

We are in the Twilight Zone.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Don't Get Fooled Again: Roads are NOT A County Top Priority

Our county commissioners have spent millions of our taxpayer dollars and tons of county resources over the last 2 years telling us that transportation is a top priority. It's all talk and no walk.

Roads may not get be getting funded but taxpayers are lining the pockets of cronies. The Go Hillsborough cronies got handed another $350K of our tax dollars last month. No bid, no RFP, just another blank check - to duplicate work already being done elsewhere. The county will now be spending almost $1.5 MILLION on the crony, phony Go Hillsborough campaign.

HART, our transit agency, is currently doing their public outreach to update their 10 year Transportation Development Plan. Our Metropolitan Planning Organization is doing the technical analysis to update our road ratings. 

We already know the county has failed roads all over Hillsborough. The county knows the roads that have potholes, the roads that need repaving, the intersections that need improving, the roads that need widening, our lights that need to be timed and that we will need to build new roads. The county's Public Works department has the list. 

Why are taxpayers paying the Go Hillsborough cronies to duplicate work that is already being done? After all the rain we've had, the county would be better served using that money to refill the gaping potholes and doing some road paving.  

The County has spent wasted tons of taxpayer dollars and wasted countless hours of people's time and resources in meetings. The County has gathered more than enough information that confirms what we and "they" already knew: Our roads have been neglected and they desperately need to be funded.

Here's an opportunity for the county to start funding our roads. The county's in a new budget cycle for FY2016 and the county commissioners have told us for the last 2 years that roads and transportation are a top priority. 

However, that is not true - roads are NOT a top priority of the county. The proposed FY 2016 budget does not fund our roads AGAIN even as our county revenue coffers are going up and up. 

The county held a budget public hearing last week. At that public hearing, the commissioners heard from myself and others who asked the county to re-prioritize the FY2016 budget to start funding our roads and transportation needs now. Did they listen?


The budget public hearing was simply a required ticky mark the county had to check off. It apparently was nothing else.

Next came the Budget Reconciliation Workshop yesterday down at County Center. This meeting occurs after the July public hearing to supposedly allow discussion of changes to the proposed budget.

 I was there. Nothing changed. 

All of our county revenues continue going up. Our property values are rising and new developed properties continue to be added to our tax rolls. Of the $100 million of NEW revenues the county has for FY2016, only $2.8 million of those NEW revenues is going for roads. None of our property tax revenues are being spent on our roads.

The county did take the time and expense to create a 13 page slick, glossy marketing brochure titled, "Citizens Budget in Brief". How much did those glossies cost taxpayers? The online version of the budget brief, no printing costs required, can be found here
Cover of 13 page glossy county brochure
marketing the FY2016 budget
This is how the faux Budget Workshop played out yesterday:

Tom Fesler, Director, Management and Budget, publicly pitched the "Citizens Budget" to the county commissioners. What a misnomer! A budget called the "Citizens Budget" that does not properly fund our roads - the largest and most highly utilized asset that the county owns and citizens use. 98% of county citizens use our county roads everyday and they are FAILING the citizens. 

Fesler's presentation was for public show because the commissioners had already seen it. They had already been briefed directed by the County Administrator Mike Merrill (aka the Wizard of Oz of County Center) behind the green curtain. The Wizard works hard behind that curtain pulling the levers and pushing the buttons to ensure no sparks will fly in the public domain. Other than Commissioner Higginbotham, we heard crickets chirping from the rest. The Wizard is adept at keeping the "kumbaya" crowd under wraps.

Besides the windfall of $100 million of new revenues being sprinkled around the county, below are some tidbits from the budget workshop:
  • Total FY2016 budget is $4.72 BILLION but the "Citizen Services" portion is $1.83 BILLION
  • HeadStart, part of the "Social Capital" is over $30 million
  • 58% of the general fund is for law enforcement and fire rescue
  • $9 million of the new revenues is going to Constitutional offices "to maintain their current level service" - that should be a red flag that something is desperately wrong there - but no questions were asked.
  • The county showed very little in efficiencies gained. That should be a red flag but no questions were asked.
  • Millions of the new revenues are going to pay for union contracts and fire rescue that has fallen behind in their operating expenses. That's another area of red flags. We have posted before about the abuse of fire rescue union leave time at taxpayer expense, that the county had to move fire rescue monies around last year from fire rescue operations and capital to fire rescue personnel and concerns over the huge contract handed to the fire rescue union last year right at election time. No questions were asked.
  • 23 years of property tax millage decreases. Ironic that the county decreased the millage at the same time we can't fund our roads. Instead of funding our roads with revenues we have, this commission is continuing to pursue a bloated 30 year $3.5 Billion sales tax hike.
The Commissioners voted to keep our property tax millage static (no change) for FY2016. Commissioner Higginbotham was the only commissioner to vote No. I was not sure exactly why Higginbotham voted No. Perhaps he thought the county was wasting some of that $100 million of new revenues on commissioner's pet projects and he preferred taxpayers keep some rather than it going through the county waste filter for low priority pet projects.

Workshops are supposed to be the public venue working sessions where the county commissioners transparently speak to each other about the budget. The only comments made were accolades about the hard work put in to creating the budget. Is that all the comments the public gets to hear - comments about the process but virtually nothing about the actual issue at hand?

This budget workshop was an orchestrated, scripted one-way street. The budget briefing was presented by staff, no questions were asked and nothing was discussed.  Worst of all, nothing was asked to be changed in the proposed budget. No one wanted anything changed. No one mentioned our pathetically funded roads. Shameful!

Roads aren't sexy like building new parks, community centers, soccer complexes, cultural centers, doling our dimes out to special interests groups or focusing on a new baseball stadium.

Instead, roads are a necessity.

Why is there way too much power in way too few hands down at County Center?

It is beyond time for someone on this county commission to stand up and say enough is enough and stop the nonsense. 

The county has money to fund our roads NOW, they simply refuse to do it.

Roads and transportation are a top priority, "they" say.

As witnessed again yesterday, no they are not....

Looks like the county will continue holding our roads hostage unless the county can dig into your wallets and pockets for another CIT-like 30 year $3.5 BILLION sales tax hike.

"They" want another bloated 30 year sales tax hike.

Tell them NO, because "we won't get fooled again"!

Trump – Some positive affects

St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhDCoauthor of: So You Want Blog 

With just a few days to go until the first debate the media is still waiting breathlessly for Donald Trump to implode. They are longing to see the Donald in a tangled pile at the bottom the Republican Presidential candidate list and so far he is disappointing them greatly.

Chuck Todd, of NBC's Meet the Press, early predictions of Trump's eminent demise now seem more like prayers.

If you listen carefully you may just hear some of the less strident voices in the media hinting that the highly desired Trump implosion may just not happen at least not for a while.

Trump has been a positive force in the campaign on several fronts.

First he has revealed who among the political class can deal with outside the political mainstream competition. So far the results from the political elite have been disappointing.

From chopping up the tax code to smashing a cell phone with a golf club, Trump has reduced the most of the field to babbling idiots.

Jeb Bush, currently number two behind Trump in some of the Polls, is handling Trump the way he deals with most things he doesn't understand he just ignores them. Trump may be right Jeb just may be a wimp.

Another benefit of the Trump effort is the total demise of Marco Rubio's campaign. Probably was going to happen sooner or later but Trump certainly expedited the process.

The Republican Party is trying to do the nice dance pretty much staying out of Trump's line of fire but there are some serious questions that should be considered.

What if Trump lasts until the national convention? Even if he is not the leader at that point what happens if he has enough delegates to draw some concessions in the Party platform?

Could he influence who the presidential nominee or the vice presidential nominee might be?

Then there is that third party thing that seems to be keeping some of the big Republican players and the Party leadership at bay.

The argument, "you can't take this guy seriously" is starting to pale as Trump's poll numbers rise.

Trump is single handedly defining the Political Class for what they are and I think the real question that may be rising from Trump's popularity is do we as a people really want a political class that runs the Country?

For now Trump has accomplished the one thing no other Presidential candidate has been able to do. He has made the way to an early, way too long presidential election process revealing and entertaining.

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Contributor: Waterfront Charter Amendment (Vote on The Pier), Carly Fiorina for President

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Wizard of Oz Orchestrating Another 30 year Tax Hike: Part 2

After the Hillsborough County Transportation Policy Leadership Group (PLG) took a ceremonial vote to continue pursuing Go Hillsborough's proposed huge 30 year $3.5 Billion sales tax hike, we began revisiting how did we get here.  

Our previous post identified there is a Wizard of Oz down at County Center who is manipulating the process - much of it outside the Sunshine and behind the green curtain.

We'll pick up where we previously left off with the hostile takeover of HART put on the back burner, for now. Wizardry could not dampen the distraction of that issue.

At the May 28, 2014 PLG meeting, it was announced by then facilitator Herb Marlowe that the transit projects were to be presented at the next PLG June 2014 meeting. We remember vividly because Mayor Buckhorn informed us all that rail would be included. The transcript and video of the May 28 meeting can be found here. This is from the transcript of the May 28, 2014 PLG meeting:
What happened next? 

No transit projects were EVER presented to the PLG.

Suddenly the June and July PLG meetings were abruptly cancelled by Merrill. The Wizard of Oz needed some breathing room behind the curtain to manipulate some levers and buttons.

The cancellation of the June PLG meeting to present transit projects occurred conveniently right after the AEComm transit assessment was completed in May. That assessment stated that Hillsborough County should invest in transit prudently and cautiously and that we do not have transit ridership high enough to qualify for federal funding of fixed guideway solutions.

Apparently, the Wizard also did not want to rain on the MPO's (Metropolitan Planning Organization) parade. Why? Because the MPO presented at the July 21, 2014 HART board meeting a downtown rail plan study they did in conjunction with the Downtown Partnership. 

While there were no open and public meetings in June or July last year, nothing stopped. The Wizard's levers and buttons continued to be orchestrated behind the green curtain.

Coincidentally, last June County Administrator Mike Merrill, in his newly empowered role as Hillsborough County's first unelected County Mayor, started taking a presentation out on the road advocating for another 30 year sales tax hike.

We posted here what Merrill presented to the HART board at their June 9, 2014 meeting. At that time transit projects were still planned to be presented at the June 26 PLG meeting.
Merrill stated there will be a comprehensive list of proposed projects at the next Policy Leadership Group meeting on June 26 that will include a BRT demo project, people movers, etc. When asked by a Board member what the BRT demo project was, Merrill didn't answer the question. We'll have to find out more at the June 26 meeting because no details were provided by Merrill about the list of proposed projects. (emphasis mine)
Note the slide Merrill titled "What are We Agreed On?". Merrill or someone apparently forgot about 2010.......Does equity in mobility and funding solutions sound Socialistic? Does equity in mobility and funding solutions mean throwing our tax dollars at high cost solutions just to be equitable? Where's cost-effective, efficient or even effective?
Slide from Merrill presentation June 9, 2014
 to HART Board
Tying all our transportation funding into a single huge 30 year sales tax hike is not "Equitable"! That is not wise, prudent or necessary.

Advocating for a tax increase is policy making. Policy making is the responsibility of elected county commissioners or an elected county mayor. It is not the responsibility of an unelected bureaucrat, the county administrator. 

As late as the June 18, 2014 BOCC meeting, Merrill told the county commissioners an entire transportation plan was to be presented on June 26: 
That never happened. 

Merrill had an entire plan ready to be presented last June? Why wasn't it ever presented to the PLG? What happened? Who got "cold feet"?

Instead, Merrill started taking this presentation touting trains, fixed guideways and a new huge tax increase out on the road to over 60 local organizations. 

He was even contacting homeowner associations and asking if he could come speak to them on the transportation issue. When was the last time a County Administrator was soliciting homeowner associations? Why weren't the county commissioners out making these presentations? 

Merrill's presentation includes that we invest "early" in Fixed Guideways in direct opposition to what the AEComm transit assessment stated. Is that why the county wanted to bury the AEComm report?
County presentation advocating for
high cost fixed guideways
Did the commissioners back then ever take a vote on this policy direction? No. Why aren't the county commissioners in synch with the state's direction for highly utilized managed lanes added for additional road capacity that are shared with express bus service? 

Merrill lived in Germany a while and he likes trains. However, the rendering below from his presentation looks more like a safety hazard than anything else. Somebody's bound to get killed with a solution like this. Has Merrill Googled the issues with the new DC streetcar lately?  Is a train, a single lane of traffic and a bike path what Hillsborough County wants to spend billions on to fix our traffic issues? Ridiculous?
Rendering from county transportation presentation
Merrill's presentation is almost entirely focused on transit. It is so biased that his one page Value Proposition does not even mention roads, the county's largest and most utilized asset that has the biggest funding gap. In addition, some of Merrill's Value Proposition talking points are very questionable as they came from APTA (noted in very small print), the big transit lobbyist in DC.

The Wizard of Oz also created  a "we must have transit options"  video and a "comprehensive mobility" proposal video. These videos were created 
PRIOR to the Go Hillsborough campaign. Who authorized these videos?  How much did they cost taxpayers?

The videos tout fixed guideways (again in opposition to the AEComm transit assessment) and implies we'll have high cost rail in 10 years. And some kind of rail will connect to All Aboard Florida in Orlando. Huh? Roads will be improved to get to "transit hubs". Really? 

These presentations and videos were the cart before the horse, way out of line and exceeded the County Administrator responsibilities as defined in our Charter. They confirm the Wizard of Oz down at County Center has been pulling the levers and pushing the buttons for another 30 year sales tax hike long before Go Hillsborough. 

The next PLG meeting finally got scheduled in August.

Next up:  what the Wizard ordered.