Monday, November 25, 2013

Crist rolls dice on Obamacare like placing bets on a craps table

Here's Charlie!  Which Charlie Crist showed up in Tampa at a fundraiser this weekend? The Tribune reported today it was the Crist who
urged a crowd of Democrats to stay behind President Barack Obama, dismissing the problems with the startup of the Affordable Care Act. 
“The president’s is going through a tough time right now. Everybody’s on his back about a website,”
So Crist "dismisses" the problems with the website but doesn't he know or won't he acknowledge all the other issues swirling around Obamacare, especially in Florida? Hundreds of thousands of Floridians and millions of Americans have had their current health plans cancelled, are experiencing sticker shock with higher premiums, higher deductibles and co-pays and losing their doctors. What about the job destroying economic impact? But the Crist response according to the Tribune:
“Well whatever,” he said. “Stuff happens."
Wow! Does that sound eerily familiar? Like another answer excuse we heard from Hillary Clinton on Benghazi?   
What Difference Does it Make?
(that four Americans were killed in Benghazi)
Crist  appears to display the Obama hubris (foolish amount of pride or confidence).  From the Miami Herald
 “The hug killed me,” Crist said. “Now it could save me.” 
 Crist hugs Obama in 2010
for Obama stimulus (debt) dollars 
But on the critical issue of Obamacare, it's hard to decipher a Crist position. Crist was against Obamacare before he was for it, against it before he was for it and on and on. 

According to this Broward/Palm Beach New Times article, Crist tweeted in early 2010 condemning Obamacare:
To Crist -- yes, the other Crist -- enacting ObamaCare would only constitute "the beginning." He said "Americans deserve better than this." He launched a petition to stop "health care secrecy" and vowed to send Washington "a message."
Since 2009 when Crist was governor, his positions on Obamacare have taken on a life of their own. As a Senate candidate in 2010, Marco Rubio described a half dozen opportunistic positions Crist has taken on Obamacare. Even the left leaning Politifact agreed
We agree he has made conflicting statements about his views on the health care bill -- once it only took him two hours to contradict himself. But generally his positions can be summarized in three ways: he was opposed and wanted to repeal the law, he said he would have voted for the law, and he wants to modify the law
Now Crist is rolling his dice supporting Obamacare like placing his bet on a craps table. Crist is taking the DNC's political intellectual Debbie Wasserman Shultz's advice and running for Governor of Florida on support of Obamacare…

Today Floridians not only know what is in Obamacare, Floridians are now experiencing the reality of the pain, suffering and literally the "expense" of Obamacare. But with his "well whatever" attitude at the fundraiser, Crist touts his support of Obama and Obamacare as the Tribune reports

"But he’s got a good plan. And now’s the time you need to show him what a friend you are. 
It’s easy to be with him when he’s rolling along but when it’s tough the tough get going.”
And Crist knows all about rolling along when it gets tough.  When Florida was going thru a "tough" financial downturn, Crist rolled off to run for Senate and abandoned running for a second term as Governor.

Things got tough and Charlie Crist got going….

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Did Harry Reid screw the Democrats?

We usually comment on local Tampa Bay related issues and adventures here at the Eye, but two recent editorials from the Times and Tribune on the U.S. Senates "nuclear option" were just too much not to comment on.

The Tribune warns of more partisanship yet to come:
Democrats — and the American people — will regret their vote to end the Senate filibuster rule for confirming judges and most other presidential nominees.

The arrogant move will exacerbate the bitter partisanship that makes Congress seem more a bickering playpen. It will muffle the voice of the minority.
Of course, the Times thinks it's all the Republicans fault.
By abusing the filibuster to an unprecedented degree, Senate Republicans brought about the reasonable changes they are now fuming over.
Blah blah blah.

One thing for sure, over the years. the nuclear option debate has illustrated the sheer hypocrisy in both parties.  Whom ever has the majority, is against the filibuster, and the minority, for the filibuster.  Flip the party in power, they flip their position.  No principles on this issue.  It's about power.  It's pure hypocrisy.

Harry Reid giving the middle finger to the minority Republicans.
But did he really screw the Democrats?
Who was one of the originators for using the filibuster to block administration appointments?  None other than the Times hero of the day, Harry Reid.  He engineered using it in 2003 - 2005 when Democrats were the minority.

The Times blathers on about how it's the Republican's fault, that we have important business of governing to do, we need these liberal judge appointments, etc.  They conclude if the Republicans continue to obstruct, it's only to block all the goodness from our government. Of course, only the Democrats have important governing to do, and Democrats and only Democrats want to do what's best for the country.  Yet the Times totally ignores history of both parties flipping and flopping on the nuclear option.

Beyond their sheer partisanship and lack of history, the Times demonstrates the liberal/progressives are completely unaware of the consequences and implications of any of their actions.  Progressives never are.  If they are ever aware, they never discuss them.

The Tribune has a different point of view, and more balanced, at least highlighting some of the pure power play and partisanship this is about... and will only worsen.  They highlighted President Obama's statement from the dark years of 2005:
“ ... if the right of free and open debate is taken away from the minority party and the millions of Americans who ask us to be their voice, I fear the partisan atmosphere in Washington will be poisoned to the point where no one will be able to agree on anything. That does not serve anybody’s best interest, and it certainly is not what the patriots who founded this democracy had in mind.”
Yet, somehow the Times and Tribute both miss most of the relevant points.

The filibuster is about enabling a more lengthy debate, more analysis of proposed laws, by providing the minority a tool to force extra debate. It limits the majority rules.

But now, the majority changed the rules.  In this case, it's a rather limited removal of the filibuster for federal judiciary (not Supreme Court) and appointments.  It passed on a mostly party line vote. Democrats for it, all Republicans against it, with 3 Democrats also voting against.

Majority rules.

The majority relaxed one rule with a majority vote.

Majority rules.

The majority can change any rule with a majority vote.

Majority rules.

The majority can vote to get rid of the filibuster.

Majority rules.

The next majority may be Republican.

Majority rules.

The next Democrat minority will be unable  to use the filibuster to stymie legislation they dislike.

Majority rules.

The next Republican majority may repeal Obamacare with 51 votes.

Majority rules.

The next Democrat minority will be unable to continue to protect the social-welfare-regulatory state they've built up and promoted over the decades when they were the majority.

Majority rules.

The next Republican majority can start to pull back on the social-welfare-regulatory state, which has in the past been stymied by Democrats when in the minority via use of the filibuster.

Majority rules.

This will enable Republicans to stop and hopefully retard the progress of ever creeping social-welfare-regulatory state.  For each Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, etc. get ready for a repeal, or market-based reforms.

Majority rules.

The next Democrat minority won't be able to do a damn thing about it.

Majority rules.

Until the Democrats scream for the traditional filibuster to return.

That's what they voted for.

Actions have consequences.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Pass the rail referendum, then find out what's in it

The Pinellas County Commissioners approved the ballot language for the referendum to raise Pinellas County sales taxes 14% to fund a rail boondoggle.  As the Tribune reported Wednesday:
Just what words might best convince residents to raise taxes on themselves?
The wording chosen steers clear of the somewhat politically charged term “light rail,” even though that is widely expected to be the rail component used to link Clearwater to downtown St. Petersburg. Instead the ballot will use the more generic “passenger rail service.”
The Tampa Bay Times chimed in
Voters asked next November whether to approve a sales tax increase to pay for expanded bus and rail service are likely to see a ballot that doesn't mention the referendum's two most debated words: "light rail. 
Let's break this down because the hypocrisy and attempted deception is astounding.

The first deception is in the proposed title of the referendum as reported by the Tribune 
“Levy of Countywide One-Percent Sales Surtax to Fund Greenlight Pinellas Plan for Public Transit.”
In reality, this is NOT a 1% sales surtax but an increase of Pinellas County sales tax from 7% to 8% which would make Pinellas have the highest sales tax in the state.  Let's do some third grade math:  8% divided by 7% equals 1.143.  This is a sales tax increase of 14% which increases the cost by 14% of everything one buys that includes sales tax. Sales taxes are the most regressive tax that hurts the lower income the hardest. Why the deception?  Because if they actually stated this was a 14% sales tax increase in this economy, no one would vote for it.  

Why does the referendum title refer to funding "Greenlight Pinellas Plan"?  Greenlight Pinellas is a PSTA $400K taxpayer funded marketing campaign run by Tucker Hall, a Tampa based public relations firm, educating advocating for the rail referendum.  The Pinellas County commissioners appear to be trying to confuse voters and they have created a tangled web of a mess. This referendum is PSTA's plan that their own taxpayer funded Greenlight Pinellas is unethically advocating for by skirting our electioneering laws. Does including Greenlight Pinellas in the referendum title provide another way to skirt our electioneering laws? We do know that Greenlight Pinellas is all lawyered up, at taxpayer expense, of course.

This is PSTA's plan because in September the Tampa Bay Times reported:
The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority board approved a $270,000 contract with a Kansas City engineering company called HNTB and Ernst & Young Infrastructure Advisors.
Two years have passed since county officials debuted a report by Jacobs Engineering that cost $4 million to produce, and was paid for with state and federal grants.
The $4 million was one of the sustainability grants from the Obama Administration. There is one consistency in this tangled web of a mess.  PSTA knows how to spend lots of your taxpayer dollars and they want more.

The second deception in the ballot language is using the term "passenger" rail instead of light rail.  According to the Tampa Bay Times 
The idea, according to the lawyers for the county and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, was not to dodge the politics surrounding the term light rail, but to keep all options open.
Does anyone believe that?  Light rail is toxic in Pinellas and this deception proves it. Either the Pinellas County commissioners and PSTA are not being honest and transparent with voters and taxpayers, or they don't have a real plan. So what specifically is their plan? Are they acquiring right-of-way, where exactly is light rail going, are they taking out a lane of traffic anywhere? 

The sales tax revenue generated by the rail tax will go directly to the Pinellas county commissioners. Subsequently, those dollars will be transferred to PSTA through some type of inter-local agreement. If PSTA does not have a specific plan nor accountability requirements, then the public has no sure idea of what is being funded and no one can be held accountable. Why would anyone want to increase their taxes 14% to fund the unknown? 

Voters should not be asked to vote for vaguely written comprehensive referendums that no one understands, are incomprehensible, and no one can be held accountable for. Voters should demand transparent, single issue referendums that stand on their own financial merits, that include the cost and revenue generated and have strict accountability requirements. Frankly, voters and taxpayers are fatigued of failed comprehensive bills and referendums paid for at a huge cost to taxpayers.

But everyone knows this sales tax increase is for light rail as Channel 10 News reported 
In a unanimous vote Wednesday, the PSTA Board of Directors endorsed what they are calling a "transformational, countywide, transit improvement initiative".
Elements of the Greenlight Pinellas Plan include a comprehensive, countywide improvement plan and a light rail project from Clearwater to St. Petersburg via the Gateway/Carillon area. 
After the Hillsborough rail tax was defeated in 2010, we heard the drum beat from the defeated pro rail side the excuse that voters were simply confused between light rail and high speed rail. But that's not a problem in Pinellas as the Times states
"It's very clear," said Kevin Thurman, director of Connect Tampa Bay, a transit advocacy group. Confusion over the use of "passenger rail," is unlikely"
Really? There's numerous types of "passenger" rail services from Amtrak, heavy rail, high speed rail, commuter rail, light rail, street cars to trolley cars. They are all different but the Pinellas voters will "magically" understand what they are being asked to pay for. Are the Pinellas County commissioners deceptively using the term "passenger" rail to hide the light rail initiative or to confuse the voters?  Clear as mud huh?  

Who are PSTA doing business as (dba) Greenlight Pinellas and the Pinellas County commissioners trying to fool?  PSTA did an Alternatives Analysis and light rail was the Locally Preferred Alternative.  
Light Rail is PSTA's Locally Preferred Alternative
The PSTA dba Greenlight Pinellas Plan deceptively indicates light rail is going to go over the Howard Frankland Bridge to Tampa. No such plan exists so we highlighted their chart accordingly.
Light Rail is NOT part of PSTA dba Greenlight Pinellas Plan
And is this more deception? The PSTA dba Greenlight Pinellas financial plan estimates capital costs for light rail at almost $1.7 Billion, or about $71 million per  mile.  The capital cost, per the Alternatives Analysis, includes "systemwide costs for 16 stations, electricity, infrastructure including rail and structures, and professional services to design and engineer the system."  
Light Rail estimated capital costs almost $1.7 Billion
However, the funding sources for the Light Rail capital plan is expecting Federal New Starts grants, State grants and local revenue totaling almost $2.6 Billion of funding. Where is the additional $900 million of light rail capital funds going? Is it going to Right of Way acquisition? Is it going to cost-overruns which average about 40% for these types of projects? Is it going for add-ons, and if so, what are they? Specifically, where is this additional $900 million going?
Sources of Capital Funds equals almost $2.6 Billion
Instead of spending billions on a rail boondoggle that may (or may not) be in service within 10 years, Pinellas could improve their bus service at a fraction of the cost NOW. For example, Hillsborough launched their first MetroRapid bus rapid transit for 1/60 the cost of the proposed light rail. It was built in less than a year.

PSTA dba Greenlight Pinellas calls their plan "transformational". Instead it appears to be a tangled web of fraud and deception.  

That must be why the Pinellas County commissioners want voters to pass the rail referendum so then we can find out what's actually in it. Isn't that hauntingly familiar?  

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Tribune Tiptoes around Obamacare lies

We've seen the Tribune Obamacare Op-Ed lamenting here, here, and here. The Tampa Tribune lamenting of ObamaCare continues with their Op-Ed today:  
Obamacare: a state of chaos.  Or perhaps we'll say it's "sort of" lamenting because their article starts out with this statement about Obama's "press conference fix out of thin air" announced Thursday:
President Barack Obama’s temporary fix to his health care law doesn’t really fix much at all. In fact, it will certainly lead to more chaos and may very well result in higher premiums for all consumers.
But ends with this:
Obamacare has at its core a noble premise: affordable and good health care for all Americans.  
Once the full rollout has occurred next year, and the full consequences are known, the public will have a better sense of where fixes are needed, or whether the entire law needs to be jettisoned. After that, Congress can act accordingly.
Does the Tribune do a 180 from the beginning to the end of their Op-Ed? Earth to Tribune - you can not have it both ways. Does the Tribune believe Obama can unilaterally make all these changes to laws he signed?

How about some historical and common sense perspective regarding Obamacare?

First of all ObamaCare was rammed thru on a totally partisan basis through a corrupt process of back room bribes and special procedural maneuvering. As Jonah Goldberg points out in his recent article in National Review Online, 
"Dems have only themselves to blame for Obamacare quagmire. 
Moreover, even though the legislation may go by the moniker “Obamacare,” the fact is the president didn’t write the law. Congress did, specifically congressional Democrats, with virtually no Republican input."
The Tribune needs to stop the masquerade for who is to blame for the Obamacare train wreck, chaos and mess. There's only one party responsible - the only party that voted for it - the Democrats. 

Since 2009, the Democrat mantra has been that "if you like your healthcare plan, you can keep your healthcare plan" as Goldberg points out:
Senate majority leader Harry Reid insisted that the Affordable Care Act “means making sure you can keep your family’s doctor or keep your health care plan, if you like it.” His number two, Senate majority whip Dick Durbin, said, “We are going to put in any legislation considered by the House and Senate the protection that you, as an individual, keep the health insurance you have, if that is what you want.” Senator Patty Murray, the chair of the Senate Budget Committee, said it too: “If you like what you have today, that will be what you have when this legislation is passed.” Democratic senators Chuck Schumer, Max Baucus, Jeanne Shaheen, Jay Rockefeller, Bob Casey, and many, many other Democrats spouted the same talking points. 
Heck, Nancy Pelosi’s website still says that under Obamacare you can “Keep your doctor, and your current plan, if you like them.”
This Washington Examiner article tells us:
In fact, the keep-your-coverage pledge was key to some Democrats' decision to support the Affordable Care Act.
For many Democrats, the keep-your-coverage pledge was not a throwaway line; it was a fundamental part of their case for Obamacare.
The article continues with this list of "you can keep your healthcare" quotes from 27 Democrats.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's office has compiled a list of 27 Democratic senators who pledged that Americans could keep their coverage under Obamacare. The list includes the entire Democratic leadership in the Senate as well as Democrats facing tough re-election races in 2014, like Mary Landrieu, Mark Begich, and Kay Hagan.
And our own Senator Nelson repeated the same mantra as he sent out letters like I received in November  2012 stating:  "Let's be clear, if you have health insurance now, you can keep it."
Letter from Senator Nelson on Obamacare
Republican Senator Enzi proposed a resolution in September 2010 to block the HHS narrow grandfather rule causing the cancellation chaos.  Every single Democrat, including Senator Nelson, voted against legislative fixing this issue they knew about in 2010. 

In addition, Eric Cantor brought up the same issue at Obama's "infamous" February 2010  Healthcare Summit at Blair House.  Obama, Reid, Pelosi, Nelson all knew back in 2010 their mantra was not true but they kept repeating it.  Senator Nelson kept sending letters out like above and Pelosi continues the false mantra on her website - as if they believe that simply stating it and having the media repeat it for them - it's true and Americans will believe it. 

Senator Nelson, who has been MIA on the Obamacare issues for months, addresses this issue through a Press Release Thursday:
“Congress enacted health care reform to help uninsured Americans get coverage, and it was not intended to take away from folks policies they're happy with,” Nelson said.
We could not find a public comment from Representative Kathy Castor.  She's been MIA on Obamacare publicly since her August 6, 2009 Healthcare Townhall, where this video caught Castor stacking the audience deck with her Obamacare and Union supporters who came in through the back door before the doors were opened to the general public.

And then Castor proceeds to blame insurance companies, one of the most regulated industries in our country, and says Obamacare will bring healthcare security to all. We've seen how that has worked out with 5 million Americans who have gotten cancellation notices, more on the way and hundreds of thousands of workers hours reduced to part time.

I was at Castor's town hall standing near the front of the line to get in and the door was blocked by a union thug. When the doors finally opened for the public and I quickly got in,  almost all the seats were already taken and I had to stand against the wall. Apparently, the intent of Castor's Healthcare town hall was to be a RAH RAH event with her supporters.

So there you have it.  Nelson was AGAINST codifying the law so you could actually keep your insurance BEFORE he was FOR an Obama unilateral squishy fix created out of thin air that creates more chaos. We assume Castor could care less about making a statement.

While we appreciate the Tribune's recent laments, where were they in 2009 and 2010 when Republicans and conservatives were predicting this Obamacare mess? Sorry but noble premises resulting in bad policies that hurt Americans is wrong.

The Democrat's failed attempt to take over 1/6 of our complex economy, our entire healthcare system, was always opposed by a majority of Americans and Floridians.  Common sense says if you want to fix a problem - first do no harm.  If you want to fix a problem affecting 10-15% of Americans, you don't harm the other 85-90%.  The media refused to tell the truth and allowed the lies and fraud to perpetuate.  

Eventually reality bites and bites good and hard. Obamacare was passed on deception, fraud and lies and a ponzi scheme requiring the young and healthy to buy overpriced health plans they don't want or need. This particular mantra is just the beginning and tip of the iceberg. Not only were Americans told they could keep their current plan, we were told we could keep our doctors, households would save $2500 a year and Obamacare will bring DOWN our healthcare costs and premiums. Instead what we are seeing are the majority of Americans signing up for Obamacare are going on Medicaid, very few signing up in the exchanges, Americans with existing plans getting cancellation notices, sticker shock on premiums, deductibles and co-pays and Americans not being able to keep their doctors.  According to this Reuters article
UnitedHealth Group dropped thousands of doctors from its networks in recent weeks, leaving many elderly patients unsure whether they need to switch plans to continue seeing their doctors, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.
Obamacare guts Medicare Advantage and Medicare to pay for Obamacare.  The beginning of the chaos has just begun. We would not have been in the mess if the media had done their job, told the truth and challenged the lies. 

The time for lamenting and masquerading who is responsible for Obamacare by the Tribune is over.  Obamacare cannot be fixed because it was built on a foundation of fraud. Instead of lamenting, theTribune should be screaming to end the chaos and repeal and replace ObamaCare with common sense, incremental solutions targeted at the 10-15% who were unable to buy insurance.

The Tribune must hold Nelson and Castor accountable. What are they afraid of?
The Truth!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Tale of Two Transit Agencies

Remember the classic Charles Dicken's story, "A Tale of Two Cities"? Here's how Dicken's story starts out:
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way..."
Do we have in the Tampa Bay area "A Tale of Two Transit Agencies"?  Let's see.

Monday the Tribune reported that apparently HART, Hillsborough's transit agency does not want to merge with PSTA, Pinellas's transit agency.  The Eye's not surprised because these two transit agencies are heading down divergent paths so the narrative surrounding transit in the Tampa Bay area gets muddier and muddier. Monday's Tribune reported
Prospects appear to be dwindling for a merger of the Hillsborough and Pinellas transit agencies even as state Sen. Jack Latvala insists any decision await a consultant’s review of potential savings.
The Tribune never cites a HART Board member but does report on quotes found on a website:
“HART Board members are rejecting a strong-arm attempt by Sen. Jack Latvala and Brad Miller, (director) of PSTA, to a takeover of the Hillsborough bus system to accomplish Pinellas County goals of building light rail,” a post on the Tampa Tea Party’s website said. 
“... This merger would be the Progressive’s logical step to consolidating into a regional Tampa Bay Regional Transportation Authority taxing authority. Regional taxing authorities enable special interests, remove local control and result in higher costs (from being) an arm’s distance from local taxpayers.”
We are sure that Tampa Tea Party appreciated the Tribune's hat tip for their website, but the Eye does wonder if reporting quotes from websites is standard journalistic procedures for the Tribune?  But we'll move on - so why all the transit muddiness and probably no merger?  Perhaps because of the tale of two transit agencies.

First and foremost, Hillsborough County voters decided in 2010 the future of their transportation and it was an overwhelming NO to high cost light rail that benefits so few, especially special interests.  As a result of that vote, our Hillsborough county transit agency, HART, has done the financial due diligence to focus on improving and expanding their bus services. HART successfully launched their first MetroRapid bus rapid transit (BRT) in June, basically along the same route as the proposed rail line in 2010 for 1/60th the cost of light rail.  HART's 10 year plan includes expanding and improving their bus service, including expansion of more BRT routes, of course, that is all depending on available funding. HART has balanced their budget and innovatively created a status quo plan and a visionary plan as stated in a previous post:
HART's two 10 year plan options, one that basically maintains their status quo and a “visionary” one of building out six more MetroRapid BRT's and greatly expanding services in the county. While the status quo plan can operate for the next 10 years, there is a capital deficit that hits in the next few years for vehicle replacement. If vehicles must run longer, then additional maintenance costs are incurred. Therefore, there will be a capital deficiency even with the status quo plan. The visionary items will stay separate in the budget as unfunded until funding is available for those projects. 
Light Rail is nowhere to be found in HART's ten year plan.

Second, state senator Jack Latvala decided to try to force HART and PSTA to merge. Latvala forced an initial study last year ending with the result that both agencies said no to a merger.  HART and PSTA already collaborate where it makes sense, in other words they can play in the same sand box, no merger needed.  Latvala, frustrated he did not get the results he wanted, decided to try again.  He has forced taxpayers to spend another $200K of taxpayer dollars for a do-over study.  But according to the Tribune report, that study may bite the dust too.  

In the middle of Latvala pushing a merger, Pinellas county commissioners want to put a "comprehensive" referendum on the 2014 ballot to basically build out a high cost light rail system in Pinellas.  So fearful of doing this knowing there is strong opposition to the light rail boondoggle in Pinellas, PSTA is funding their own light rail advocacy group, Greenlight Pinellas, with almost $400K of Pinellas county tax dollars.  We doubt that Florida's electioneering laws were intended to be skirted in this way.   
Florida Statute 106.113 states:
A local government or a person acting on behalf of local government may not expend or authorize the expenditure of, and a person or group may not accept, public funds for a political advertisement or electioneering communication concerning an issue, referendum, or amendment, including any state question, that is subject to a vote of the electors. This subsection does not apply to an electioneering communication from a local government or a person acting on behalf of a local government which is limited to factual information
Supposedly Greenlight Pinellas is getting away with this electioneering because the initiative is not "officially" on the ballot.  So can Greenlight Pinellas legally advocate for raising taxes in Pinellas for light rail?  We're not lawyers but ethically it is not right for taxpayer funded agencies to use hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars advocating against taxpayers. Taxpayer funded agencies should NOT be allowed to collude against the taxpayer. We saw similar skirts of the electioneering laws in Hillsborough in 2010 by numerous taxpayer funded agencies but nothing as blatant as PSTA's own Greenlight Pinellas. 

In fact, Greenlight Pinellas is partnering with pro rail Sierra Club and Connect Tampa Bay to push their rail agenda.  Brad Miller, the CEO of PSTA, speaks at their meetings, handing out Greenlight Pinellas "goodie" bags (all at taxpayer expense).  When asked why rail must be part of this referendum, Brad Miller states that rail is necessary for economic development. Now is that a fact?  No. The Tampa Bay area has led the state in job creation:  
The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater MSA led all metro areas in Florida in job gains over the year with 35,900, and also led the state in the following industries (not seasonally adjusted)
Hillsborough's had numerous announcements recently from Amazon to Health Plan Services and others - none are moving downtown or require a transit station.And here's more great news in the Tampa Tribune yesterday about USAA bringing over 1200 more jobs to Hillsborough county, though again we note they are not going downtown.  Note: no high cost light rail needed as we continue to bring jobs to the Tampa Bay area.

It's strange why the Pinellas county commissioners includes the term Greenlight Pinellas and "passenger rail" in their proposed ballot language below. Is the term light rail that toxic in Pinellas that even the Tampa Bay Times picked up on that?  
Levy of county-wide one-percent transportation sales surtax for funding of public transit (Greenlight Pinellas) 
Shall the improvement, operation and maintenance of public transit throughout Pinellas County, including without limitation an expanded bus system with bus rapid transit, increased frequency and extended hours, future passenger rail and regional connections be funded by levying a one percent transportation sales surtax from January 1, 2016 until repealed?
Do the commissioners not want voters to know what they will be paying for? Incidentally, light rail is the most highly subsidized transportation mode.

In addition, PSTA announced recently they spent $5.1 million of federal stimulus tax dollars aka your debt dollars for an App that provides real time bus information.  If you want to use this App, it costs you 99 cents to download.  It took a three year project to get this App - sounds hauntingly familiar to our federal government (HHS) spending $687 Million for a website that now has to be redone!  We haven't heard of any issues though with PSTA's new Real Time Bus Information App.  Thank goodness!

PSTA $5.1 million App paid for by stimulus dollars
HART diligently got a similar App (One Bus Away), that was developed by University of Washington students in 2008 and refined to be used locally by USF's Center for Urban Transportation Research and Georgia Tech University, virtually free. And you can download HART's App for free.

Comprehensive referendums like what Pinellas is pursuing can be risky because the tax dollars can get blown away before ever completing what was promised taxpayers.  We have that  issue in Hillsborough where a 30 year "Community Investment Tax" (CIT) was passed and implemented in 1996.  The CIT was to provide road funding for 30 years. By 2007, almost all the future money was blown and borrowed against,  helping create today a funding issue for our roads in Hillsborough.  We're still  paying that tax until 2026 but there's no money for roads, our taxes are just paying back the loans.

If Pinellas county commissioners want light rail and more buses, then make each issue stand on their own merits. Voters and taxpayers in Pinellas should have the opportunity to vet and vote on individual referendums that each include financial impact information (cost and revenue generated) together with strict accountability and  transparency requirements.  So when the "let the voters decide" crowd crows, the voters can truly decide on what it is they are being asked to pay for, they know the financial impact and where specifically the money is going.  Hillsborough should remember that too in the event of any future referendum there.

In addition, the FDOT will be rebuilding the Howard Frankland Bridge.  There's no light rail on either side of that bridge and the cost to build a high cost, under utilized rail corridor across the Howard Frankland would be well over a BILLION dollars. Managed/bus toll lanes would be much greater utilized, much more cost-effective and greatly benefit so many more people.  Higher revenues from the tolls could recirculate back into our road funding gap because the tolls will be a user fee paid mostly by trucks and autos. Today there are less than 140 riders, and that's going both ways between Pinellas and Hillsborough, that ride the bus daily over the Howard Frankland Bridge.  We want to point out that the Pinellas proposed rail referendum does NOT include going over the bridge. Though the map of their plan tries to imply rail will go over the bridge, we clearly marked in red that their plan does not.
Pinellas proposed rail plan does NOT go over the Bridge
Last, but not least, here is PSTA CEO Brad Miller explaining how to use a Joint Powers Authority (JPA) to enable PSTA and HART to skirt our laws and merge without having to go thru a referendum.  This JPA would leave PSTA and HART in place but on paper only with no power.  Miller seems to be quite versed on how to "skirt" our laws. Go to about 1 minute 40 seconds of this video to hear  PSTA CEO Miller explain the JPA. 

So we've got a tale of two county transit agencies divergent in so many ways. They have different cost structures, different taxing, different demographics served, different geography served and different transit plans. HART has done the hard work to provide an honest, realistic, common sense, fiscally responsible cost-effective plan that will be sustainable in the future. The PSTA plan is highly suspect, which is why PSTA is spending almost $400K of taxpayer funds for Greenlight Pinellas to market it, is very expensive swapping a $30 million property tax for a $120 million sales tax to build high cost light rail, and their process for pushing the sales tax referendum appears unethical, questionable and somewhat deceptive. We'll let you to decide which plan is more skeptical but they are totally different. Therefore, attempting to merge these two agencies in this divergent, muddy environment makes no sense and would take away local control.

The result of all this?  No one else seems surprised at all this transit muddiness in the Tampa Bay area. But the real question is if it's so obvious to us, why are the politicians and power brokers continuing the masquerade? 

Are we in the the age of wisdom, or the age of foolishness?