Friday, March 28, 2014

Bias, Ignorance or Incompetence?

Recently our local media reported about a survey regarding Greenlight Pinelllas conducted by an organization called "People's Budget Review".  We're looking at how this unscientific survey done on Facebook and email was reported by the media compared to an actual poll done of "likely voters" in January by a polling firm.

Here's are recent media articles about the People's Budget Review survey

Tampa Tribune:  Group hopes to focus Greenlight Pinellas debate on bus improvements
most Pinellas voters associate Greenlight only with its more controversial light-rail element and are in the dark about the plan’s bus improvements, according to a new survey of 1,600 residents by the People’s Budget Review, a group that includes local trade unions, activists and neighborhood associations (emphasis mine).
Tampa Bay Times: Local group says many don't know proposed transit tax would expand Pinellas bus system
With less than eight months remaining before Pinellas voters decide whether to support a tax increase for bus and rail, a St. Petersburg-based group's survey has found that most voters don't know the details of the proposal. 
But an unscientific survey of 1,600(emphasis mine) registered voters in Pinellas conducted by the group People's Budget Review found most respondents were familiar only with the rail portion of the plan. 
Distributed via Facebook and email, the group's survey (emphasis mine) did not target people of different backgrounds or likely voters.
SaintPetersblog:  People’s Budget Review: Most people unaware of Greenlight Pinellas details
…a new survey (emphasis mine) by St. Petersburg civic activists at the People’s Budget Review…
The People’s Budget Review is an alliance of community advocates, local business owners, union members and residents working to ensure all residents have a voice in how local tax dollars are spent.
Creative Loafing:  Pinellas' People's Budget Review to conduct their own education plan around Greenlight Pinellas
"Our main priority is that, this is going to be on the ballot — do people even know what it is? And after informing them a little bit about what it is, would they vote for it? That's our primary take right now," says Hunt of Awake PInellas (emphasis mine), one of a myriad of activist and neighborhood groups who make up the PBR, which formed a couple of years ago to help ensure citizens' having a voice on the budgeting process in the city of St. Petersburg. 
….their survey (emphasis mine) of over 1,600 people….
Awake Pinellas's Facebook page states:
Awake Pinellas' mission is to be a networking center for organizers to manifest a progressive (emphasis mine) agenda.
WTSP Channel 10:  Bus riders surveyed on knowledge of Greenlight Pinellas
A local group, called the Peoples Budget Review, has been surveying (emphasis mine) riders for three weeks about their knowledge of a November ballot referendum called Greenlight Pinellas: the mass transit plan 
"We are being careful not to sway voters, but to make them aware of this ballot and its details," said Bob Lasher, spokesperson for the PSTA.  
Oh my - let's digress a moment on PSTA's Greenlight Pinellas campaign: Making people aware of the ballot doesn't require chip clips, pens, refrigerator magnets and goodie bags and spending almost a million taxpayer dollars.

Tampa Bay Partnership blog: Support for Greenlight Pinellas Continues
A recent poll, (emphasis mine) sponsored by the grassroots organization (emphasis mine) People’s Budget Review shows 57 percent of those surveyed support Greenlight Pinellas while only 30 percent said they would vote “no.” According to the survey, Greenlight is most known for its long-term plan to link downtown St. Petersburg and Clearwater through light rail, and the fact that 65 percent of respondents associate Greenlight with light rail is not a good sign for those who have made “No Tax for Tracks” the rallying cry to defeat the referendum at the ballot box this November.
In January, this actual poll was conducted by the SunBeamTimes blog: 61% say “No Tax Hike” for Pinellas Rail. Few Will Ride the St. Petersburg-Clearwater 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.
Here's local media on McKalip's poll:

Tampa Tribune:  Rail backers say Pinellas poll skews results 
A new poll on the Greenlight Pinellas campaign to build a light-rail system and put more buses on the road has sparked controversy about whether the survey misled residents.
But transit supporters say the questions written by McKalip were designed to skew the results
A new poll published on Monday finds large opposition to raising the sales tax in Pinellas to improve the county's transportation system, but critics say the questions asked prevented an accurate measurement of public sentiment.
But as Creative Loafing’s Mitch Perry noted today, the referendum’s supporters will just as readily dismiss these survey results as skewed.
In addition, in much of the media reporting about the McKalip poll, they included a previous poll by Tampa Bay Times/BayNews9 reflecting a 56% support for Greenlight. No such reference to McKalip's poll showing large opposition to Greenlight was made in the media reporting of the People's Budget Review survey. 

David McKalip is a neurosurgeon in St. Petersburg, a previous candidate for St. Petersburg CIty Council who opposes Greenlight Pinellas and supports the grassroots organization NoTaxForTracks. Were there attempts in the local media to discredit McKalip's professionally done poll?

We found no such discrediting in the reporting of the People's Budget Review survey. So why was so much credibility given to the People's Budget Review unscientific survey?  Who is the People's Budget Review organization?

A simple Google search landed here announcing their launch in 2012:
Florida Public Services Union (FPSU) is not just a bargaining unit for thousands of workers in the city governments and schools but also an integral part of the community
FPSU collaborated with the Coalition of Neighborhood Associations (CONA), Suncoast Sierra Club, League of Women Voters, Agenda 2010, NAACP and many other local organizations. It resulted in Peoples Budget Team. 
Darden Rice, now a St. Petersburg City Councilwoman, and ardent
supporter of Greenlight Pinellas announces People's Budget Review in 2012
The Tampa Bay Times reported that People's Budget Review is
A coalition of neighborhood groups, civic groups and union members, the People's Budget Review is primarily funded and organized by the Florida Public Service Union (emphasis mine), which represents 1,200 workers in St. Petersburg. 
The Florida Public Service Union is associated with the huge SEIU union.

  • SEIU Florida Public Services Union represents 19,000 workers in eight counties, 16 cities, three Head Start agencies and four school districts across Florida. 
  • SEIU Florida Public Services Union members are the driving force behind reliable public services and the voice of public employees throughout Florida. 
  • SEIU public services members are the driving force behind reliable public services and the voice of public employees throughout Florida.

The Tampa Bay Partnership is absolutely wrong in misrepresenting People's Budget Review as a grassroots organization and in calling their unscientific survey a "poll".
FPSU-SEIU primarily funds People's Budget Review 
Since when did a well funded government labor union representing government employees become grassroots? SEIU/FPSU is not a grassroots organization. The People's Budget Review is largely funded by and associated with the FL FPSU union, an arm of the huge and powerful SEIU union. The People's Budget Review organization is part of a professional political activist organization active in voter registration, electing candidates where their members can contribute to the campaigns of pro-worker candidates.

The People's Budget Review website states:
The groups who typically speak the loudest are special interests, while tens of thousands of everyday people remain on the sidelines. The People’s Budget review seeks to give those silent thousands a way to speak out 

We want to get you the facts and find out how expanding public transit can work for all residents. After all, it’s our money.
Their website also includes a post titled Driving is a Privilege, Public Transit is a Right
 In a 2013 Ted Talk, Enrique PeƱalosa, former mayor of Bogata, Columbia, smartly stated, “In terms of transport, an advanced city is not one where even the poor use cars, but rather one where even the rich use transit.” 
We want to know your priorities around the issue of public transportation, and find out how expanding public transit can work for all residents.
People's Budget Review website has pic of Greenlight Pinellas supporters
on transit referendum issue
We're not sure where the Right to public transit is found. Obviously, the People's Budget Review supports public transit even if they haven't publicly endorsed Greenlight Pinellas.  Are they really serious about wanting better bus service, especially for the low income who need it to get to their jobs? Fixing Pinellas bus service can be done without building a $3 Billion train that most likely will require another new revenue source such as higher taxes, cutting bus service or robbing other services or projects - robbing Peter to pay Paul.

So why did the People's Budget Review unscientific survey that used Facebook and email showing support for Greenlight get so much local media attention?  Why did the local media insert so much pushback in their report of McKalip's professional poll of likely voters that showed large opposition to Greenlight?

We know the local media is highly biased in support of a costly rail agenda in Tampa Bay. We are subject to their consistent and on-going pro-rail editorials that coincidentally occur the same day a rail article in their news section is published.

The Tampa Bay Times even did an editorial referencing the People's Budget Review group after they launched in 2012:
Complaining about special interests' hold on government is easy. Doing something about it, much less so. 
Similarly, a coalition of community groups is pledging to take on the complexities of municipal budget writing in St. Petersburg. The People's Budget Review said this week it hopes to collect at least 10,000 residents' responses to questions about how they would like the city to prioritize spending on public safety, parks and recreation, and economic development. The results won't be scientific (emphasis mine) but will likely be far more extensive than what Mayor Bill Foster and the City Council would normally collect in the annual budget process. 
The right laid out in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to petition the government for redress of grievances is what sets this nation apart. And while much more attention may be given to large, amorphous campaigns like the Occupy movement (emphasis mine), these groups have a chance to make a real impact by tackling specific policy issues in their local communities. This is how democracy is supposed to work.
When do you think the Times or any other local media will acknowledge that the Tea Party has been targeting cronyism, wasteful spending and special interests, regardless of political party or ideology, for over 5 years? 

You absolutely cannot make this stuff up - it's a simple Google search away.

Bias, Ignorance or Incompetence?

Cronyism and Economic Development: Where's It Going?

Transportation is a hot issue in Tampa Bay today.  Economic development is the buzz word of the day from our elected officials.  What happens when your start tying the two closely together?

In Pinellas, we're told by the local transit agency PSTA and most of the Pinellas County Commissioners that the reason high cost rail is included in the Greenlight Pinellas plan is economic development. We're told we need mixed use land development of residential and retail around train stations.

In Hillsborough we hear the same echo chamber from the pro rail power brokers that high cost fixed rail corridors will "magically" drive economic development - transit-oriented development (TOD) . TOD is heralded as the panacea for our economic prosperity.

But at least we have confirmed that high cost rail systems are NOT about mobility or reducing congestion.

So what is high cost rail projects really all about?  To start, there's a perversion for why the power brokers push for costly rail projects as Randal O'Toole from CATO Institute testified last December before the Congressional House Transportation Committee:
[Federal} New Starts, however, is a competitive grant program [for light rail]. The rules of the competition can be boiled down to this: regions and transit agencies that propose the most expensive projects get the most money (emphasis mine). 
The Obama administration eliminated cost effectiveness as a criteria for getting federal grants.  Why not go for the gusto to get the most federal tax dollars for costly rail projects? Then local governments can subsidize the TOD to incentivize development or designate areas as Community Redevelopment Areas (CRA's) and use tax-increment financing (TIF's) for specific redevelopment purposes.

According to the Florida Redevelopment Association:
Examples of conditions that can support the creation of a Community Redevelopment Area include, but are not limited to: the presence of substandard or inadequate structures, a shortage of affordable housing, inadequate infrastructure, insufficient roadways, and inadequate parking 
Tax increment financing is a unique tool available to cities and counties for redevelopment activities. It is used to leverage public funds to promote private sector activity in the targeted area
O'Toole also testified:
The reality is that almost all of the economic development they claim along light-rail and streetcar lines has resulted from tax-increment financing and other subsidies to developers. Experience in many places has shown that almost no new development takes place along a rail line without subsidies to developers.
Mayor Buckhorn held his State of the City address this week. 

At about 44:21 (go to that time on video link if your browser does not automatically go there) Buckhorn talks about mobility options, including light rail, he advocates support for Greenlight Pinellas, admits rail will never pay for itself and makes a strange comment about not worrying about  fare box revenue has to make sense. Mayor Buckhorn then talks about working with his partners in Hillsborough County to extend the CRA's in Tampa and the use of TIF's.  No mention of the cost to do all of it.

However, Buckhorn's biggest challenge may be a revenue shortfall of $10 million to $15 million for next year's budget, that he must find a way to close.

We previously connected the dots on the local rail cartel. The cartel is a cozy relationship between pro rail politicians and the taxpayer funded agencies and special interests who will benefit from the flood of tax dollars heading their way. Then the deep pocketed special interests can circulate campaign donations back to the politicians to ensure their influence is maintained.

This must be one of the coziest relationships. At times it is difficult to distinguish the difference between TBARTA, a taxpayer funded agency and special interest Tampa Bay Partnership. TBARTA was created by our state legislature in 2007 at the behest of the Tampa Bay Partnership. TBARTA was setup to cover the same geographical area as the Partnership. Was TBARTA simply created to advance Tampa Bay Partnership's regional agenda? 

We previously posted about the conflict of interest issue Ronnie Duncan, chairman of TBARTA had when he also began leading the private advocacy campaign Yes for Greenlight.  We reported that Duncan started organizing and raising money for the private campaign at the same time TBARTA was endorsing the Greenlight Pinellas plan months before Greenlight got on the ballot last December. Duncan owns a land development company and his wife owns a commercial real estate company. Coincidence?

Where was the Yes for Greenlight kickoff event held in February?  At the Pinellas Realtors Association office in Clearwater, not at a local bus station or any other public venue.

What can happen when our tax dollars are flowing to local municipalities to build high cost rail where economic development around train stations is sold as the dire reason we must have a train.  What can happen when the politicians and central planning bureaucrats plan where "they" want development to occur, can designate areas as CRA's and use TIF's or other subsidies to incentivize development? And what happens when there's collusion and cronyism with special interests and/or amongst them all?

Back in 2010 we were told by the local media and pro rail contingent that we needed to follow Charlotte as they were the "gold standard light rail model" to follow. 

Wednesday, Charlotte's Mayor Patrick Cannon, Democrat, was arrested on bribery and corruption charges. Mayor Cannon  has since resigned.  The Tribune reported
Cannon solicited and accepted more than $48,000 in cash, airline tickets, a hotel room and the use of a luxury apartment as bribes, according to a criminal complaint. 
According to the complaint, FBI agents posing as commercial real estate developers paid Cannon on five separate occasions between January 2013 and February 2014. Cannon accepted cash in exchange for access to city officials responsible for planning, zoning and permitting. 
The investigation began in August 2010 after a tip from a local undercover officer about public corruption. At the time, Cannon still held an at-large seat on the Charlotte City Council.

Two days after Cannon announced he was running for mayor in May 2013, the first undercover agent introduced him to a second undercover agent posing as a developer from Las Vegas. The second agent told Cannon he was interested in developments along a streetcar and light rail line being built in Charlotte. Cannon provided the proposed routes and stops, according to the complaint (emphasis mine). 
Mayor Cannon got caught. How many others have not? Who knows how often and where else unethical, if not illegal activities, have occurred where lots of tax dollars are flowing to build rail and to subsidize economic development.

Could that type of corruption happen in Tampa Bay? We don't know. We do know we've seen corruption before in Hillsborough. We see a rail cartel in Tampa Bay pushing a high cost rail agenda.  We see PSTA's taxpayer funded Greenlight Pinellas advocacy campaign, attempting to skirt our electioneering laws, while using hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars marketing their Greenlight plan. We see taxpayer funded entities and special interests looking to benefit from the flow of tax dollars.  

What we do not want to see in Tampa Bay is cronyism that leads to corruption and results in crooks.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Fix Our Roads First!

Today's Tampa Tribune includes a Commentary from one of our local readers, Ken Roberts, who is active in our community.  Below is Ken's column which was published in its entirety.

Neglecting our roads

Transportation in Hillsborough County involves an extensive system of roads and automobiles and other vehicles augmented by bus service. The capacity and condition of the roads are fundamental to the health of the overall system. But it’s not being kept up. The feds and the state are doing the work needed on their roads to keep pace. But the county is not.
According to the Metropolitan Planning Organization, there currently is a backlog of road improvements just north of $5 billion. The MPO did a post-referendum survey three years ago. The number one priority of the people? Fix the roads. Yet going on three years later, the board of County Commissioners has budgeted less than $20 million for road capital improvements over the next two years.
In a $6 billion budget ($3 billion a year over two years), the foundation of the system that allows us to get from one place to another gets allocated less than $20 million? That is 0.004 percent of the current backlog of road work, and it’s for two years of work! Chisel that on a piece of granite and toss it in your eye, and you would never feel it.
We are told we must have a modern transit system in order to compete. Putting aside the efficacy of various competing modes of transportation, a modern transit system, superimposed on top of our neglected network of over-capacity roads, will result in a system that is still congested, but costs a lot more. It can’t be efficient or effective. There’s no chance. Of what use is a multibillion-dollar train if you can’t get out of your neighborhood and get to the station?
Transportation is a system — a system that operates on a foundation of roads that are way over capacity right now. And we have not been doing anything about that for some time. A careful reading of the county’s level of service report reveals that every day, citizens of this county take 1.5 million trips on roads that are rated “F.” That’s the worst rating possible.
Proponents of rail, an interesting coalition of business and developers, environmentalists and “millennials,” have been conducting pep rallies and bugging the commissioners, demanding everything. And they want it all now.
HART has a 10-year transit plan that supports a few more metro rapid bus lines like the successful first one from downtown to the USF area. It’s a good plan, but what about the foundation? What about the roads? This is a system, remember? It’s like a chain. It will only be as strong as its weakest link. If we build a modern transportation high-rise on the grossly overloaded foundation of our current road system, it will collapse. It’s a sure thing.
So as we rush headlong after mounds of lovely federal dollars, we need to be mindful of the fundamental reality, which is this: After we spend all our money, and all we can borrow and get from the state and take from our fellow Americans (aided and abetted by the federal government), commissioners will still be facing the fundamental reality that the roads will have to be fixed for it all to work. Because transportation is a system, and our roads are the foundation of that.
Ken Roberts is a retired manufacturing company president and member of Citizens Organized for Sound Transportation. He lives in Apollo Beach.
Ken's point that roads is our top transportation priority ties back to this MPO survey he mentions which was done after the 2010 rail referendum was defeated.
MPO Survey
We will note too that our local infrastructure tax, the half-cent Community Investment Tax (CIT) was to be used for road improvements over the 30 year term of the tax which expires in 2026. That money was borrowed against and all spent by 2007 so there is no CIT tax money available today for roads or anything else.

Today we have so many F-rated roads.  
F-rated roads in Hillsborough
We see the Feds and the State doing their part as they improve the major arteries in our county. Now the county needs to step up. 

Focus on fixing our roads -  the top transportation priority that benefits us all.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Latvala and Pinellas Conspiring to Rob Peter to Pay Paul?

Is this a coincidence?  Pinellas has their Greenlight Pinellas transit/rail referendum on the ballot in November.  State senator Jack Latvala (from Pinellas) is pushing a bill that amends a current statute that appears aimed at enabling the Greenlight Pinellas boondoggle to grab more of your county tax dollars. The bill also adds an additional tax counties could impose for homeless facilities and services.

Section 212.054-.055 of the Florida Statutes currently allows:

Eight different types of local discretionary sales surtaxes (also called local option county sales taxes) are allowed by law and are potential revenue sources for county and municipal governments and school districts. Local discretionary sales surtaxes apply to all transactions subject to the state sales and communications services taxes. 
Local discretionary sales surtax rates vary from county to county.
The 8 types of local discretionary sales surtaxes are:
  • Charter county and regional (emphasis mine) transportation system surtax
  • Local government infrastructure surtax
  • Small county surtax
  • Indigent care and trauma center surtax
  • County public hospital surtax
  • School capital outlay surtax
  • Voter-approved indigent care surtax
  • Emergency fire rescue services and facilities surtax
The term "regional" was added to the local transportation surtax sale tax statute in 2010. Could that be a setup for an eventual regional transit tax?

The local government infrastructure surtax is the Penny for Pinellas tax in Pinellas and the Community Investment Tax in Hillsborough. This tax today can be used for capital road improvements and other infrastructure projects but it CANNOT be used for operating and maintenance expenses, e.g. like operating and maintenance for transit agencies.  

The transportation surtax can be used for transit operating costs and that is the sales tax increase that is on the ballot in Pinellas for Greenlight Pinellas.  It  was also the rail tax that was on the ballot in Hillsborough that was defeated in 2010.

From the Pinellas County budget, this describes what the Penney for Pinellas may be used for today:
Penny for Pinellas is capital funding for infrastructure projects  
Now Latvala introduced SB786 (accompanying house bill is HB723).  Go to 77:30 of the Community Affairs Committee video to view state senator Latvala recently introducing this bill.

Aaccording to this WTSP Channel 10 report:
Wording in the bill says that "discretionary sales surtaxes" can be used "for the maintenance of transportation infrastructure if the local government ordinance authorizing such use is approved by referendum." 
To some, that means a double tax to fund Greenlight Pinellas, which is supposed to be funded by the sales tax increase. 
"This Latvala bill shows that the rich and well-connected, that not even a three percent tax hike to raise $1.8 billion, is not enough to build their precious train," said David McKalip with No Tax for Tracks, a group firmly against Greenlight Pinellas.
The latest version of the bill states:
A bill to be entitled
An act relating to discretionary sales surtaxes; amending s. 212.055, F.S.; revising the uses of the proceeds of the local government infrastructure surtax to include the maintenance of transportation infrastructure; revising the term “infrastructure” (emphasis mine); authorizing a county to levy a homeless services and facilities surtax; defining “homeless services” and “homeless facilities”; requiring an ordinance, referendum, and voter approval; providing an effective
Senator Latvala is denying this change has anything to do with Greenlight Pinellas.  This change at this time certainly appears it relates to Greenlight. The Pinellas County commissioners requested this change as one of their 6 legislative priorities for 2014 late last year.
Support an amendment that would allow a bigger say on future Penny for Pinellas spending. Penny for Pinellas money is restricted to capital improvements only and not for infrastructure.
This is an admittance that the transportation surtax in Pinellas, if passed, will never begin to cover the costs of operating a high cost train in Pinellas county or probably anywhere else in the state.  The federal dollars are dwindling as the Highway Trust Fund, our federal gas taxes, have been diverted to high cost rail systems and the Fund bankrupted. There's no guarantee that Pinellas will even get all the state and federal funds they want and know they must find MORE local tax dollars to cover the gaps.

Chris Latvala, senator Jack Latvala's son who is running for a state house seat and supports the Greenlight Pinellas boondoggle, stated in a BayNews9 interview on February 20th that he wanted to rob the Penny for Pinellas to pay for the train.  Hmmm - our legislative session had not started yet at that time. Do you think he knew his father was going to file a bill to change Penny for Pinellas?  Is this what we expect to see - like father, like son from Chris Latvala?

The Eye posted previously here that Greenlight Pinellas has a basic financial problem.  
$130M per year of sales taxes leaves $314M gap in annual operating expenses that have to be covered somehow. Or a $14.1B shortfall of the expected $20B costs.
The projected $130 million annual revenue stream from the huge tax increase simply will not cover the cost of operating and maintaining the rail system.  Even if Pinellas kept the PSTA $30 million property tax which there is nothing legally stopping them from doing,  the math doesn't add up to fiscally sustain a train in Pinellas over the long term.

The only way to cover this huge revenue gap is to find another source of revenue.  This always occurs wherever light rail is implemented.  Either bus service or other services are cut or find a new revenue source.

The Latvala bill will allow Pinellas to rob the revenue from their infrastructure sales tax that pays for road improvements, parks, and other capital improvements and use that revenue for rail/transit operating and maintenance cost. Would that strip the county of revenue for critical road improvements or other important capital projects?

Interestingly, we found this comment from a 2008 TBARTA presentation:
TBARTA 2008 Presentation 
Also don't forget the counties that must take over the operating  & maintenance (O & M) costs for SunRail in 2021.  While all FL taxpayers pay to build and to operate SunRail from May 2014 when it launches thru 2020, the local municipalities must pick up the O & M beginning in 2021.  NOT ONE of those counties or municipalities, Osceola, Orange, Seminole, Volusia or city of Orlando, has a funding source to pay for SunRail.

Guess what?  Seminole county has scheduled a special election on May 20 for voters to decide to bring back the one cent infrastructure tax they had until it expired last in 2011. 
A new proposed sales tax increase, known as the "One Cent Infrastructure Tax," was recently approved by the Board of County Commissioners in Seminole for consideration in a special tax referendum election to be held on May 20. If approved by voters, the tax would be in place for 10 years and raise an average of $63 million annually, according to county documents. 
According to county documents, 25 percent of revenues generated from the tax would go to Seminole County Public Schools for capital improvements to schools, and the other 75 percent would be divvied up among the county and the seven cities within the county to finance a range of infrastructure improvements throughout the county.
Why have a special election on May 20 that will cost taxpayers a half million dollars when we have a regular election in November?  This is their excuse.
Additionally, the May 20 special election will cost around $455,000. Had the vote been pushed off to the general election, it would have been of no additional cost to the county, Ertel said. The county's defense in this notion is that it is moving ahead with a special election to allow the School Board to consider the new revenue as it contemplates its budget for the next fiscal year. The budget must be approved by June 30.
The schools are one of, if not the largest, employer in any county.  The county itself is a huge employer.  So schedule an off-cycle special election to raise more tax dollars to dole out to schools and other government agencies and who will certainly show up and vote in May? Probably the ready made base of support directly benefiting from the increased taxes - the employees of the schools and the county. This is called election rigging. Sounds similar to what we heard recently in Hillsborough about a proposal to put another county transit referendum on the ballot, but in the March 2015 city of Tampa mayor/city council election, instead of the regular county election time. 

In Hillsborough, the CIT tax was passed 53-47% in a special election held in September 1996, after a Bucs stadium only tax was soundly defeated in September 1995 60-40%.

As reported here, referendums are more likely to pass for a number of reasons, including:
  • the election is held "off-cycle" to yield lower voter turnout overall but proportionately higher turnout of supporters, especially those with a school connection; 
  • it is often necessary to try and try again - to keep putting the same issue before the public and eventually the voters will be convinced that the money is really needed 
  • an existing tax is increased rather than a new one proposed; 
  • scolding the voters after they reject a proposal will shame them into voting for a tax hike proposal the next time around
If Latvala's bill passes, will SunRail counties then rob their infrastructure tax that pays for roads, schools and other CAPITAL improvements to pay for SunRail operating expenses? SunRail is the poster child of bad policy - using tax dollars to build a commuter rail system that has NO long term funding source. Do you think the SunRail counties want to put another referendum for the transportation surtax on the ballot?  They have to find the revenue somewhere to operate SunRail, a train the power brokers in those counties begged for but never provided a long term revenue source to pay for it.  

Hold on Hillsborough!  Hillsborough's infrastructure surtax is the half-cent Community Investment Tax (CIT). That tax is already a travesty and one reason why Hillsborough has a critical road funding issue. The CIT money is gone and spent even though we're paying the tax until it expires in 2026. With Latvala's change, if the CIT tax is ever extended, and it could also be raised from half-cent to a full cent, the revenues could then be used for operating and maintenance expenses for transit instead of roads and other capital improvements.  

Latvala's SB786 bill will also allow counties, with voter approval, to enact another discretionary sales surtax, a half cent surcharge tax for homeless services and homeless facilities.  If our economy is supposedly improving, do we want or need MORE taxes?

Changing the existing infrastructure tax that today is used as capital for roads, schools and other infrastructure improvements so that the revenue can cover operating expenses is not good policy. 

Here's a graph from Greenlight Pinellas of tax receipts until 2050. 
Greenlight Pinellas tax receipts vs Bus/Light Rail "net" costs
Have you ever seen tax receipts go up every year for 25 years?  That is very unlikely. Penny for Pinellas has had huge drops over the 20 plus years of its existence like in 2009. In Pinellas County budget, this risk is reported.

Sales tax revenue sensitive to swings in the economy
The timing of this change is no coincidence. It provides a backdoor way for Pinellas to pay for a high cost rail that Greenlight Pinellas transit tax can never pay for.  This change could also be a backdoor way for the SunRail counties to pay their SunRail operating expenses without having to pursue another tax.

Latvala and Pinellas are conspiring to Rob Peter to Pay Paul. SB786 will rob roads and other capital improvements to pay operating expenses for high cost rail boondoggles. This change will have state wide implications. Yes, it appears that local voters must approve. However, then the power brokers will election rig by scheduling a low turnout, off-cycle special election to get their supporters out to get it passed.

This change is an admission that the 14% sales tax rate increase in Pinellas, that increases revenues by over 300%, will never cover the costs of operating the Greenlight Pinellas rail boondoggle. This is a dire prediction that more Pinellas county tax dollars will be needed.

Stop SB786 and it's accompanying house bill HB723 and stop robbing Peter to pay for Paul.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

New Rail Cartel same as the Old Rail Cartel

As the Eye mentioned in a previous post 
It looks like very same cronyism is now happening in Pinellas with the same rail cartel led by Tampa Bay Partnership pushing the Greenlight Pinellas boondoggle.
So let's connect the dots between the 2010 rail referendum in Hillsborough and what we see going on with the pro rail side in Pinellas. 

Back in 2010, the pro rail PAC was "Moving Hillsborough Forward" which was even called the "political wing of the Tampa Bay Partnerhsip" by the Tampa Bay Business Journal.  Moving Hillsborough Forward was simply a symbiotic twin of Tampa Bay Partnership.  They shared office space, resources and staff according to this Bradenton Times article titled “Grassroots” Tampa Rail Organization has Deep-Pocketed Backers that Stand to Profit The Tampa Bay Partnership is Moving Hillsborough Forward
In March of 2010 the Tampa Bay Partnership created the local political action group called “Moving Hillsborough Forward,” which shares office space and staff with their affiliated parent, the Partnership, though it maintains its own bank account.
 Their recent launch of televised advertising is identified as originating from “Moving Hillsborough Forward,” which represents itself as “a grassroots coalition of Hillsborough County residents, neighborhoods, environmentalists, businesses, civic groups and community leaders.”
The Bradenton Times article provided an abundance of information about who Moving Hillsborough Forward actually was:
  • Gary Sasso is the Chair, Deputy Treasurer and Registered Agent at Moving Hillsborough Forward while also a board member and Vice Director of the Partnership. He is President and CEO of Carlton Fields, a Tampa Bay Partnership member.
  • Stuart Rogel acts as Deputy Treasurer at Moving Hillsborough Forward while simultaneously is the President and CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership.
  • Ten interns were recruited from USF by a Partnership member using a Partnership email for contact. Student interns are receiving school credit for their work. 
  • A young professional group TRANSITion Tampa Bay has a website and is orchestrating events to rally on the rail issue. They identify several members as well as the Tampa Bay Partnership and Moving Hillsborough Forward as partners, in addition to the young professional programs of the Clearwater and Tampa Chambers, plus the local NAIOP chapter. There is no political or nonprofit filing for this group in the state of Florida.
  • Requests for information to the young professional group were responded to by Betty Carlin, Tampa Bay Partnership Director of Communications, informing that the young professionals group is a committee of the Tampa Bay Partnership (emphasis mine). 
This pertinent information was reported in a Bradenton publication but not in our local pro rail print media in Hillsborough county in 2010.

In addition, Chuck Sykes was then President of the Greater Chamber of Commerce and also became an officer of the Moving Hillsborough Forward PAC.  In 2009, the then Chairman of the Chamber, Henry Gonzalez, stated this in an interview with WMNF:
We had voted unanimously in a past board meeting to be supportive of the points set forth by the Tampa Bay Partnership.
At the Hillsborough County Supervisors of Elections are the campaign filings for Moving Hillsborough Forward PAC that raised about $1.6 million in 2010.  Select one of the pdf files and the address used by Moving Hillsborough Florida is 4300 West Cypress St., Tampa, FL 33607.  What is Tampa Bay Partnership's address?  4300 West Cypress St., Tampa, FL 33607

TRANSITion Tampa Bay Facebook page describes their organization
Non-Profit Organization
TRANSITion Tampa Bay is an organization for young professionals who want to see an innovative and integrated transportation network in the Tampa Bay region become a reality
Their last Facebook Post was August 22, 2013: 
August 22, 2013 near Tampa, FLLAST CHANCE: I will be deleting the TRANSITion Tampa Bay facebook page today. If you haven't "liked" Connect Tampa Bay yet, please do it now so you can keep up on transportation news.
Thanks - Brian Seel
According to, Brian Seel is now an officer of the pro transit non-profit Connect Tampa Bay .

Brian Seel also is the son of Pinellas County commissioner Karen Seel who voted to place Greenlight Pinellas on the 2014 ballot.  Karen Seel's father, the late Don Williams, was a past chairman of PSTA.

The Eye reported previously that another taxpayer funded layer of transportation bureaucracy, TBARTA, was created by our state legislature in 2007 due to pressure by the Tampa Bay Partnership. Thus, taxpayer funded TBARTA and Tampa Bay Partnership are tied together today to promote their agenda. 

Fast forward to 2012 in Pinellas.  The Yes for Greenlight nonprofit was established last month creating controversy because the organization was created and being led by the chairman of taxpayer funded TBARTA, Ronnie Duncan.  You can find our posts here, here and here.  Supposedly, Duncan resigned from the Yes for Greenlight organization. But as of today still lists his name as a Director, along with Stuart Rogel of Tampa Bay Partnership and Chris Steinocher, President and CEO of St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce.  
Yes for Greenlight nonprofit registration
There was additional controversy regarding transparency surrounding the Yes for Greenlight non-profit.  As a non-profit, the organization is not required to disclose their donors, campaign contributions or where they spent their money.  

So now a new pro Greenlight Pinellas PAC has been registered with the Pinellas County Supervisors of Election called Friends of Greenlight.  According to their registration, Joel Giles is Chairman and Stuart Rogel  is Treasurer. 

Who is Joel Giles? Joel Giles is an attorney with Carlton Fields law firm,  a member of the Tampa Bay Partnership.
Joel Giles practices in the areas of complex real estate and commercial transactions.  He represents the  developers of large mixed-use, commercial and residential projects.
Gary Sasso, who headed Moving Hillsborough Forward in 2010, also works for Carlton Fields.

Will Yes for Greenlight remain in place together with the Friends of Greenlight PAC?   According to this March 13 post on SaintPetersblog, supposedly a new Yes for Greenlight team was announced:
In a statement issued Thursday, Don Ewing will be the new co-chair, joining St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Chris Steinocher. Ewing is head of the Council of North County Neighborhoods and President of Haruspex Business Software in Clearwater. 
Joel Giles, Tom Morrissette, Stuart Rogel, and Bob Clifford will make up the initiative’s Organizational Committee, whose function is to support decision-making by the co-chairs.
The inaugural 20-person team includes Sierra Club regional rep Phil Compton, Florida Consumer Action Network specialist Tim Heberlin, Duke Energy Government/Community Relations District Manager Melissa Seixas, Crescent Oaks HOA president John Miolla and former St. Petersburg City Council member Jeff Danner.
Donations can be given to both organizations but only the PAC must file campaign reports. Donations could be made to the Yes for Greenlight nonprofit and then they donate to the PAC.  It will be interesting to watch.

The dots are connected.  What's revealed is that the new rail cartel in Pinellas is the same as the old rail cartel.  The same rail cartel that failed to get a train in Hillsborough in 2010 are now are pushing for a rail boondoggle in Pinellas.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Corporate and Regional HQ's Not Transit-Oriented Development

The Tampa Tribune recently published an Op-Ed from Commissioner Mark Sharpe stating
Tampa Bay is poised to become one of the best performing metros in America, fueled by a re-energized effort to link high-wage, tech-driven, economic development to a vibrant and diverse transportation network.
Sharpe continues explaining that Hillsborough county established a Transportation Leadership Policy group attempting to specifically tie transportation to economic development.
The group’s mission has been to consider options for linking our economic development areas to better and smarter roads, premium bus service, toll lanes, and rail (my emphasis).
Today the Tribune published a shortened version of a Letter to the Editor from a Tampa Bay area resident responding to Sharpe's Op-Ed.

Below is the full text of the Letter to the Editor that was submitted.
Mark Sharpe's opinion piece entitled "This time we need to connect the dots" employs tiresome sleight of hand to push for expanded transit, specifically light rail. For example, he cites the "record transit ridership for 2013", while failing to mention that New York City subways alone were responsible for more than 92 percent of that increase. According to the New York Times, the growth in subway ridership resulted from “falling unemployment”, and not any transit enthusiasm among millenials.

US Department of Transportation statistics show that from 1980 to 2011, passenger miles traveled on highways grew by 59%, while transit passenger miles only grew 36%. So despite all the new heavily subsidized light rail lines built in the US over the last 35 years, people are increasingly choosing cars over transit. That may not seem smart or rational to Mr. Sharpe, but it is in fact what people are doing. History shows us that social engineering will not change that.

The real impetus for this never-ending push for rail is cronyism. There can never be a dialogue with Mr. Sharpe, the Tampa Bay Partnership or their real estate developer supporters unless and until they stop corrupting the political process. Construction companies and real estate developers have learned from big banks and bailed out auto companies that feeding at the government trough is very profitable, the costs to the average citizen be damned.

The average household in the Tampa Bay area has seen their median income drop over the last ten years, and that is true for the rest of the nation as well. People are tired of the cronyism, and certainly can't afford to pay for it anymore. Perhaps this is why polling shows that once Pinellas County voters understand what is in the Greenlight Pinellas Plan, and what is not in the plan, over two thirds say they plan to vote "NO" in November.

If Mr. Sharpe really wants to "connect the dots", then he should drop the happy talk of "a vibrant and diverse transportation network" in favor of a discussion of why real estate development corruptly drives all economic development and transit proposals in the Tampa Bay area. The other Bay Area, namely the San Francisco bay area, has shown that growth can come from intellectual achievements, not just from real estate developers.

Task number one is to get the corruption out of the political system in the Tampa Bay area. After all, it is government "for the people" not "for the real estate developers".

Tom Rask
Unincorporated Pinellas County
We agree with Commissioner Sharpe that Tampa Bay's future is bright.  Florida is leading the nation in job creation and the Tampa Bay area has led the state in creating jobs - no train needed.

We agree with Tom too.  In 2010 Hillsborough saw all the pro rail special interests colluding with the pro rail  taxpayer funded agencies and pro rail politicians to push a light rail system that cost too much and did too little.  

It looks like very same cronyism is now happening in Pinellas with the same rail cartel led by Tampa Bay Partnership pushing the Greenlight Pinellas boondoggle.  

Want economic development?  Fix the regulatory issues, reduce or eliminate some of the fees, streamline the processes and make it easier for EVERYONE to start, expand or relocate a business here.  Want economic growth and prosperity? The power brokers and politicians should spend more time recruiting Corporate and Regional headquarters to relocate and bring their C-suite jobs to the Tampa Bay area.

The Sun-Sentinel reported in January:
Eighteen corporate headquarters have expanded or moved to Broward and Palm Beach counties since the recession officially ended in 2011. 
Seven of those offices moved from other states or countries; 11 expanded here.The primary reasons headquarters come here are easy access to international airports, a multilingual and skilled workforce, options in leasing or building office space, lower energy and construction costs — and no state income tax, Swindell and Smallridge said. 
Broward County has promoted the area as one offering "Life. Less taxing (my emphasis)," in advertisements featuring entrepreneur H. Wayne Huizenga.
There is not one mention of rail for why these businesses relocated and expanded in South Florida.  Broward is promoting less taxes and what we do know is that LESS TAXES means MORE JOBS!  

Today's weather was picture perfect.  We'll never see a polar vortex in Tampa Bay! Time to focus on getting C-Suite jobs here.
Another perfect day in Tampa Bay