Friday, August 24, 2012

Foster- Flip Flopping or just Desperate?

Mayor Foster is now trying to gain some support for the sagging fire fee by asking City Council to exempt non-profits. I don't know if this one qualifies as a genuine flip flop but it sure shows some serious desperation on the part of the administration.

Foster has also said he wants to lower both of the components of the fire fee. Either you have budget problem or you don't. If you're going to reduce the base and lower the amount of the fee it sounds like the true budget detail may not support the fire fee at all.

If you want some detail, Mark Puente has an informative piece in the Tampa Bay Times: "Mayor Foster now says nonprofits shouldn't have to pay the fire fee"

Foster has done a good job of keeping Council off point on the Budget with the fire fee. It appeals to the base instinct of a politician, because it raises revenue but is not really a tax. Most of the discussion has been about raising revenue not really looking at costs.

Council rolled over and voted for the fire fee to "get a balanced budget" when what they should have done is reject the fee, send the budget back to Foster, specified no cuts in public safety and directed him to bring back a balanced budget. Put the pressure where it is supposed to be - on the Administration. That is what the Charter amendment voted in during the last election allows them to do.

It is hard to imagine that in a $200 million plus budget, with a shortfall of around $10 million, that another 5% cut would as the Mayor said, "lead to the deterioration of our city and the deconstruction of what we have built up over the last 20 years." It might if the Mayor let that happen, but if he would just lead instead of waffle, things would not deteriorate.

Proving once again it is easier to grandstand than fix the problems.

Council has one more opportunity to kill this really regressive fee/tax. No talking, debating, over thinking, legal mumbo-jumbo from the lawyers on the Council, just vote it down.
It is time for the Mayor to look at all of the departments and do some more cutting. There is room and he knows it.

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Monday, August 20, 2012

Unanswered Questions = More Fees and Taxes

City Council and the Mayor are pretty good about starting things but not to good at following up.
Here are some lingering questions that need answers:
Several months back Chief Harmon told the PS&I City Council Subcommittee that the Armored Video Surveillance Unit to be built in a vehicle donated over 9 months ago would be available in July. Where is it?

Well part of the problem is the PD decided to have a "naming" contest so they can figure out what to call the thing. Good idea or just a delaying tactic. I'll let you decide.

While we're on the subject of video surveillance cameras, the PD was supposed to come up with a policy on where they would be located, who would monitor them and so on. Never mind the fact they have had a draft policy for over a year, no report yet.

What about the $250,000 or so in cameras from the RNC? Did anyone ever really figured out what they are going to do with those after the party?

Sticking with the PD, did anyone ever call or e-mail the Sheriff and ask him how much it would cost to have the Sheriff's call center dispatch the PD? Last time Wengay ask the question they all just ignored him. But the amount you're going to pay the City to cover the PD budget overage of $9 million or so is real. Either you'll pay a regressive fee/tax or a property tax increase, but no real serious effort to reduce cost.

While we're on a roll with the PD, that new building will have $2 to$4 million or more in costs associated with the communications center. Last time Mike Connors was asked for a cost estimate on that part of the project he said he didn't have the number but would get it. Anybody seen the figure?
Foster was supposed to bring a balanced budget to City Council in accordance with the last Charter amendments but he really didn't do that. He used the Police budget overage as a lever to get a fee/tax increase.
Mayor Foster should ring a few bells and get some answers. Good luck.
Council should throw out the fire fee/tax, forget any mileage increase hand the budget back to Mayor Foster and tell him to bring it back with no operational cuts at the PD.
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Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Gateway Project - Who Knew What When

The Gateway Project - Who Knew What When?

Mayor Foster put on his innocent look. Council Chair Curran shrieked secrecy and back door deals. City Council ran for cover.

Then there is an interesting name, Rick Musset, that surfaced.

It is no stretch to say that Rick Musset is probably as close to a genius as anyone on the City staff. Beginning with the Dome and Bay Plaza right up to Bay Walk, Beach Drive, the downtown condo renaissance and the Shops at Bay Walk you will find Rick Musset's finger prints on virtually every major City development project in the last three plus decades.

Musset has an insatiable work ethic. A former City manager once told me, "Rick is my kind of guy. He is here when I get here, here when I leave, and usually answers his office phone on Saturday if I call". Musset was deeply trusted by two other notable deal makers: Rick Dodge and Rick Baker.

Serving City Mangers, strong Mayors and Councils since the 80s, save a brief stint up north, Musset has always been the consummate behind the scenes planner, problem solver and deal maker. In my experience the only people who knew what was going on are the people Mussett wanted to know and they only knew what Rick wanted them to know.

What is going on?

City staff is hobbled with a lack luster Mayor and a dysfunctional City Council. Right now my bet is most of the serious work is being done way behind the scenes. Staff can't trust the Mayor to keep his mouth shut about the deals in work, City Council is suffering from a serious case of talking too much, doing too little and ignoring the constituency. Curran, Council Chair, has lost any shred of public respect and provides no leadership. It is not particularly surprising they are not in the loop on anything big.

The fact that the entire elected City administration is not respected or trusted is evidenced by the fact the Darryl LeClair went to the County Commission about the Gateway project before coming to the St. Pete elected body.

It would be hard to believe that Musset would not be involved in something as big as this since the project would ultimately need a lot of City support. Musset is the principle deal maker and can string together a series seemingly impossible situations to make a deal work.

Musset plays Chess not Checkers. Curran has been around long enough to know that. When Rick Musset asks you to change something like a formal request from the Council Chair there is always more on the table than there is on the plate. Ask a few questions.

Just maybe if City Council and the Mayor listened to the people, paid more attention to the details and postured a little less, the serious people in the City with the ability to make things happen would include them.

They call that confidence.

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Monday, August 13, 2012

Baseball at Gateway a Good Idea or Not?

A new private (for the moment) plan to build a new stadium may be just the catalyst needed to get things off dead center. But is Gateway the Right place?
Scenario 1
You live in Pinellas County or Manatee County and work in Tampa. You are going to face a horrendous traffic nightmare every time the Rays play an evening home game. There are not enough roads and bridges to handle all of the traffic efficiently even if you use all three bridges as part of the equation. It would not seem possible to build an off ramp large enough to handle the stadium back up. Once again the Howard Franklin would become the "Car Strangled Spanner"

Scenario 2
A lot of the same people who ballyhoo the tourist industry as part of the Tampa Bay economy are deep in the stadium issue. Consider a family of four who have just flown into Tampa International on Friday arriving about 5:00PM, get a rental car and spend the next 2-3 hours on the Howard Franklin or Courtney Campbell Causeway trying to get to their hotel on the beach. Sounds like a set up for another of those "Least Friendly" awards.

Scenario 3
One of the really great things about this area is the Tampa International Airport and the ability to get to and from it for both tourist and business travelers. Placing a baseball stadium right in the middle of access to that benefit seems like an incredibly bad idea. If we want to continue to tout this area as a place for high tech business investment, good airport access is much more important than a baseball stadium.

And speaking of roads, just who will be picking up the tab for the massive exits, entrances, ramps and other road improvements required to support the Echelon plan. (Hint: go look in the mirror).

A stadium on the other side of the bridges where the it does not impact interstate rush hour commuter traffic flow and baseball traffic is generally using the lower volume side of the interstate system to get to the games seems like a much better all around approach.

For now it is an interesting conversation piece, but it's much more about finding a use for piece of Echelon property that has not developed as expected than it is about saving the Rays for St. Pete.
It might also be a good idea to go back and look at the City's box score in dealing with Echelon. I don't believe the City is leading in that series.

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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Is Billy About to Lose the Ball?

He stood there on the mound haplessly kicking the ground rolling the ball around in his barely used glove. He looked around for his eight team mates but there were none to be found. Not even a catcher they had all abandoned him.

Stu stood at the plate his teeth clinched his eyes squinting the bat raised determined to knock one out of the park.

The Trop was empty save for a lone person sitting behind home plate. Bud Selig sneered as Billy looked into the batter.

In the opposing dugout were those nasty Hillsborough County Commissioners and Mayor Buckhorn jeering and threatening to take away his ball.

In the home dugout the Pinellas County Commissioners were hooting and hollering wanting their turn on the mound.

What to do? What to do?

The water front stadium had sunk. The secret plan had not materialized, the threats to potential pitchers have lost their credibility. The empty threats, lack of leadership, unwillingness to compromise and failure to act had finally come home to roost.

Besides all of that Stu didn't seem to like him.

If Billy threw the pitch, all Stu had to do was let it go by, the ball would roll hopelessly to the wall and Stu would run the bases scoring a run and winning the game.

Billy looked dejectedly at the ground. Suddenly a huge figure of a man strode slowly from the home bull pen and put his arm around Billy. Newt, perhaps the most compassionate of the team members, helped Billy off the field.

Immediately both dugouts erupted as each Commission dashed to the mound. An epic struggle ensued to see who would pitch next. Yelling, screaming, sign waving (they are all politicians).

Almost unnoticed was a small gathering at home plate. Stu, Bud and Bob. Bob had what appeared to be some plans. Everyone was smiling.

Baseball is good for the Tampa Bay region. We need to keep it here. The best way to keep it here is to work together. After all it is a team sport.

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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Small Business and Trickle Down VS Trickle Up Economics

We are hearing a lot about the economy and what works and what doesn't. Why all of this talk about small business?

What is a small business? Here is the Small Business Administration's definition. You might be surprised to find that you actually work for a small business. Generally 100 to 1500 employees, $2.5 million to $15 million in revenues.

Here are some facts from the Small Business Administration (SBA),
Small Businesses:
Represent 99.7 percent of all employers
Employ half of all private sector employs
Pay 44% of total U.S. private payroll
Generated 65 percent of net new jobs in the past 17 years
Hire 43 Percent of high tech workers

In the Bush era, trickledown economics failed principally due to unbridled greed in the financial sector, a failure of the Bush administration to properly regulate banks and Wall Street and to heed the warning signs that the economy was at a tipping point.

In the Obama administration, trickle up economics have failed to revive the economy principally due to poor execution and an over emphasis on socioeconomic welfare i.e. the Obama Health Care Plan. Continuing to borrow money to inject into the lower level of the economy has not worked. Stimulus money misapplied and mismanaged and weak economic policies have created an anemic growth rate that cannot sustain the national debt or the economy for much longer.

President Obama wants to stay the course, continue to develop stimulus packages, grow the government and expand the welfare state. All requiring a bigger government, more debt and more taxes. There is no Obama plan to scale back government and reduce the national debt. Obama wants small business to grow but with little help, less money, less opportunity and less reward for more risk.
Romney has not embraced the Bush approach, he has not fully embraced the Regan approach, he is proposing a new way to look at our economy. The Romney economic plan would refine regulation, reduce taxes, spending and government programs and get the rising national debt under control. 

Romney would develop economic stability, move more resources and decision making power to the states, increase domestic energy production, and yes hold steady or reduce taxes on the top earners and savers to encourage investment, business growth and expansion especially in the area of small business.

The choice is very clear.

If you want to work, have a career and an opportunity for success you must vote in this election.

If you own or work for a small business you should be extra sure to vote in this election. It is your future most at risk.

Forget political parties, forget how mom and dad vote, you should look carefully at both candidates and make a decision that is in your best interest.

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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

"You Didn't Build That"... Barack Obama

I come from a small business family. In 1940's my grandfather started the family retail furniture business in a small Indiana town by himself. All by himself. My father entered the business in his twenty's, my grandfather passed away and my father worked himself in to a heart attack at 55 running the place mostly by himself.
There were 5 of us kids, all of us worked in the business at one time or another, we all had the chance to go to college, 2 made their careers in public service, one in the finance/insurance business and 2 of my brothers took over the business and now operate it as the third generation.

There will be no 4th generation. Its hard work, long hours and with the economy, uncertainty, taxes, health insurance costs and competitive pressures the rewards are now not that great. And there is no one helping you. None of the grand children want to go through that.

When you are raised in an entrepreneurial family it is in your blood. I started three small businesses, 2 pretty successful one not so much, and I can tell you for a fact no one helped me.

My grandfather once told me you "don't know what business is like until you set down on Friday, write the pay checks, pay the bills and there isn't any money left for you." I've had that experience, and he was right. That's when you know you are all alone.

Down there in the left hand corner of the Patch Home page you find some small businesses. Stop in. Find one of the owners ask them how anyone, especially the government, helped them get started. Make sure you have some time because you will likely get an earful.

I voted for Obama. My Grandfather probably rolled over in his grave. I thought this Democrat is different. He said all of the right words, made most of the right promises but in the end he is a true Democrat to the core. There is really nothing wrong with that, but these 3 years have proven those basic Democratic tenants of government: directed wealth redistribution, government subsidies and socialized healthcare cannot and will not pull this country out of the economic doldrums.

Obama just doesn't get it. He has no ability to really understand what makes the economy tick.
No matter how much he tries to walk back the "You didn't Build It" comment, every small business owner knows Obama doesn't get it. Watch his eyes in the walk-back TV ads. You can see he really doesn't believe what he is saying.

Quite a while back I Posted Maybe the Little Engine That Could ...Can't. Small business may yet be the economy's' savior, but it won't be as long as Barack Obama is President.

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