Thursday, January 30, 2014

Election rigging?

[Updated - fixed link]

Having lost the great rail tax referendum in 2010, now "some government leaders" in Hillsborough are trying again.
Three years after Hillsborough County voters soundly rejected a one-penny sales tax increase to fund transportation projects, some government leaders are talking about holding a similar referendum next spring.

Though details are still sketchy, proponents say the referendum could be held in March to coincide with the Tampa mayoral election. They don’t want to hold the referendum this November because a similar transportation tax is on the ballot in Pinellas County that month and officials here want to see how that vote goes.
I guess we can't handle too much information? Last I checked Hillsborough County residents can't vote in Pinellas.

Who are "some government leaders"?
“We’re going to have some finality to all these conversations this year,” said Commissioner Mark Sharpe, who supported the 2010 referendum. “What would likely then occur is we will be talking about funding options and then you will likely see (a referendum) in 2015.” 
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said he supports holding the referendum in March. By that time the county and city transportation planners will have identified the projects, including a potential rail route, giving the policy group time to vote on the list as well as a funding source, he said.

“We know where the potholes are, we know where the roads need to be expanded, so that part is there,” Buckhorn said. “It’s a matter of accumulating all that data, figuring out the rail side of it, and what the technology is.”
The usual rail cheerleaders, Mark Sharpe, and Bob Buckhorn, leading us into the next rail disaster.

Light rail crash of the day.. coming to Hillsborough?
Mayor Buckhorn, how much is that Trolley costing Tampa?  Can you first make that trolley financially sustainable before you lead the county into a financial rabbit hole?

So they'll take four months after the Pinellas election and figure our transportation plans -- roads, buses, rail, bikes, pedestrian -- for the March 2015 ballot.... that will ostensibly plan for the next 25 - 50 years?  Buckhorn as already assumed we need to "figure out the rail side of it".  Has he not learned from the failures the last time around that if they really want to "figure out the rail side of it" it is to save the citizens money and not do it?
Other commissioners said a March referendum would not give the policy group time to digest the large package of transportation projects still being developed and then sell the improvements - and a tax increase - to county residents.

“We just want to make sure we have all the information back: the citizen feedback, the funding sources, the economic development areas,” Republican Sandy Murman said. “I just think there’s a whole lot that needs to be coordinated and put together before we even talk about a referendum.”
Not that the Eye believes in this type of planning.... but our planners do.

What's missing in the article?

The names of the people behind this effort.  Who are they? Are they our local politicians? We have some "sketchy" comments from the Mayor and some county commissioners, but who's really proposing this?
Commissioner Les Miller, a Democrat, recalled that the 2010 referendum passed inside the Tampa city limits but was overwhelmingly defeated in the more populous unincorporated areas of the county. Miller said he thinks the reason the referendum lacked support in the suburbs was because those residents did not feel they would benefit from the proposed transportation projects, including a costly light-rail system from downtown Tampa to the University of South Florida. [emphasis mine]

“We did not filter out all the details and all the facts about how the people of unincorporated Hillsborough County would benefit from the tax,” said Miller. “That was a major factor in the defeat.”
The facts are that the 2010 referendum passed in city of Tampa, but was overwhelmingly defeated by Hillsborough County voters.  There was no costly rail "planned" other than a USF to downtown to airport route.  Since the defeat, HART, under new pragmatic leadership, deployed the new MetroRapid route in less than a year, for 1/60 (!) of the cost of the planned costly USF - downtown light rail route.  Other plans such as the Hillsborough MPO 2035 Long Range Transportation Plan did not show rail deployed to Brandon, perhaps the worse transportation issues in the county, until 2035!

Light rail is the most highly subsidized mode of transportation.

Transportation costs and subsidies
Filter out those details and facts, Commissioner!

Now they want to stage yet another referendum coincident with the Tampa Mayor's election, which of course will bring out Tampa voters, but there will be very little if anything else of interest for Hillsborough County voters.

Which Hillsborough County Commissioners are going to support a Hillsborough County referendum for a city of Tampa election?

If they can't win by being informative, transparent and making their case to ALL the voters, then schedule the election so they minimize the exposure and squeeze it in by rigging elections.

It's also convenient this article is published on the same day that Connect Tampa Bay, a local transportation activist group, is re-emerging with their 2014 kickoff meeting tonight.

We've always known these rail proponents would try again. It's a common pattern, as most votes on the rail led comprehensive transportation referendums in most municipalities are voted down the first attempt.  The proponents spin it up again and again, until they wear us down.

Here we go again.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Polls, Taxes and Trains

A poll was recently conducted in Pinellas County by the blog regarding the Greenlight Pinellas referendum which will be on the Pinellas 2014 ballot in November. This referendum will raise Pinellas sales tax 14% and give Pinellas the distinction of having the highest sales tax rate in the state. Most of the $130 million raised thru this tax will go to build a high cost light rail system in Pinellas. As Sunbeamtimes reported:
A January 22 poll shows the Greenlight Pinellas campaign is on shaky ground with 60.9% of likely voters saying they would not support a hike of sales tax to build a train.  
The Sun Beam Times poll was conducted through the respected polling company St. Pete Polls. 
The Sun Beam Times poll was conducted only among Pinellas County registered voters who voted in the off-year 2010 election – likely voters in 2014.
The Sunbeamtimes poll put the pro railers in a tizzy so the Tribune published this article in an attempt to debunk the poll or perhaps provide an outlet for whining from the pro railers.
But transit supporters say the questions written by McKalip were designed to skew the results. The survey fails to mention that the new sales tax will replace a special property tax that funds Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority operations, they said. It also focuses on the more controversial rail component of the plan and omits that roughly half of the money raised through the new tax is earmarked for a 65 percent expansion of the county’s threadbare bus network.
First of all, those who support Greenlight Pinellas boondoggle continue to call it a tax swap.  It's not! There's nothing in the ballot language that eliminates the property tax, it only increases the sales tax. 

Didn't one of the Pinellas County Commission meetings last summer reveal this deal wouldn't financially make it even with both taxes - keeping the property tax and increasing the sales tax? The Eye previously reported that Greenlight Pinellas has a basic math problem.

Florida Watchdog recently reported Norm Roche, the lone Pinellas County Commissioner who voted in December against putting the Greenlight Pinellas plan on the ballot, stated
Also, eliminating the property tax is not part of the deal. It would simply lay dormant. Written into the Greenlight Plan’s interlocal agreement is the option to impose the property tax later should the county transit authority find it needs more money. 
Roche considered it a red-flag when he couldn’t get a commitment from anyone in Pinellas County’s state legislative delegation to guarantee the state’s 11-percent share of the financing. 
Things got dicier when word came that the federal grants, totaling 37 percent of the project’s cost, could be in question.
Pinellas County Commissioner Norm Roche
Now it looks like Roche is an opposition target of the Latvala aristocracy in Pinellas that needs to be eliminated as Florida Watchdog also reported
Latvala is reportedly backing state Rep. Ed Hooper against Roche’s November re-election effort. And, Latvala’s Tampa Bay area transit ambitions are well known. He filed a 2012 bill to study the potential consolidation of the Hillsborough and Pinellas transit authorities. 
Latvala’s son, Chris, is running for Ed Hooper’s state House seat now that Hooper is term limited out. Latvala’s ex-wife, Susan, has served on the Pinellas County Commission since 2000. 
“If you don’t bow to (Jack Latvala) then he’s coming after you, it’s that simple,” Roche said. 
“But I won’t bow to the political elites or the editorial powers. I serve the voters who put me in office, and I’m committed to looking out for them,” he said.
The Eye previously posted that Greenlight Pinellas boondoggle is based on a foundation of fraud and deception. The pro railers are now in panic mode. Due to the hullabaloo this recent poll has created, the blog responded with this new post revealing many of the Greenlight  Pinellas deceptions and busts their myths.
given the ridiculous labelling of the Sun Beam Times Poll as misleading, it is appropriate to briefly list the just some of the many misleading assertions of Greenlight Pinellas and their campaign.
The Eye reported previously here about a poll done by Tampa Bay Times and BayNews9.  That poll reflected a year over year drop in support which is an increase in opposition to the Pinellas rail initiative.  We did not see the Tribune immediately publish an article questioning that poll. That poll was a very small sample of 625 registered voters with a high margin of  of error and no breakdown of how many were even polled by county. Regardless of how useless that poll was, it did tell us that as more folks learned about Greenlight Pinellas after Greenlight spent hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on a marketing campaign for the boondoggle, the more they oppose it.

The big difference between the Sunbeamtimes poll and the Tampa Bay Times/BayNews9 poll is the use of real numbers.  The poll question included the amount of the tax increase whereby the Tampa Bay Times/BayNews9 poll just asked about a tax increase as if the amount of the increase did not matter.  Their previous poll done in 2012 simply asked about using public money or tax dollars for light rail - no mention of any tax increase.  It's those polls that are disingenuous and misleading.

The Greenlight Pinellas Campaign can only win by misleading voters and issuing propaganda.
The truth is light rail cost too much, does too little and benefits too few.  The truth is rail is the highest subsidized mode of transportation and light rail is the most highly subsidized rail mode.

Light Rail most highly subsidized transportation mode

Rail is most highly subsidized transportation mode

Rail is most highly subsidized transportation mode
Here at the Eye we are not surprised at the pro rail tactics. Just like in 2010, the last thing pro railers want us talking about is taxes and cost - the actual tax increase and the high cost of light rail boondoggles.  In addition, Pinellas must battle the Latvala regime.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Taxing Danger Zone in Pinellas

NoTaxForTracks Pinellas kicked off their official campaign this week opposing the county referendum to increase Pinellas sales tax by 14%.  Most of that money would go to fund a high cost light rail system from Clearwater to St. Petersburg and there are exactly NO plans to go over the Howard Frankland bridge.
NoTaxForTracks yard signs
It was nice to see that the Tampa Bay Times in their report acknowledged the brand name "NoTaxForTracks".
If the name of the campaign, "No Tax for Tracks," sounds familiar, that's because it's the second generation of the Hillsborough-based group that worked to successfully defeat a similar referendum in 2010. There, residents defeated a ballot measure 58 percent to 42 percent that would have raised the sales tax to pay for light rail, expanded bus service and road improvements.
What's different in Pinellas from the 2010 Hillsborough NoTaxForTracks effort is this:
  1. A taxpayer funded pro rail advocacy campaign Greenlight Pinellas was launched mid last year. Ironically, as the Eye previously reported, Greenlight Pinellas may be having a negative impact to their effort as support has dropped since their campaign begun.
  2. It is a longer campaign cycle and it is unknown whether that will help or hurt either side. However, as previously stated, the more information Pinellas voters and taxpayers have learned, the more they appear to oppose the referendum.
  3. The opposition NoTaxForTracks PAC in Pinellas has been created prior to the pro rail PAC being announced.
Just like the taxpayer funded marketing campaign of  Greenlight Pinellas, it should be disturbing to taxpayers and voters that Ronnie Duncan, who is chairman of the taxpayer funded Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation (TBARTA) agency is leading the effort to create the formal pro rail advocacy PAC.
The Tampa Bay Times reported
Supporters of the tax increase have yet to launch a formal campaign, though efforts to create one are underway, according to Ronnie Duncan, chairman of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority, who is leading the effort and has declined to say how much money advocates have raised. 
In an interview earlier this month, Duncan said he expected opponents of the referendum would begin spreading their message early.
What is the same in Pinellas that was encountered in Hillsborough is the coordination and collusion of pro rail politicians, taxpayer funded agencies and deep pocketed special interests versus a grassroots opposition, as Tampa Bay Times indicates:
While the referendum's supporters are counting on many of Pinellas' business and political leaders to make large contributions to an advocacy campaign, the opposition does not have the same deep pockets. Similarly, in 2010, Hillsborough's No Tax for Tracks group raised only $24,000, while the pro-transit group Moving Hillsborough Forward collected nearly $1.6 million to promote the issue.
What gets totally avoided and intentionally ignored in these rail boondoggles is the fiscal aspect, as if money does not matter. Just like in 2010, the pro rail contingent refuses to acknowledge the high cost to build, maintain and operate a light rail system. Light rail is the highest subsidized mode of transportation. 

Politicians and taxpayer funded agencies advocating for rail see large amounts of federal dollars dancing in their heads without regard to the cost, effectiveness or efficiency for use of YOUR tax dollars. Special interests see their pockets being lined at the expense of the taxpayer. 

What we knew in 2010 in Hillsborough is the same today in Pinellas -  that light rail has nothing to do with transportation and everything to do with taxpayer subsidized transit-oriented development.  This was confirmed by Brad Miller, CEO of PSTA at a meeting I attended last summer where he honestly acknowledged why rail is part of their initiative - the rail component is necessary for economic development. But economic development does not equate to economic growth or prosperity or long term job creation. Don't be fooled by their use of the term economic development.

The Pinellas taxpayers should be aware that the sales tax revenue will go directly to Pinellas county because PSTA cannot collect sales tax. The ballot language in the referendum contains NO accountability nor financial/cost information. Don't you want to know where and how the next billions of your tax dollars are going to be spent for this initiative? This lack of transparency should be a red flag to voters and taxpayers.

According to this Tampa Tribune article published on January 21st,  Pinellas must close a budget gap beginning in 2015.  
County officials are projecting they will have to make up a $4 million shortfall in 2015, despite a projected 3 percent increase in property tax revenue and a 4 percent increase in sales tax collections. 
Commissioners did not discuss how to make up any deficit this year, but with a referendum looming in November on raising the sales tax to pay for expanded transit, they may be reluctant to raise property taxes as they did in 2013 when facing an $8.3 million shortfall. 
Then they raised the general fund property tax rate by 5 percent. That was despite a 3.4 percent increase in property taxes, the first in five years. The budget included a pay raise of roughly 2.8 percent for county employees.
Remember Pinellas county property taxes went up in 2011 as the Tampa Bay Times reported
The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority plans to raise its tax rate by 30 percent (emphasis mine), but is likely still to curb service on some routes. 
The tax roll, which shed 4.5 percent of its value this year, reduced the transit service's prime source of money. PSTA officials have said the rate increase could stanch the bleeding of reserve money until they persuade voters to approve a sales tax increase (emphasis mine).
Pinellas county revenue is up but a budget gap looms. Why? Because as Barbara Haselden explains in this video from the NoTaxForTracks Pinellas kick off event, Pinellas county has a spending problem not a revenue problem. Barbara's presentation is a scathing indictment of PSTA's fiscal mismanagement using PSTA's own information. 

Stop Greenlight Pinellas
Now the question becomes should taxpayers trust Pinellas County/PSTA with an additional  $100 million a year of your tax dollars to spend? They've already raised property taxes but continue spending. There's no disciplined accountability in place with their rail referendum. 

Shouldn't fiscal due diligence and prudence be done first? Because as Haselden indicated at her kickoff, this 14% sales tax increase looks more and more like a bailout for PSTA's fiscal mismanagement.

Second verse, same as the first. Proving yet again, the politicians are incapable of learning a new tune.  But like the old Kenny Loggins tune said they're "gonna take you right into the (taxing) danger zone!"

Monday, January 13, 2014

What's Down the Road with Transit?

Today's online Tribune today includes this article, HART future overshadowed by potential merger, Pinellas tax vote.  It reports about the success of MetroRapid. MetroRapid is Hillsborough county's first Bus Rapid Transit launched last June by our local transit agency, HART. Interesting is the Tribune's print version of the same article is titled "Speeding ahead MetroRapid route helps HART set record in 2013 but what's down the road?" We are left wondering wondering why the online version has such a negative title.

Here at the Eye we applaud the success of the MetroRapid Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).  It was built in 1 year and at 1/60 the cost of the 2010 proposed high cost light rail along the same transit corridor. We'd still be waiting for the high cost light rail because it would've taken at least a decade to build. 
HART MetroRapid Bus Rapid Transit
In fact HART's 10 year plan is ALL buses. Their visionary plan is to build out more BRT routes. HART is being fiscally responsible because these plans only become part of their actual operating budget when the funding is there and available to support building out the routes. Novel idea to live within your means? Buses are much more flexible, cost-effective and efficient and they get people to where they actually want to go. Buses can be more easily deployed to get to the far reaches of our 1100 square mile county. According to MPO plans, we do not see any trains to Brandon, Apollo Beach, Plant City or Odessa anytime in the next 20 years.

Merging HART and PSTA was never an answer because the two are run differently: their taxing is different, their cost structures are different and their unions are different. They already coordinate, including bus schedules, where it makes sense.  Both agencies voted against a merger after the first merger study. The second $200K study was a waste of taxpayer dollars. What difference does a year later make when these agencies are attempting to plan 50 years in the future?

Now Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA) is trolling for money and a purpose as today's Tribune article reports
the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority and CSX have said they could begin discussions of using freight railroad track through the Tampa Bay region for commuter services, although who might run such trains is uncertain.
Therefore, yes, we all will be watching commuter SunRail because all Florida taxpayers are paying to build it and then to operate it between 2014 and 2020. The DOT ridership requirements were waived to enable SunRail to get federal funds. SunRail costs at least $1.3 Billion and we're told it "may" take 3400 vehicles off of I-4 in the future.  But 200,000 vehicles today are on I-4 today.  Do the math and we're spending $1.3 Billion to take less than 2% of vehicles off of I-4. Currently the local municipalities who must take over operating SunRail in 2021 have NO long term funding source to do so. In addition, since SunRail does not go where anyone is going, FDOT is spending $900K a year to pay for buses to pick up passengers off of SunRail to get them where they actually need to go.  Will SunRail end up like these commuter rail systems where this article states
Commuter trains really only make sense serving places with large numbers of jobs concentrated in one urban center. The only places like that in the United States–New York, Chicago, Washington, Boston, San Francisco, and Philadelphia–already have commuter trains. The concept is doomed to failure everywhere else.
Back to Pinellas.  Pinellas's proposal for a $100 million annual tax increase is for their Greenlight Pinellas light rail plan. There's basic math problems with their proposal as we have previously reported here and here.

Where is reference to "Greenlight Pinellas" in the Tribune article? It's nowhere to be found. Is the term Greenlight Pinellas toxic too?  Because after Pinellas spent hundreds of thousands of tax dollars on their Greenlight Pinellas marketing campaign advocating to raise Pinellas sales tax 14%, support for the light rail plan has fallen.

As voters and taxpayers are now finding out "what's actually in the Greenlight Pinellas plan", they don't like it.  Sound familiar?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

If you like your dealer, can you keep your dealer?

Here is the full text of the proposed medical marijuana amendment.
“ SECTION 28. Right to Marijuana for Treatment Purposes.–
“(a) No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property or otherwise penalized for the cultivation, purchase, use or possession of marijuana in connection with the treatment of Alzheimer’s, cachexia, cancer, chronic pain, chronic nervous system disorders, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy and other seizure disorders, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, diseases causing muscle spasticity, or other diseases and conditions when recommended by a physician.
“(b) This section shall be self-executing. The legislature, however, may provide by general law for the voluntary registration of persons intending to exercise their rights hereunder and for the regulation of the distribution and sale of marijuana to persons intending to exercise their rights hereunder.
“(c) Nothing herein, however, shall be construed so as to prevent the legislature from enacting laws penalizing the operation of motor vehicles, boats, watercraft or aircraft while under the influence of marijuana or regulating the use of marijuana by minors. Similarly, all laws in effect at the time of adoption of this section penalizing the operation of motor vehicles, boats, watercraft or aircraft while under the influence of marijuana or regulating the use of marijuana by minors shall remain in force.”
We have a few questions.

Will we be bombarded by medical marijuana commercials?

Will they disclose side affects, such as moobs and uncontrolled desire for Cheetos?

Will parents be sent to jail if their toddler gets into their marijuana cookie stash?

Which is better for the condition "tension" as recommended by a physician?  Maui Wowie or Gainesville Green?

Can medical marijuana be prescribed to children, for example, those with ADHD or behavior problems?

Will medical marijuana dispensaries need a new zoning classification?  Will it be OK if they are within 500 feet of a school?

Medical Marijuana
Medical marijuana
How will the State of Florida regulate prescriptions around the amendment wording  "other conditions for which a physician believes that medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient."?

Is smoking medical marijuana good for your health?

Will you be able to sample, or try before you buy?

Were is the scientific, peer reviewed, double blind studies on the efficacy of marijuana?

If the US government has blocked research on medical marijuana, should we wait for the government to fund proper government scientific studies before we prescribe medical marijuana?

Will CVS and Walgreens get into the medical marijuana business?

Will medical marijuana stores be open late at night, or 24 hours a day for a late hit fix emergency replenishment?

Can you resell excess medical marijuana once you're cured?

Will the State of Florida track medical marijuana patients?

Is this yet another appeal for more Florida tourism for marijuana users?

Will you be able to get larger stashes longer term supplies of medical marijuana from mail order pharmacies?

Will medical marijuana save the patient money compared to traditional drugs?

Will medical marijuana providers form an industry lobbying group? Will the media refer to it as Big Dope?

How much will it cost?

Will the medical marijuana pharma dealer sales babe be making visits to your doctor to educate on the latest medical marijuana trends and highs?  And offer the doctor free samples?

Will marijuana be removed from employment drug tests?

Will the FDA require the same rigorous and very expensive medical testing protocols and efficacy for medical marijuana treatments as they do with Big Pharma?

Will medical marijuana be required to disclose GMO labels?

Will medical marijuana require agricultural and other independent quality inspectors to ensure proper growth and handling?

Will medical marijuana be exempt from no smoking laws, restaurants, hotels, airplanes...?

Will the media publish stories about how medical marijuana treatments failed hardship cases?

Will the State of Florida collect new tax revenues and begin to promote marijuana do it "for the people"?

Will you be able to get a medical marijuana prescription from you regular doctor, or  need to see someone special?

Which is medically more effective, using a bong, or smoking a joint, or eating a cookie?

Can your doctor prescribe you a medical class bong?  How much will that cost?

Will your ACA compliant health insurance policy cover medical marijuana?

Will marijuana dealers previously imprisoned appeal on medical grounds?

Will lawyers advertise from 1-800-BAD-DRUG or "For the People" looking for law suits against medical marijuana failures and side effects?

Will you be able to travel with your medical marijuana stash to states without medical marijuana laws without risk of being busted?  What about to foreign countries?

Do the proponents of medical marijuana really have high standard medical efficacy in mind, or do they just want to get high?

Will patients "doc shop" until they get the dope treatment they want?

Why don't the proponents of medical marijuana just lobby for decriminalization?

Will we be able to kill, or reduce funding on the war on drugs?

If you like your dealer, can you keep your dealer?

Monday, January 6, 2014

Tribune fixated on the wrong Senator

Welcome to the New Year! The Tampa Tribune has a new format and has added a new column called "The Right Stuff", hosted by columnist Tom Jackson, to supposedly present a conservative voice to Tribune readers. But what about it's front page?

The Tribune's fixation with Senator Rubio continues with yesterday's article titled Rough 2013 didn't sink Rubio's prospects, GOP insiders say. The article starts off with the negative narrative that Rubio had a so-called "bad year". Halfway through this article is something that actually relates to the title. The last third of this article meanders around and ends with  regurgitating some mainstream talking points about divisiveness within the GOP (as if the Democrat party has none), including:
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the latest establishment GOP-oriented organization to plan a campaign to prevent extremist (emphasis mine) GOP candidates from winning the party’s primaries, according to a Wall Street Journal report. A Chamber spokesman wouldn’t confirm or deny that.
We will also meander and digress for just a moment.  While some Chamber spokesman would not comment, it wasn't difficult to find this information regarding some challenges from the Chamber/business community:
Kentucky House primaries 2014: Rep. Tom Massie may be challenged by Steve Stevens
However, the potential challenge to (extremist?) Rep.Tom Massie in Kentucky didn't last long.  Senator Rand Paul endorsed Tom Massie and on January 4th CHAMBER PRESIDENT WILL NOT CHALLENGE MASSIE

Now back to Tribune article - this is front page news?

But the real question at the Eye is what's up with William March and the Tribune's constant fixation with Rubio?  Reporting about some Rubio polls is Tribune front page news; Nelson misinforms lies to his constituents about Obamacare and the Tribune ignores.

What's really newsworthy is the Senator who really had the bad year. Senator Nelson.   

Nelson voted for the Obamacare train wreck and he voted to raise federal flood insurance rates. Americans and Floridians are personally feeling the realities of Obamacare that Nelson voted for - cancelled policies, sticker shock with higher premiums, deductibles and co-pays and loss of access to doctors and hospitals. And that's in addition to the chaos Obamacare created in 2013 for the insurance companies and for businesses, especially small business. 
Senator Bill Nelson
Tom Jackson's first Right Stuff column is titled Confronting New Realities in 2014 and begins with "the latest permutation" of the Obamacare lie of the year - "if you like your plan you can keep your plan." However, that lie was told not just by Obama but also by all the Democrats who voted for it. 

As we have posted before, Senator Nelson sent letters to his constituents in 2012 specifically stating:  
"there has been a lot of misinformation out there about exactly what the new law does…." 
"if you have health insurance now you can keep it"  
"And members of Congress did not exempt themselves from any part (emphasis mine) of the law. And in fact members of Congress and their staffs are specifically required by this new law to purchase their health insurance through the state based exchanges beginning in 2014."

Nelson tells constituents they can keep their healthcare
Then at a Congressional hearing on Obamacare in November, Senator Nelson said this:
"The so-called (emphasis mine) cancelation," said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), "they're going into a policy that is going to give them protections."
Really now.. Think it was "so-called" to the hundreds of thousands of Floridians and millions of Americans who got cancellation notices? Nelson's comment is a disgrace but it reflects the arrogance of the Democrats who passed this disastrous bill because "they" think they know what's best for you and your family better than you do.

According to this Wall Street Journal article, Senator Ron Johnson from Wisconsin is filing a lawsuit Over the Obamacare Exemptions for Congress
The law states that as of Jan. 1, 2014, the only health-insurance plans that members of Congress and their staffs can be offered by the federal government are plans "created under" ObamaCare or "offered through an Exchange" established under ObamaCare. 
Congress established that the only subsidy available to them would be the same income-based subsidy available to every other eligible American accessing insurance through an exchange. This was the confidence-building covenant supporters of the law made to reassure skeptics that ObamaCare would live up to its billing. They wanted to appear eager to avail themselves of the law's benefits and be more than willing to subject themselves to the exact same rules, regulations and requirements as their constituents.
Why did Senator Nelson send letters stating we can keep the insurance we have? Nelson knew millions of Americans were going to get cancellations in 2010. Why did he refuse to address this problem in 2010 when the Republicans attempted to fix it? Why did Senator Nelson send letters specifically saying Congress is not getting any special exemption? Now reality hits and Nelson's "misinformation" that includes the biggest lie of the year is exposed. Isn't this newsworthy? Especially with the rumors still swirling that Nelson may jump into the Governor's race….is the Tribune trying to "protect" Nelson from the Obamacare mess he helped create?

We expect in 2014 for the realities of Obamacare to continue hammering individuals, families, businesses and our economy. There is only one Senator in Florida to hold responsible for the Obamacare mess - Senator Nelson. Where's the Tribune front page story about that? The Tribune's fixation is on the wrong Senator!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Roads, trains and numbers

If you've driven around Tampa Bay recently, and you're like me, you get the feeling that every single highway in Tampa is under construction.

The Tribune today confirmed that fact.
TAMPA — Call it the year of the road grader.
Virtually every major road system in the Tampa Bay area will have some sort of construction underway in 2014. From Clearwater to Spring Hill and from the Sunshine Skyway to Wesley Chapel, drivers won’t be able to avoid detour signs and earth-moving equipment.
Fresh from the near completion of the massive Interstate 4/Selmon Expressway connector, the Florida Department of Transportation is focusing on a long list of road projects also underway.
“We have numerous transportation projects on major corridors and on the interstate system in the Tampa Bay area,” said department spokeswoman Kristen Carson. “These projects will help bring jobs to the local economy, strengthen regional connectivity and accommodate current and future traffic growth.
Keith Morelli of the Trib describes and lists the major projects slated to complete by 2016. There are about a dozen projects through the area, summarized below.

Description Miles $(millions) Cost per mile ($millions)
Interstate 275 widening from east of State Road 60 to the Hillsborough River bridge in Tampa 4.2 $215.4 $51.3
Widening of Veterans Expressway from Memorial Highway to Van Dyke Road 11 $386.0 $35.1
I-275 bridge and shoulder widening from Floribraska Avenue to Yukon Street 4.2 $30.0 $7.1
Interstate 75 widening from Fowler Avenue to State Road 56 11.4 $95.3 $8.4
Southbound I-75 exit ramp work at the S.R. 60 interchange in Brandon 1 $14.2 $14.2
-75 bridge deck replacement over Harney Road: 0.1 $2.3 $23.0
I-275 from Manatee County to the Sunshine Skyway 5.8 $4.1 $0.7
US-19 projects 19.2 $236.6 $12.3
Totals 56.9 $983.9 $17.3

The projects itemized are just under $1B, and average cost is around $17M per mile.  Refer to the article for details.

The article is practically devoid of ridership numbers, but does mention
[Widening of Veterans Expressway], designed to relieve congestion and traffic jams for the 167,000 daily commuters on the toll road
Interesting.  167,000 daily commuters paying to drive on a toll road, and spending $386M in improvements, which is expected to be complete in 2015.

Which raises a question in my mind.  How many riders are expected to be on Greenlight Pinellas 24 mile passenger light rail?  Let's check into it.

Greelight Pinellas passenger rail project by the numbers
Lets add the Greenlight Pinellas numbers in the mix and do some math.

Description Miles $(millions) Cost per mile ($millions)
Greenlight Pinellas passenger rail 24 $1,680.0 $70.0

Greenlight Pinellas is planning on 24,000 trips per day on the passenger light rail.

Compare that to the Veterans 167,000 per day on the toll road.

Greenlight Pinellas is planning on 99,000 trips per day on the entire transit system.

Compare that to the Veterans 167,000 per day on the toll road.

Greenlight Pinellas is planning on $66 - 72M per mile to build the passenger light rail, or about $1.68B

Compare that to Veterans $35M per mile to expand the toll road, or $386M.

Compare that to the list of major ... and needed... road projects in Tampa Bay, about $1B.

Greenlight Pinellas passenger light rail cost per rider per day is about $70,000.

Compare that to Veterans cost per rider per day is about $2311.

Greenlight Pinellas does not state when the passenger light rail would be complete, perhaps 2022 for optimists, but realistically 2026.

Compare that to Veterans completion in 2015.

With numbers like these,  how would you spend your money?

Who's the "godless communist?"

If you follow the intersection of social media and politics around Tampa Bay, you know Hillsborough County Commissioner and Chairman Mark Sharpe is a big social media user on both Twitter (@MarkSharpeFL), and Facebook, and even attempted some periodic blogging at Tumblr, which now appears fallow.  But there's some interesting weird writing there... but we'll save that for another day.  His key themes recently have been around innovation in Tampa, economic development, more work to do, and of course transportation.  He was one of the main forces behind the failed 2010 transportation rail referendum, and has yet to let up.

It's good that Sharpe is engaged in social media, and he does put himself out there for everyone to connect with him.  Whether he agrees with you or not, he's accessible, and engages... unlike most of our leaders, he lays it out, and lets you make the judgement.

But he really does not listen.  He is out there, but he really does not use social media to learn from his constituents, but to use it as his bully pulpit.  And recently, emphasis on bully.
Mark Sharpe on Facebook calling a constituent a "godless communist"
Not getting his way, on January 4th, 2014, he called constituent Laura Rambeau Lee a "godless communist" since she questioned his judgement, provided some counter points and actually cited some real numbers... something he never does.

How is this moving the discussion forward?  Is he really convincing anyone to embrace his point of view with those comments?  Public name calling of a constituent by the Chairman of the Hillsborough County Commission is rather unbecoming, don't you think?

Not to get into the argument between Lee and Sharpe here, but he has no idea about "choice" when the government forces taxation upon its citizens subjects... government is force (try not paying taxes that fund something you disagree with)... to pay for a socialized community rail transportation project.

Who's really the "godless communist"?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Dumb Tampa Bay tweeters of the day

Here's a couple of nominees for dumb tweet of the day.

First up Brad Miller, CEO of PSTA:
 So PSTA needs $100M per year tax hike for some more shade at the bus stops?

Not to be outdone, TBARTA tweeted about some new bike path scheme in London:

Well, if you follow the link,  there is some plan (dream?) in London to build 220km of elevated bike paths in London.
[T]he design team has focused on a 6.5km trial route from Stratford to Liverpool Street Station, following the path of the overground line, a stretch they estimate would cost around £220 million.
If you do the math,  the entire 220km (about 135 miles) of bike paths would cost around £8 billion, or $12.2 billion.

Yeah, that'll happen.

Both Brad Miller and TBARTA seems to be missing some basic math skills.

I'll call it a draw for today, but we'll be looking for the tiebreaker!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Better Idea: How About We Keep Our Own Money

Today's Tampa Tribune includes this commentary from the Washington Post regarding our federal gas taxes aka the Highway Trust Fund.
A major federal program is on desperate financial footing. It’s too important and popular to cut drastically. But a combination of changing social patterns, technological innovation and bad policy design has thrown its accounts far out of balance, and it has begun to eat into general spending that should go to other national priorities.
We all understand there is a funding issue and there are numerous reasons why as the commentary points out. However, the solution is NOT liberal Rep. Blumenauer's proposal to send more of our hard earned money to the bottomless spending pit of no accountability in DC. The solution is to devolve our gas taxes back to the states which is what Senator Mike Lee's Transportation Empower Act  will do. A simple Google search by the Washington Post certainly would have found Senator Lee's bill that:

  • Transfers almost all authority over federal highway and transit programs to the states over a five-year period
  • Lowers the federal gas tax to 3.7 cents from 18.4 cents over the same time period
  • During the five-year phase out, states will receive block grants that come with vastly fewer federal strings attached
States know their own unique transportation needs much better than anyone in DC. Because there is a federal funding issue, the states have already begun figuring out how to fund their own transportation projects - from their own taxes to toll roads to public-private partnerships, to private sector funding and solutions, etc.  States are innovating while the federal Highway Trust Fund becomes more bankrupt.
Highway Trust Fund is bankrupt
Looking at how we got in this fiscal mess serves as another good reason to empower states and allow them to keep their own gas taxes. Let's look historically at what the Feds have done to one of the largest buckets of our tax dollars in DC. The Highway Trust Fund was implemented in 1956 as a user fee to fund roads, highways and bridges and to build out the federal interstate system. Since then, the House Transportation Committee has grown to become the largest committee in the House. This big bucket of money has turned into pork barrel spending for wasteful projects, has politicized transportation projects and began diverting user fee gas taxes elsewhere. In addition, it has unequally distributed the funds across the states, like Florida. 

Florida has always been a donor state even when our population was exploding over the last decades. The state has historically only received between 70 and 80 cents back for every dollar we send to DC. Today we get back a bit more but Florida is still a donor state. 

Today at least 25%, and perhaps as high as 40%, of our federal road user fee gas taxes are now diverted elsewhere, mostly to transit and high cost rail systems but also to sidewalks, trails and bike paths. Instead of doing the fiscal due diligence for a new, separate long term, sustainable revenue source for mass transit, Congress simply did the easiest thing back in the 1983. Congress created the Mass Transit Account in 1983 funded by our user fee gas taxes and began mandating the diversion of dollars from the existing Highway Trust Fund to transit and other activities (sidewalks, bike paths…) The result of this? The Highway Trust Fund is now bankrupt. It has basically been bankrupted since 2007 when gas tax revenue did not cover spending. Since 2008, Congress began diverting tax dollars from the general fund to the Highway Trust Fund. In 2010, $30 Billion was appropriated to the Highway Trust Fund because of mandates to fund transit.
Highway Trust Fund gas taxes diverted to non-highway projects
Throwing more money at the Federal level to perpetuate the problems and fiscal mess they have created is not the answer. In support of Senator Lee's bill to devolve the tax back to the states, this article from Heritage describes the benefits of getting the Feds out of the middle of our transportation funding:
Benefits of Empowering States
The policies in the Transportation Empowerment Act would directly benefit the motorists, truckers, and bus operators across the country that fund the highway program. Specifically, these bills would: 
  • Empower states to make transportation decisions. Ending the current Washington-centric approach would discourage pork-barrel spending from Congress and incentivize states to plan and fund their transportation priorities.
  • End cross-subsidies between states and modes of transportation. Motorists in South Dakota or Texas, for example, would no longer subsidize the commute of federal employees in Washington, D.C., or Manhattan residents. Instead, they would be free to spend on programs that improve mobility at home.
  • Reduce congestion, enhance mobility, and improve safety. Reform-minded state transportation officials would be free to deploy resources to modes that reduce congestion and enhance cost-effective mobility, engaging with the private sector for capital-intensive projects.
  • Force efficiencies in transit. Absent federal subsidies, states that still value and can support transit systems could continue this spending, but those that do not would be forced to re-evaluate their programs, consider alternate modes, or contract their transit operations out to the private sector.
Do you want your federal gas taxes raised 15 cents a gallon, to go who knows where and a good chance not to Florida, in this economic environment? Do you want your federal gas taxes indexed to inflation, basically on auto-pilot where no one can be held accountable if and when inflation comes roaring back? When was the last time the Feds spent our gas tax dollars efficiently, cost-effectively and fairly?

The interstate system is built out. It's beyond time for states to keep their own gas taxes and be empowered to determine their own transportation needs. It's time to get the Feds out!

Reject Rep. Blumenauer's proposal to send more money to DC. Support Senator Lee's Transportation Empowerment Act bill (S. 1702) and Rep. Tom Graves accompanying House bill (H.R. 3486) and empower the states.