Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Voter Fraud? If they're not catching the easy stuff, what else are they “missing”?

Guest Post from local reader Gregg Prentice:

Voter Fraud?  If they're not catching the easy stuff, what else are they “missing”?

Are some of Florida’s Supervisors of Elections skirting the law? Supervisors are tasked with maintaining an accurate voter roll. One of the requirements on the Supervisors is to ensure that voters provide a legal residence address. Yet a December 2013 analysis shows more than 3,000 voter registrations statewide listing their residence address at a UPS store, potentially illegally.

Florida Law is clear and, with minor exception, requires that voter registrations listing other than an address of legal residence should not be accepted, because they are “ineligible” (F.S. 98.045 (1)(h)). This is considered so important, that it is a felony to willfully submit any false voter registration information (F.S.104.011(2)).
Florida Statute F.S. 98.045 (click to enlarge)
Accordingly, if these “ineligible” registrations are found to exist, Florida statutes also provide for their prompt correction or removal (F.S. 98.075(6) & (7)).

This correction or removal process is supposed to be enabled by Florida Law mandating that each Supervisor maintain a list of valid residential street addresses. This list is explicitly for the “purposes of verifying the legal addresses of voters residing in the supervisor’s county”, (F.S. 98.015(12)).

Yet, further review of this mandated list reveals that of the 3,000 UPS store registrations, more than
  1. 1,200 match addresses already known as commercial that were ignored,
  2. 500 match addresses erroneously marked as residential,
  3. and 1,100 have no match at all.
Unbelievably, even though our Supervisors are required to submit to the State their updates for their valid residential street address lists on a monthly basis, B & C above could be fixed by the trivial repair or addition of around 120 records.

This mandated list of valid residential street addresses, combined with the simplest of today’s computers, should enable every Supervisor to easily and routinely identify these “ineligible” registrations at the touch of a button. But, it seems actually finding that button is for too many of our Supervisors a step too far.

Now an optimist might think perhaps all these UPS store registrations occurred only recently, and we just need to allow enough time for the Supervisors to do their job. But that optimism would be naive. Because more than 2,300 of the more than 3,000 recently discovered UPS store registrations had the exact same UPS store listed as their residence at least 15 months prior.

Think about that. As we approached our 2012 General Election, Supervisors across our State, for the lack of 120 records and a button press, allowed at least 2,300 likely “ineligible”, potentially law-breaking registrations to remain on the rolls, ready to vote, potentially in the wrong precincts and races.

And vote they did. Approximately 800 of those 2,300 likely “ineligible” registrations voted in our 2012 General Election.

Even more condemning, since Federal Elections occur in even years, the Supervisors are required by law to perform their primary “list maintenance” during the odd years. Yet these 3,000 UPS store registrations were identified in December of 2013 as the Supervisors’ odd year voter roll efforts came to a close. So it’s pretty clear too many of our Supervisors aren’t nearly as effective in their jobs as one might hope.

On a brighter side, of the 67 counties in Florida, 38 were clean. And of the other 29 counties with UPS store registrations, 19 have promptly responded with “Thank-you”, and/or indicate they are following the law and promptly working on the issue. Another 7 counties required phone calls before responding with claims they were making progress.

But even though the Supervisors by law must “Notify the registered voter of his or her potential ineligibility by mail within 7 days after receipt of notice or information” (F.S. 98.075(7)), the remaining 3 counties after more than a month have either not responded at all to multiple requests, or are have only responded weakly. And these three offenders are some of Florida’s most populated counties: Broward, Orange & Hillsborough.

Broward county receives the “here’s your sign” award with fully 40% of the 3,000 potentially ineligible records, and simply responding they’re in process.

Orange County indicates, without explanation, they have sent zero letters to their 116 registrations.

And even though every one of their 117 registrations were from addresses already listed as commercial, and 83 of those have been that way for at least 2 full years, Hillsborough’s response via their County Attorney was to charge $58 for a Public Records Request to determine that zero letters had been sent out.

The Florida Division of Elections is aware of these findings and, under Governor Rick Scott, has shown an interest in following-up on and ensuring our Supervisors’ compliance with the law. But to ensure free and fair elections it clearly is the citizens who must demand all of our Supervisors go well beyond the bare minimum passiveness required by law.

Because all this nonsense leaves one to wonder: If some of our Supervisors lack sufficient skills or decency to catch the easy stuff, what else are they “missing”?

Gregg Prentice

Hat tip: This article was previously cross-posted at drrichswier and former Congressman Allen West responded with a post on his website here.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Yard Signs and More On Your Taxpayer Dime

As was recently reported, state senator Jeff Brandes asked the FDOT to investigate how PSTA is spending taxpayer dollars on it's Greenlight Pinellas "education" campaign.  The FDOT Inspector General we understand is now conducting an investigation.  

So what does Greenlight Pinellas do?  They double down and are now asking you to pick up Greenlight Pinellas yard signs

Greenlight Pinellas doubles down on their advocacy
Since when were yard signs part of an "educational" campaign? Common sense says yard signs are used to advocate and encourage support. These advocacy activities are what the privately funded campaigns are expected to do - not taxpayer funded agencies.

Let's review Greenlight Pinellas's so-called "education" campaign activities:
1)  Taxpayer dollars are spent on trinkets, including buttons, pens, refrigerator magnets, chip clips, bead necklaces and goodie bags.  
2)  PSTA CEO Brad Miller speaks at the private Yes for Greenlight advocacy campaign's kick off meeting on PSTA time and dime standing right next to a big sign stating "VOTE YES" on Nov. 4th.
3)  PSTA CEO Brad Miller admits he provides a one-sided campaign that provides no "educational" information regarding any cons or negatives about Greenlight Pinellas.  He doesn't think he needs to as if there are no negatives to the plan.
3)  PSTA hires Tucker Hall - a PR firm.  Why are PR firms hired? To influence and persuade public opinion.
4)  PSTA spent $400K of taxpayer dollars last year lobbying the Pinellas County Commissioners and targeted groups to get the referendum on the ballot.
5)  PSTA plans to spend at least $400K more this year on their advocacy campaign that  now includes yard signs.  
6)  PSTA is using their own bus wraps to advertise (encourage support for) Greenlight Pinellas for which they are not getting commercial revenue.  PSTA denied No Tax For Tracks who wanted to BUY their own bus wraps which would be revenue to PSTA.

Greenlight Pinellas got lawyered up last year and their lawyers state that as long as they simply do not say "vote for" or "support" - hey its ok to spend gobs of taxpayer dollars encouraging folks to "vote for" the referendum without using those silly little words.  Actions always speak louder than words!
Florida has electioneering laws. If the investigation of Greenlight PInellas finds no wrongdoing or ethically challenged behavior then it's time for Florida to do what other states have done and pass a bill to stop the abusive use of state and local governments using our tax dollars against us the taxpayer. Arizona passed such a bill last year to:
...stop state and local governments from campaigning with taxpayer dollars. 
Unfortunately, courts have essentially read these laws to prohibit only electioneering that “unambiguously” urges a “yes” or “no” vote. As a result, government bodies often skirt the law and use public resources to broadcast one-sided messages about ballot measures. 
HB 2156 requires government bodies to be truly neutral with taxpayer dollars. Government may inform the public on ballot issues, but publicly sponsored forums or events must be purely educational, with an equal opportunity for the presentation of all viewpoints (emphasis mine). 
...close the loopholes on public-resource electioneering bans.
If Greeniight Pinellas is not violating the intent of our electioneering laws, they are violating the spirit of the law and making a mockery out of them.  

It is the responsibility of privately funded campaigns to sell their side. It is the responsibility of the county commissioners, who vote to place any referendum on the ballot, to sell it to their constituents. If the county commissioners understand the referendum enough to put it on the ballot, they should understand it enough to sell it to the voters.  

It is not the responsibility of the transit agency to use taxpayer dollars to be the county referendum's marketing firm. It is the responsibility of the transit agency to honestly provide the technical information regarding the specifics of the plan. As SaintPetersblog recently reported, PSTA/Greenlight Pinellas should be answering why they continue to show the rail line running along adjacent CSX tracks when PSTA knew since 2012 (2 years ago) that CSX said No. Isn't eminent domain a major issue that must be considered? Did PSTA think they could get away with NOT informing voters they may need to use eminent domain to gain right of way? Eminent domain can cause huge delays and higher costs for any project. After spending $4 million on an Alternatives Analysis, PSTA should have had a solid plan. Do they?

What else is PSTA not being honest about? Their map continues to state there will be a future train across the Howard Frankland by 2024. This is a false narrative as the Tampa Bay Business Journal recently reported. It is more likely we will have autonomous vehicles using highly utilized managed lanes before any high cost, taxpayer subsidized train could ever be built across the bridge. 
Greenlight Pinellas falsely implies a future train over Howard Frankland by 2024
Polk County has a transportation referendum on the ballot in November and its transit agency also wants taxpayer dollars for an "education" campaign.  Were they watching what PSTA/Greenlight Pinellas has been getting away with?
County commissioners will be asked Tuesday to contribute $125,000 toward an educational campaign for this year’s sales tax referendum to fund transit and road projects. 
The request by Tom Phillips, executive director of Polk Transit and the Lakeland Area Mass Transit District, caught commissioners by surprise when he brought it up during this morning’s agenda study session.
Phillips plans to use radio and television ads to promote (emphasis mine) the referendum.
But Dantzler said he hasn’t heard a big outcry from the business community about the need for more transit to get employees to work. 
Dantzler, who is a commercial real estate broker, said, despite what some people claim, the issue of transit service has never been raised by any of his clients looking for property in Polk County. 
Is Polk County's referendum activity murky too? Is it legal to use taxpayer dollars to air ads that promote a referendum to raise taxes? 

The Polk County referendum is split 50% for transit and 50% for roads. It appears all the media ads are promoting transit.

Polk County apparently had some concerns because they only approved $50,000 for the "education" campaign according to the Lakeland Ledger: to use the $50,000 commissioners approved to educate the public about the My Road part of the referendum. 
Phillips last week asked commissioners for $160,000 to fund a My Road educational campaign, but commissioners, responding to public criticism over spending any money on the referendum, approved the smaller amount.
This abuse of taxpayer money must stop or it will be used elsewhere - in our own backyard - in the very near future.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Tears for Beer

Here we go again. It was not that long ago that we wrote about Crony Beer.  Now that the Florida legislation is in session, the legislators and big beer distributors yet again are hard at work to extract rents from craft brewers.  This time, they're getting closer to protecting their business and restrict your choice for beer.
Craft brewers lost another skirmish with the established beer industry on Monday.
The Senate Rules Committee backed a bill (SB 1714) in a 9-4 vote that would require the smaller brewers to buy back their bottled products to sell on premises once the breweries reach a certain size.
Is there any other business forced to buy back its own product from a third party adding no value to sell it to willing consumers?

It looks like the craft brewers, trying to use common sense, walked right into a trap set up for them by the crony legislator and big beer.  Florida has actual laws on the books that regulate the size of containers that craft brewers may sell on premise.  They may sell a 32 oz. container.  The may sell a 128 oz. container.  But never, ever sell a 64 oz. "growler".  The law will be after you like the Bureau of Land Management chasing cattle and saving tortoises.

One of these bottles is illegal in Florida
The craft brewers, seeking to sell "growlers", got what they wanted ... and something extra.
In the latest version of the bill, craft brewers could sell bottled, canned and kegged beer at their breweries, as long as they did not manufacture 2,000 kegs or more per year. Additionally, all craft brewers would be able to sell their products on tap and in 64-ounce growlers.
If they exceeded 2,000 kegs, the brewers would have to sell their bottled and canned products to distributors and then buy them back if they wanted to sell them on premises.
However, the bill did eliminate a controversial provision that would pay the distributors even though the bottled beer was never moved from the craft brewery.
The bill also would prohibit craft brewers from transferring their beer from one brewery to another for sales.
The get rid of one arbitrary constraint with the 64 oz. growler, but then trade that for another arbitrary limit of 2000 kegs, after which, the craft brewers must pay rent directly to big beer for the privilege of selling their own beer.

Why not pass a law to pay rent to the craft brewers for any brewer that sells over 1 million kegs a year? Why won't we protect the craft brewer business like we protect big, watered down beer?

They'd rather extract money from craft brewers, kill the growth and job prospects, if not their business, and transfer money to big beer.

The craft brewers are truly small business.  They don't have the big beer money, and have not sought to buy off the politicians to protect their business.
In their testimony, the craft brewers said the 2,000-keg limit was too low and would thwart the industry’s development.
David Doble, a co-owner of the Tampa Bay Brewing Co., said 14,000 kegs was a “break even” point for a brewer, calling the 2,000-keg limit “absolutely nothing.”
He said the legislation was designed to make the smaller craft brewers compete on the same level as a beer giant like Anheuser-Busch, which produces hundreds of millions of kegs per year. And he said it could threaten his company’s plan for a $5 million expansion in Tampa.
“These people are going to crush us,” Doble said. “We’re going to lose a lot.”
What do our state legislators know about craft brewing that they can decide that 2000 kegs is some magic number?

Joey Redner gets it right:
Call it a sobering civics lesson in the power of campaign cash.
"It's classic crony capitalism," said Joey Redner, the founder of Tampa's Cigar City Brewing, after the Rules Committee vote.
Tampa is gaining recognition among craft brew aficionados as a top 5 craft beer destination, including Cigar City, among several others, such as Tampa Bay Brewing Company, Tampa Cold Storage, Barley Mow Brewing Company in Largo, Saint Somewhere Brewing Company in Tarpon Springs, Peg's Cantina & Brew Pub in Gulfport, New World Brewery in Ybor City and Mr. Dunderbak's and Four Green Fields in Tampa.

There are at least 31 local craft brewers in the Tampa Bay area.  It is a nice local success story of small business growing and gaining publicity for the Tampa Bay.

The must be stopped!

At least one local politician gets it right.
After Monday's vote, more than a dozen craft brewer owners and employees from all over the state huddled with an ally in the Florida House: Majority Whip Dana Young, R-Tampa.
"I see the dramatic impact the craft brewing industry has on Florida and the Tampa Bay region," said Young. "I am willing to expose the absurdity of the Senate's punitive bill and fight any attempts to hurt the industry.'' Though Gaetz fast-tracked the bill in the Senate, it has no House companion, meaning that its future depends on end-of-session wrangling between legislative leaders.
"Why would the Senate want to do this?'' Young asked. "It goes against every free market, small business principle we have."
Why? Here's a clue, from the Times:
Sen. President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, brought attention to this pay-for-play dynamic when he told the Associated Press in March that he didn't object to microbreweries. However, he said, they are an issue to one of his friends, Anheuser-Busch distributor Lewis Bear. Distributors contributed at least $8,000 to Gaetz's 2012 campaign, with Bear kicking in at least $2,000.
Money is his principle. Free markets?  Who cares?

Capitalism is not pro-business.  It is pro-free markets, and pro-consumer.  That includes your beer.

The market for beer is changing thanks to craft brewers.  They are creating a new class of local, freshly brewed beers, and the markets... you and I... are liking what we taste.

Big beer is yesterday's beer.  But they are trying to fight the changes in the markets. They are fighting against you and me, and our choice.

They've found some willing conspirators in the state legislature. The old fashioned way.  Money talks.

This is nothing but the definition of cronyism.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

To plan or not to plan

One of the heaviest traveled roads in the Tampa Bay Area is State Road 60 through Brandon. The Brandon area has grown tremendously in the last 30 years, often with little forethought, which has resulted in more congestion.

So what to do?

People in the Brandon - Valrico area literally and figuratively are not going anywhere. Another 600,000 people will be moving to Hillsborough County in the next 25 - 30 years, and it's likely that a big chunk of them will move out to Eastern Hillsborough County, further impeding traffic.

Can we get ahead of the rush?

From the Tribune on April 13,
VALRICO — The time will come when State Road 60’s rural swath won’t be so rural, state road officials say.
Traffic on the ribbon of pavement between Valrico Road and the Polk County line will increase 54 percent — some 71,000 vehicle trips per day — by 2040, Florida’s Department of Transportation estimates. Unless that 12.3-mile segment is widened to six lanes, it will not measure up to its designation as a major east-west corridor and evacuation route, transportation officials say.
“It’s not going to be built anytime soon, but at least we can look at the impacts,” said Kirk Bogen, environmental management engineer for the DOT. Bogen estimates it will be five to 15 years before any construction gets under way.
No one is plowing up SR 60 anytime soon.  Sounds like someone is thinking about a plan.  With the growth forecasts in Hillsborough, there will be more new neighborhoods taking over the rural areas along State Road 60.

Planned widening on SR-60
Of course, the Trib found many folks against the plan, yet no viable alternative plan that would address the future needs, except the gratuitous mention of light rail, which is in no one's plans to go that far out along SR 60 in the next 50 years.

The Tribune editorial board weighted in on April 21.
The Florida Department of Transportation’s plans to six-lane a rural stretch of State Road 60 illustrates how the state can undermine local growth plans.
Nothing may happen anytime soon, but as the Tribune’s Yvette C. Hammett reports, the DOT already is making preparations to widen the 12.3-mile length of road between Valrico Road and the Polk County line.

Traffic flow now is adequate on much of that strip, but DOT engineer Kirk Bogen says the agency is trying to plan ahead instead of “getting behind the 8 ball and waiting for congestion.”

Those are reasonable concerns. But there are far more pressing needs than developing a rural highway, where expansion would likely encourage development and sprawl.
The Trib goes on that the Hillsborough MPO, one of twelve(!) government agencies that have some say on local transportation projects, should be consulted.
Hillsborough County Commissioner and MPO Chairman Mark Sharpe wrote to the DOT pointing out there is no demand for the project, it would be built in an area the county envisioned as remaining rural, and there are more pressing transportation needs.

That stretch of State Road 60 is outside the county’s urban service area — the area where local roads and other infrastructure are planned for future development. Such boundaries are intended to discourage sprawling subdivisions that generate high costs for taxpayers.
Perhaps so. The MPO are planners, but their priorities are to control growth into predetermined areas, while the FDOT's priorities are to plan ahead and avoid traffic congestion and enhance evacuation routes... such as SR 60. We will have growth, and this is a plan that at least attempts to get ahead of that growth.  600,000 people are not all moving into downtown Tampa, where only about 7,000 currently live, and over 83% of the local population lives greater than 10 miles from downtown.

Then the Trib states:
It is bad public policy to use state highway construction as a growth driver. We don’t believe that is the DOT’s motive here, but it is likely to be the result.
But how is using highway construction for a growth driver any different than using light rail and transit oriented development as a growth driver, a position the Tribune has repeatedly proposed?

They are BOTH bad policies.  Let's have transportation policies that address our mobility needs.  Lets have economic and development policies that address those issues.  Yes, they are some dependencies, but they are different issues, and can be addressed with much different solutions.

We see this pattern over and over again the Tampa Bay area.  There's a plan to fix or enhance a heavily traveled road, trying to get ahead of the growth, only to be thwarted by NIMBYs, special interests, community plans, and the Urban Land Institute.

Adding a toll road to complement heavily traveled, State Road 54, in south Pasco, has met with stiff local and political opposition. Yet they have no viable solution to address the expectations of another 20,000 homes along the route.

At least the Tribune has taken a more muted approach on SR 54, but not endorsing the toll road idea.
Although we’re not sold on the proposal, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be explored. Clearly, something has to be done.
Of course, everyone cites Pascos Urban Land Institute $125,000 study (why do they always use ULI around here?), which always come up with the same answer around "walkable communities" whether its in the exurbs of Pasco or downtown St. Petersburg?  Next time, save taxpayer money, and regardless of the plan, community, transportation needs, just change the title of ULI's standard template and insert "walkable communities" into some report and be done.

Let's not forget Hillsborough County's great contribution to anti-planning, the Community Plans.  Once these community plans are approved, they are adopted into the Hillsborough County Land Development Code, where they can place all sorts of restrictions on road and land use.
Gunn Highway will be identified as a County roadway, which cannot be widened further due to social, economic, policy and environmental constraints.
Hillsborough County... as envisioned by Community Plans
Here we have a major commuting artery between Pasco and northwest Hillsborough constrained as a 2 lane road by a community plan.  Development continues in Pasco County, traffic increases on Gunn Highway, which is becoming more and more dangerous.  But we can't do anything about it since the Keystone - Odessa community plan prohibits addressing Gunn Highway.

So here we are. We can't plan and get ahead of the growth.  We have to wait until we really need improvements.  That's the way we've always done it, right?  But, then its too late, then everyone complains. The NIMBY's and Community Plan proponents complain when planners actually plan for growth, yet they won't much like the alternative of further congestion if nothing is done.  They will only have themselves to blame when congestion worsens with the expected growth in Hillsborough County.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Tampa Bay Transportation Roundup to Keep Up

There is a lot happening with the transportation issue in Tampa Bay.  Here's a roundup to keep up with what's going on this issue.

We'll start with the most serious matter - the issue of a taxpayer funded entity using tax dollars against the taxpayers. 

The Eye previously posted here, here and here about the egregious activities that PSTA's taxpayer funded Greenlight Pinellas advocacy campaign has been doing under a false claim of "education". We reported that PSTA's CEO Brad Miller spoke at the kick off event of the private advocacy campaign "Yes for Greenlight" in February on taxpayer time and dime. We wondered who Miller was "educating" speaking to a group of people who already support the referendum. That was a collaboration rah rah event not an education session. Is that even legal? 

PSTA CEO Brad Miller speaks at Yes for Greenlight,
private pro Greenlight advocacy campaign's kick off event 

Thankfully, state senator Jeff Brandes asked for an investigation and the Tampa Bay Times reported:
The state Department of Transportation launched an investigation Thursday into how the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority spent public money to educate voters about Greenlight Pinellas.
Common sense tells us that Greenlight Pinellas, hiring PR firm Tucker Hall and spending almost a million dollars of taxpayer money, is an advocacy/marketing campaign encouraging voters to support the Greenlight Pinellas referendum. If the common sense answer is not provided with this investigation of Greenlight, then don't our electioneering laws need reforming?


The first campaign filing for the private pro rail PAC "Friends of Greenlight" was filed.
 The SaintPetersblog reported:
According to the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections website, of the nearly forty donations the committee received through March 31— totaling $66,350 in cash and $7,084 if in-kind offerings — the largest contributor was a $50,000 check from utility giant Duke Energy. The Pinellas Realtor Organization also gave $10,000. 
Advocacy group Tampa Bay Partnership chipped in with administrative services worth $6,781 and $266 in office supplies while TBP chair Barry Alpert gave $1,000. 
Palm Springs-based SEIU Florida Public Services Union also donated $2,500
Same playbook as 2010. Duke Energy of the Tampa Bay Partnership seeded Friends of Greenlight with $50K like SunTrust of the Tampa Bay Partnership seeded the initial $50K to Moving Hillsborough Forward in 2010. The circle of Tampa Bay Partnership money goes round and round for rail.
SunTrust donates $50,000 to Moving Hillsborough Forward 3/26/2010


The results of a recent poll of "likely voters" in Pinellas commissioned by SaintPetersblog and done by professional organization StPetePolls show the referendum in trouble:
Just 29% of likely voters say they plan to vote ‘Yes’ to “approve the Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum and sales tax increase on the ballot in November.” Forty-eight percent are opposed to the plan, while 23% say they are unsure.
Even when asked if they would favor the referendum if the sales tax increase was smaller and funding only went toward buses with no light rail provision, a majority of likely voters opposed the plan (52% to 23%).
Interesting results after PSTA spent $400K of taxpayer dollars last year to launch and lobby Greenlight Pinellas and they are spending another $400K of taxpayer dollars this year. 


There is lots of confusion surrounding the Howard Frankland bridge. Does Greenlight Pinellas goes over the bridge? NO. 

The  FDOT 5 year work plan has the Howard Frankland Bridge replacement project in the District 7 plan. FDOT agreed to spend $25 million to include some infrastructure to accommodate future premium transit. The Tampa Bay Times reported late last year:
At the Tampa Bay Partnership breakfast (emphasis mine), Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad said his agency has committed to spending $25 million on a substructure that would strengthen the bridge span, FDOT officials said. 
"We're not building any amenities but rather we're making the structure strong enough to build a light rail," said Ming Gao, FDOT planning manager.
Gao said the project is still in the study phase, so the announcement does not alter previous progress. 
The bridge was built in 1959 and is structurally worn. Current plans include swapping out the bridge with a new one that looks much similar. But the new design would include room on either the side or middle lanes for "transit envelopes," or spaces where buses, tolled express lanes or a light rail could fit (emphasis mine).
We did find this from FDOT letter in 2012:
FDOT was already considering managed/bus toll lanes
and congestion pricing
The outcome of the Greenlight Pinellas referendum could weigh into the final decision but here's some cost information regarding the replacement and adding some type of transit:
  • "The price to replace just four lanes of roadway will be about $367 million" FDOT said. That does not include relieving the traffic bottleneck at the Tampa International Airport/Memorial Highway interchange.
  • If the project adds two express lanes in each direction to accommodate bus rapid transit and cars paying tolls to avoid the free, congested lanes, the cost would increase by $339 million to $706 million.  
  • And if the new bridge were built to accommodate a transit exclusive guideway — a corridor for either light rail or bus — the cost would increase by $989 million to $1.36 billion. That price would include additional work in both Hillsborough and Pinellas to accommodate an enhanced transit system and link with new transit terminals."
Adding bus/managed toll lanes is LESS than 2 times the cost of replacing the bridge while adding light rail would cost 4 times MORE than the cost of replacing the bridge.  Bus/managed toll lanes are more cost-effective, would be higher utilized, it is user pays based on the individuals decision and the revenue generated would go back into improving and maintaining the toll lanes. Light rail would be high cost, lower utilized, the fares are highly subsidized by all taxpayers whether they ever use it or not, it would not relieve congestion and a new long term revenue source would need to be found to keep it operating.


The Hillsborough County PTC continues to be a problem. The PTC has a history of corruption and cronyism. They hired a lobbyist last year and the taxi cab industry hired their own lobbyists to descend on Tallahassee. The PTC Chairman County Commissioner Victor Crist even recently went up to Tallahassee. The PTC truly is a three ring circus as we posted before here, here and here. State senator Brandes and State representative Grant have been trying to reign in the PTC and burdensome regulations but it's difficult against an entrenched industry who wants to protect their turf and inhibit competition.  

The Tampa Bay Times recently reported on Brandes and Grant's bills in the state legislature and Uber and Lyft moving forward to provide service.
Lyft is going rogue. The ride-sharing service, which uses a smartphone application to connect passengers with drivers who use their personal vehicles, began accepting passengers in Tampa on Friday evening.Under Grant's revised proposal, special districts could not impose a minimum wait time or fare on app-based commercially licensed driver services, such as town cars and limousines. Special districts would also be prohibited from restricting the number of available limousine permits.
While the bill would make way for Uber's black car service to operate here, it would not affect ride-sharing services such as Lyft, which the PTC considers a taxicab company. 
Lyft, which bills itself as a technology company, sees things differently. 
"Lyft's new peer-to-peer model does not easily fit into existing frameworks," Lyft spokeswoman Paige Thelen said in an email Friday, "which is why we created a strict set of safety standards that are far more strict than what's required of taxis and limos."
The Tribune reported Friday:
Uber, a ridesharing service that lets customers use a smartphone to find a driver, said late Friday afternoon the company has started offering its UberX service in Tampa. The announcement comes only a few days after Lyft, which offers a similar service, began operating in the city. 
Both are part of a new wave of companies offering services that challenge the way traditional taxi and limousine services operate. With UberX and Lyfft, customers use an app to find drivers, who often aren’t professional drivers and use their own cars. Rates can fluctuate and could rise during high-demand periods.
Safety issues, background checks, licensing and insurance liability can all be dealt with without the burdensome PTC. Technology and the Internet allows anyone who uses these new services to immediately rate the service they were provided for all the world to see.  That's quicker than any PTC regulator could ever report. Technology can and should rid us of some bureaucracy.


We continue to follow what is going on with TBARTA as we've reported TBARTA has numerous issues. It appears now there is a proposal to merge/consolidate the MPO's Chairs Coordinating Committee into TBARTA. At a meeting Friday of the West Central Florida Metropolitan Planning Organizations Chairs Coordinating Committee Staff Directors Workshop, this presentation was about the consolidation. 

TBARTA was not originally established to fairly represent, on a proportional population basis, the counties it represents. TBARTA was created in 2007 at the behest of the special interest organization Tampa Bay Partnership and the Partnership has always appeared to have dominate influence over TBARTA. Friday's presentation confirmed that influence. This is one of the recommendation's from the consolidation presentation: 
Coordinate legislative priorities developed by TBARTA, MPO's
and Tampa Bay Partnership, secure funding as "one voice"
Tampa Bay Partnership is not elected nor appointed but they do have dominate influence over TBARTA. When a special interest has that much influence, isn't that cronysim? Would the Partnership then have dominate influence over the MPO's too with this consolidation? This should be raised as a concern and a red flag for the MPO's to NOT merge into TBARTA.  


We'll end with a video from NoTaxForTracks Pinellas At the Annual Oldsmar Parade.  
Lots of resounding NO's in Oldsmar to raising their taxes to pay for a train. These are people who actually live and vote in Pinellas and not deep pocketed special interest groups or people who don't even live in Pinellas and can't vote on Greenlight.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Traffic jams, Transformation and the Jetsons

In Hillsborough county a traffic jam occurred last weekend on I-275 where construction is being done. The Tribune published their editorial Wednesday using the traffic jam to advocate for more transit options including claims that transit (rail) spurs economic development.
Episodes such as these make the case for diversifying mass transit options far better than any marketing campaign.
Diversifying transit presents options, many of them more affordable and more conducive to a better quality of life than being stuck in traffic for a couple of hours every day. It also spurs economic development and makes the area more attractive to visitors. 
Motorists need to remember delays such as these when their local leaders seek support for mass transit initiatives in the coming months.
Diversifying transit options isn’t going to eliminate massive traffic jams that result from road work.
So how's that logic? A traffic jam created by road construction makes the case for more diverse transit options but diversifying transit options won't eliminate traffic jams resulting from road work. Sound circular? It is.

We note not nary a word from the Tribune about holding those responsible for when and how the re-route occurred causing the traffic jam. 

Also, coincidentally on Wednesday, County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, who also sits on the HART board sent this open letter to the HART board.  Certainly there was no coordination between the Tribune editorial and the timing of Sharpe's letter.

Sharpe Open Letter to HART Board
We are not lawyers but our first reaction was whether there was any violation of our Florida Sunshine Laws.  According to the Sunshine Law Manual
Written correspondence, e-mails, texts, and other electronic communications
The Sunshine Law requires boards to meet in public; boards may not take action on or engage in private discussions of board business via written correspondence, e-mails, text messages or other electronic communications. See AGO 89-39 (members of a public board may not use computers to conduct private discussions among themselves about board business).
Accordingly, the law is applicable to any gathering, whether formal or casual, of two or more members of the same board or commission to discuss some matter on which foreseeable action will be taken by the public board or commission.
The Sunshine Law is, therefore, applicable to all functions of covered boards and commissions, whether formal or informal, which relate to the affairs and duties of the board or commission.
Board members of an agency under the Sunshine Laws are not supposed to be engaging in private conversations regarding the agency.  We'll let the lawyers figure out the legal aspects.

There have already been some discussion at previous HART board meetings about  a proposal to restructure HART into some type of super-sized agency responsible for roads, transit and economic development. This issue will come up again at HART. This restructuring of HART proposal will be a topic for a post another day but HART does not oversee road improvements nor have responsibility for economic development today. A transit agency should not be responsible for economic development. We already have the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), Tampa Bay Partnership, MPO's, Chambers of Commerce, Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, the Planning Commission and the county commissioners themselves (there's probably more) responsible for some aspect of land use and economic development. Commissioner Sharpe is a board member of both the EDC and Tampa Bay Partnership and is chairman of the Hillsborough MPO. To digress, as we posted here, these entities should be focusing on recruiting corporate and regional headquarters not wasting so much of their time and energy on wanting to develop around train stations or baseball stadiums. 

Commissioner Sharpe, who chairs the Hillsborough County Commission, sits on the HART board and is a participant on the county's Transportation Leadership Policy Group. From his comments at the Transportation Leadership Policy Group meetings, he is a proponent of this super-sized, super-charged restructured HART. However, Sharpe's open letter appears to be an emotional plea rather than a rational, focused and measured response to something. 

In addition, Sharpe states in his letter:
There is no nice and easy way to push transformation....
The quality of service HART provides ultimately should be on par with private service providers.
Sharpe wants to "transform" HART? Transform to what? No details were provided. HART does not need transforming to provide quality, cost-effective service for those who need or want to use their services. HART does not need to be transformed to continue improving their bus services. Is it the role of government for taxpayers to provide services "on par" with private sector providers? How much will that cost taxpayers?  Is that realistically doable since innovation is constantly occurring in the private sector?  

The fare box revenue of our bus service in Hillsborough County is about 25% of the operating costs, meaning taxpayers pick up subsidizing about 75% of the costs. If Sharpe wants to transform HART to be like private service providers, then doesn't the discussion  need to include market based fares? If Sharpe wants more people to ride transit, then why shouldn't those riders pay their "fare share" at the fare box to recover transit's costs. Why should taxpayers highly subsidize those with higher incomes to take transit? What about privatization or out-sourcing? Are those part of the "transformation" discussion?

Thursday Tribune columnist Joe Henderson jumped in with his column trying to explain Sharpe's exasperation (didn't I just say Sharpe's letter sounded emotional?) and his
....Sharpe-tongued comments about HART.....
“We must change the perception of HART from the transportation provider of last resort to one that is a desirable choice for residents and visitors,” Sharpe wrote. “This will require retooling the agency into something dramatically different from what it is today.”
HART Board member and former chairwoman of HART Fran Davin apparently disagreed:
“Our core mission is to provide transportation for those who otherwise don’t have private transportation,” she said.
The lower income who depend on the bus service to get to their jobs or those who cannot drive and need public transit are often hurt when transit systems are "transformed" to over extending themselves with high cost rail systems. There are too many instances of bus services being cut or the bus service expansion promised cannot occur because of the high cost of operating a rail. The role of government is to provide a safety net of quality public transit services for the those who need the service not force taxpayers to pay for transit options that costs too much, benefits too few and does nothing about congestion.  Reality is most of (98%) drive.

The elephant in the room is COST. With no details or specifics in Sharpe's letter, no one knows. Where is the money coming from and who is going to pay? Who will benefit? The federal transportation dollars are dwindling and they come with all kinds of strings attached. We are over $17.5 TRILLION in debt. We have gotten into our fiscal mess pursuing grandiose ideas, even with good intentions, that then become a fiscal disaster and put taxpayers at risk and on the hook at the benefit of a few.

We appreciate Commissioner Sharpe's enthusiasm for transit. However, the most critical transportation issue in Hillsborough is lack of road funding. Buses need roads. Hillsborough county is a large county over 1100 square miles and there are unmet transportation needs that we need NOW or in the very near future not 12-15 years from now. 

Let's also get rid of the PTC and it's burdensome regulations so that the new innovative, on-demand ride sharing services can operate and compete in Hillsborough County.  We live in a highly mobile and on-demand society today. New car and ride sharing services can provide a transportation alternative when and where you need it at the touch of an App on your smartphone or tablet.

Perhaps when Sharpe leaves office in November, he'll continue his passion for the transportation issue pursuing private sector transportation solutions. 
Flying Car TF-X, a four-seat, plug-in hybrid electric car
that can do vertical take-offs and landings.
Transportation innovation is occurring in the private sector where it should occur. We may not only have autonomous vehicles but perhaps we'll finally be like the Jetson's and we'll be driving flying cars too. 

Now that's transformative!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

PSTA's Greenlight Pinellas Campaign to be Investigated

The Eye recently posted calling for  PSTA's taxpayer funded Greenlight Pinellas marketing campaign to Shut Down, Cease and Desist.  Common sense says this is an advocacy campaign cloaked in their lawyered up legalease that Greenlight Pinellas is an "education campaign" -  but a one-sided campaign as PSTA CEO Brad Miller admitted when asked. A taxpayer "education" campaign spending almost a MILLION taxpayer dollars handing out goodie bags and trinkets to sell voters "to vote for" a tax increase for Greenlight Pinellas.

Regardless of the PSTA's lawyers providing legal excuses that PSTA can actually do this -use taxpayer money against the taxpayers as long as they don't use the words "support" or "vote for" - IT IS WRONG!  Don't forget PSTA CEO Brad Miller spoke (on taxpayer time and dime) at the Yes for Greenlight kick off event standing next to the sign to vote YES for Greenlight in November.  Does anyone think Miller's speech was part of an "education" campaign? 
PSTA CEO Brad Miller speaks on taxpayer time at Yes for Greenlightkick off campaign held at 9:30am on a Thursday next to "Vote Yes for Greenlight on Nov. 4th 
Remember TBARTA's lawyers said it was legal for TBARTA chairman Ronnie Duncan to also lead, organize and raise money for the private advocacy campaign Yes for Greenlight.  But that was WRONG too and he supposedly resigned from Yes for Greenlight nonprofit - though legally still shows Ronnie Duncan as a Director for Yes for Greenlight.

Now Florida state senator Jeff Brandes is weighing in on the Greenlight Pinellas issue.  It is reported today at the Miami Herald
Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, is asking the Florida Department of Transportation's inspector general to investigate how Pinellas County's mass transit agency is spending money on its Greenlight Pinellas program 
In a letter he sent Tuesday to DOT Secretary Ananth Prasad, Brandes is asking the agency to review how the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is spending about $800,000 on an information campaign on a Nov. 4 referendum asking voters to support a sales tax increase of 7 percent to 8 percent to pay for new routes and a 24-mile light rail line between St. Petersburg and Clearwater. 
The campaign uses taxpayer money for propaganda purposes, a violation of state law that should require the money to be returned, Brandes said.
FL State Senator Jeff Brandes
Here's Brandes letter to Ananth Prasad, FDOT Secretary

This is good news for Pinellas taxpayers as most of Brandes constituents are in Pinellas.  It is refreshing to see an elected representative holding a taxpayer funded government agency accountable to protect the taxpayers.  Let's hope we see more of this from more elected officials.

Here's a youtube on the taxpayer funded the Greenlight Pinellas "sham" education campaign.  If your browser does not load, click here.  

We look forward to seeing Greenlight Pinellas shut down, cease and desist!