Thursday, February 27, 2020

April Fools Day Mischief: The Rail Tax Do Over

Tampa, Fl
From: Eye On Tampa Bay
Posted by: Sharon Calvert

The Tax is Back!

Hillsborough County BOCC Chair Les Miller and Commissioner Kimberly Overman proposed at the February 19 BOCC meeting to put All For Transportation (AFT) 2.0, another $16 Billion 30 year 1% transit tax, on the November ballot.

And to top that off, the public hearing for the All for Transportation (AFT) transit tax 2.0 is scheduled for April Fool's Day.

A lower court confirmed AFT subjected voters to an unlawful transit tax referendum in 2018. Since White's lawsuit was filed December 4, 2018, Miller has vigorously pushed actions trying to make AFT's legal issues irrelevant.

But after the Florida Supreme Court oral arguments were heard on the AFT lawsuits on February 5, 2020, panic set in. Reality struck the AFT transit tax may not survive at all.

AFT's lawyers got so hammered at the oral arguments hearing it was an embarrassment. The conflict AFT's charter amendment had with state law FS 212.055 is so obvious, that Plaintiff's attorney told the Court "any second year law student should understand".

Actually anyone who reads 212.055 Section 1, can understand the authority to appropriate and decide how to spend the transportation sales surtax is with the elected county commission: "Proceeds from the surtax shall be applied to as many or as few of the uses enumerated below in whatever combination the county commission deems appropriate".

BOCC Chair Les Miller is a former state legislator who we expect understands state law. How could he not know AFT's charter amendment was filled with legal problems? But instead of raising warnings in 2018 the County could be sued, Miller championed AFT's unlawful transit tax.

Then once the County did get sued, Miller championed all the BOCC "after the election actions" trying to "moot the points of the lawsuit" while the case was being litigated in the Courts.

Overman invited Tampa Bay Partnership, the major funders of AFT, to present at the February 5 BOCC meeting, ironically or simply karma the same day as the AFT oral arguments. The Tampa Bay Partnership is a lobbyist organization for transit in Tampa Bay. The information they present is often tied to their agenda and can be suspect.

Miller and Overman were quoted in a December 4, 2018 Times article after White's lawsuit was filed:
County Commissioner Kimberly Overman [Democrat] said the referendum language was vetted closely and voters clearly spoke. "This is a waste of taxpayers' money and that's a shame," Overman said.
Democrat and County Commission Chairman Les Miller said, "This is just a way to stop this sales tax from being implemented and is going against the will of the people."
More shameful are these commissioners being A-Okay with AFT subjecting voters to an unlawful transit tax referendum.

With a disregard for the final ruling by the Florida Supreme Court, the BOCC continues to display their cart before the horse behavior.

In addition, the Florida House Ways and Means Committee has committee bill PCB WMC 20-01. This bill has a number of taxation reductions and modifications and includes limiting the local transportation sales surtax to a maximum of 20 years in duration. The bill passed the Ways and Means Committee meeting, ironically on February 19, and we will closely watch it's movement.

The video recording of the February 19 BOCC meeting is found here. The discussion on AFT 2.0 starts at about 1:29 in the video, first with an update from the county's lawyers on the AFT lawsuits. Then they jump right to putting AFT 2.0 on the November ballot.

At about 1:54 in the meeting video, Commissioner Smith, a long time Sierra Club activist and big supporter of AFT, brings her activism to the BOCC dais. Smith states we must get cars off the roads with transit. Smith's ideology gets in the way of any reasoning because nowhere has transit reduced traffic congestion. Neither Hillsborough County or Tampa Bay have any large central downtown job center, jobs are dispersed across the Tampa Bay area.

Smith laments the cost of road widening but fails to mention anything about the over $100 million cost of extending the Tampa Streetcar 2.6 miles. Smith says nothing about the cost of rail projects running $100 million per mile and benefits very few
County provided cost estimates during
2016 Go Hillsborough 
Roads are highly utilized assets that benefits many - used by cars, school buses, buses, delivery trucks, commercial trucks, semi-trucks, pedestrians, cyclists - 24 hours a day. The Tampa Streetcar benefits a tiny fraction of those who benefit from our roads.

Miller's proposed AFT 2.0 is tweaked to mandate 40% ($6.5 Billion) must go to transit, 59% ($9.5 Billion) goes to the county and cities and 1% ($160 million) goes to the central planning bureaucrats at the Hillsborough MPO.

Originally Miller proposed a simple 40/60 split but he must have gotten a call from the MPO demanding their share. Miller decided to take 1% from the county/city funds, not from the transit bucket, to hand to the MPO central planning bureaucrats.

Less than 2% use transit in Hillsborough County and the transit agency HART has no plans for how to spend the AFT billions. HART never asked the County for such money or presented any viable plan for how to spend those billions. We're just supposed to "trust" HART with $6.5 Billion of new found money.

But HART recently fired their CEO Ben Limmer, they hired less than a year ago, for blatant policy violations. Limmer fired HART's Chief Financial Officer and Chief Administrator Officer within months of him being hired, leaving HART in a state of at least semi-chaos.

Commissioners Miller, Kemp, Smith and Overman, all big AFT supporters, sit on the HART Board and Miller is the Chair. This HART scandal reflects poorly on the HART Board and displays poor judgment.

What is worse is that it took a whistleblower complaint to the HART Board to bring forward Limmer's blatant policy violations and his going around the Board on procurement issues. This mess confirms the rushed OPPAGA performance audit, hurriedly done in a few short weeks in August 2018 to put the AFT transit tax on the November ballot, was a joke.

In the Hillsborough MPO's 2040 long range transportation plan implemented 5 years ago, the MPO stated they would need $16 million over 20 years to do their federally mandated planning. Exploding the size and scope of the MPO bureaucracy is absurd. Handing the MPO central planning bureaucrats $160 million over 30 years is irrational. Bloating the MPO bureaucracy is blatantly irresponsible.

Furthermore, the Hillsborough MPO, taken over by the Anti-Car Brigade, are downright hostile to the 98% of us who drive everyday. Their priority is to fund transit at any cost.

The Anti-Car Brigade MPO is pursuing tearing down 11 miles of I-275 from downtown to Bearss Avenue. They are studying replacing the interstate that 200k people use everyday and serves as a major evacuation route for Tampa Bay, with a street level rail boulevard that will create gridlock in Tampa Bay. Of course, the AFT transit tax is required to attempt such effort.

This MPO is even hostile to fixing and improving the accident prone I-4 malfunction junction. Their Vision Zero safety policy must be selective.

Commissioners Miller, Kemp, Smith, Overman and Hagan sit on the MPO Board and Miller is the Chair.

AFT created their $16B rail/transit tax initiative behind closed doors. The taxpaying public provided no input to it and was never provided any opportunity to weigh in on it.

AFT refuses to divulge any information or inform the public/taxpayers how and why they calculated their mandated spending percentages. AFT hides behind a claim that such information is their "free speech", aka as their political agenda, protected by the First Amendment.

The BOCC cannot make such claim, they must be transparent. The BOCC must rationalize AFT 2.0 with the voting public.

The BOCC must provide the voting public with a specific list of the transportation/transit projects AFT 2.0 will fund - just like the school board did in 2018. With AFT 2.0, the voting public gets to demand the BOCC tell them how and why they plan to spend $16 Billion of new tax monies.

All For Transportation was always a rail/transit tax. It was never intended to fund new road capacity.

All for Transportation was dishonest, deceptive and devious and they tried to bamboozle the voting public.

Now the BOCC is rewarding the AFT perpetrators by putting AFT 2.0 on the ballot.

How appropriate that Miller scheduled the public hearing on AFT 2.0 for April Fool's Day.

Posted by Sharon Calvert at 7:00 AM 

This post is contributed by EYE ON TAMPA BAY. The views expressed in this post are the blog publisher's and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher of Bay Post Internet.

Cross Posted with permission from: Eye On Tampa Bay

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Jim Davison to Challenge County Commissioner Pat Kemp

Tampa, Fl
Tampa Bay Beat
By: Jim Bleyer


Jim Davison, a conservative activist and emergency room physician, is expected to file papers this week for the Hillsborough County Commission District 6 seat held by Pat Kemp

Jim Davison
The heavyweight matchup promises to be a referendum on countywide transportation which has been a fiasco for years.  A countywide one percent sales tax, passed in November 2018 under dubious, if not illegal circumstances, is expected to be thrown out by the Florida Supreme Court in the coming month.

Pat Kemp
Kemp, a Democrat,  has supported the tax that is expected to include a multi-billion light rail system. Proposed light rail routes will displace minority communities in East Tampa and benefit local real estate nabobs Darryl Shaw and Jeff Vinik.
 Davison received appointments from the Board of County Commissioners to the county Citizens Advisory Committee, Indigent County Healthcare Board, and Emergency Medical Planning Council. He has been involved with local transportation efforts and for over 20 years was co-founder and first chairman of the New Tampa Transportation Taskforce. He was appointed by Tampa City Council to the county wide transportation “Committee of 99.”
The Republican has opposed the surtax and the subterfuge used to sell the concept to an  unsuspecting electorate.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White filed a lawsuit in December, 2018 against numerous defendants related to the $15 billion transit tax hike charter amendment challenging the language used in the charter amendment.  District Court Judge Rex Barbas threw out major portions of All for Transportation’s transit tax, including its mandated spending allocations, as illegal and unlawful.  But Barbas, channelling King Solomon, let collection of the tax stand.

White’s appeal to the Florida Supreme Court to toss the entire surtax drew some influential allies. Associated Industries of Florida, the state’s most influential business lobby,  the Florida House, and Florida Senate filed amicus curiae briefs opposing the tax and requesting the court to strike the entire All for Transportation charter amendment.
Ballot language was intentionally deceptive and misleading to voters who thought the massive tax collection would be earmarked for roads instead of a light rail system primarily to benefit the City of Tampa and real estate profiteers.

The Hillsborough County Commission, anticipating a Florida Supreme Court defeat, are intent on pursuing light rail and another referendum is expected to be on the November docket.  The 2020 version will be a tougher sell because of the continued barrage of misleading information perpetrated by Vinik’s All for Transportation group.
The Davison-Kemp contest will amount to a transit referendum in microcosm.  A referendum rerun, even a shrunken version, will have to pass muster with a far less gullible public.
Tampa and Hillsborough County seem to be going in the wrong direction.  The Federal Transit Administration released data showing that despite a 7.4 percent increase in federal, state and local subsidies by taxpayers nationwide in FY2018, transit ridership fell 2.1 percent.  

Cross Posted with permission from: Tampa Bay Beat

This post is contributed by Tampa Bay Beat. The views and opinions expressed in this post are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of Bay Post Internet or the publisher.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Florida Poly Tech and New College – The Classic Example of Academic Self-centeredness

Tampa Bay, Fl 
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin, So You Want to Blog.
It did not take long for the academic claws to come out following the announcement of the Florida House bill HB 7087 from the House Education Committee to merge Florida Poly with the University of Florida and New College with Florida State.

For some detail check out this Article by Gary White in the Ledger: Florida Poly leaders oppose merger with University of Florida.
Florida Politics Jacob Ogles, The fight to save New College is on
Baypost Media 2020
If you have ever had any significant involvement with a college or university, public or private, you have probably had at least a glimpse of the political structure of these institutions. For infighting, backbiting and turf protecting it is difficult to beat an academic institution.
That was clearly on display as the presidents of both Florida Poly and New College quickly mounted full-frontal  attacks to protect their turf.
Florida Poly President Randy Avent rushed to Tallahassee to defend his turf, and likely his job. Donal O’Shea president of New College was not far behind.
This may not seem like much of a deal to you if you do not attend one of these colleges or have a child who does, but in the bigger picture, it points out a serious problem at the intersection of legislative over site and perceived academic self-value.
One of the major concerns is the amount of administrative cost.
Small colleges can be a wonderful place for the academic elite. Havens for those prefer the academic life in contrast to the hustle of a big university. Small, usually lovely campuses, smaller classes, and fewer of them, lots of time to sit and think, good pay, tenure, and at the top, social status and often lots of money.
The day of the small publicly funded college be it liberal arts or STEM where students can be coddled in the academic womb may be a thing of the past.
Rep. Randy Fine, the Palm Bay Republican leading the charge for the mergers, said, “it’s critical for other lawmakers to consider the plan.
You will hear a lot about the value these smaller colleges afford their students, the benefits, often undefined, to the community, seemingly massive economic impacts they have, but little about what really matters most to them, which is protecting their turf.
I’ll bet you thought it was the students who were important.
If that was the case, we would have had a solution to the student-loan problem long ago. All that borrowed money flowing into University system is what has caused this problem.
If you want to see how big, the Florida Poly problem is just note that large and rather odd-looking white structure off, I-4 near Lakeland. One of the first structures put in place at Florida Poly, it is testament to how these things get out of control.
To paraphrase: Hell, hath no fury like a small college president challenged.
The Florida Legislature and the House Education Committee may have just grabbed a tiger by the tail. The old adage goes if you hang on it will drag you to death, and if you let go it turn around and eat you alive.
I would not be surprised if the Florida Legislature decides to pass on this one this year.
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Friday, February 21, 2020

Thursday February 19, 2020 Democratic Debate Observations

Tampa Bay, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin, So You Want to Blog
Some pundit commented right after the debate that it was more like Wrestle Mania than a political debate. I could not agree more.
First, the format was terrible. There were way too many members on the “panel” probably NBC’s attempt to prove they support everyone, but they really looked awful.
The poor guy from the Nevada Independent, Jon Ralston, barely got a shot. I’m not sure why he was there, and it looked like he didn’t know either. The on the dais NBC egos were on full display.
I don’t think these debates need a panel that whose numbers rival the number of candidates unless the idea is self-defense in case of a stage riot. The DNC calls it “diversity among the moderators," all they are really doing is allowing the networks to run in ringers.
This idea of having ethnic or “subject matter” questioners is just plain stupid. Also, whatever happened to just asking the question without a snarky tone in your voice? NBC needs to do some debate moderator counseling.
I am not sure why they say there are “rules” for these episodes of political theater. Nobody, including Lester Holt made any serious effort to reign in Warren.
For most of the night, Bloomberg looked like a deer caught in the headlights, Warren shrieked incessantly which some mistook for reinstatement of her “more aggressive campaign” I think she is just someone with little or no self-control and would be a disaster in the Whitehouse.
Sanders, obviously irritated that Bloomberg was even on the stage, hammered home his consistent talking points while painting Bloomberg as something just short of the Antichrist.
Buttigieg managed to stay calm in the storm. His bipolar description of the Bloomberg/Sander's views and the possible damage of nominating either was a sound point. Pete was the first to really get Amy Klobuchar off her game. It's been a long campaign, and it appeared to me, the workload and the stress are finally getting to Klobuchar. Klobuchar is good but not quite ready for prime time.
Biden finally got some legs under his campaign, but it is probably too little too late.
To sum it up, the format was lousy, the panel of moderators were generally terrible, Bloomberg should probably spend some of that money on a good debate coach, Warren needs to cut back of the coffee before the show, Sanders needs to smile more so socialism will seem a bit more friendly, Joe Biden is just Joe Biden, Buttigieg’s calmness is astounding at times, and Amy Klobuchar needs to take a few days off and just rest.
Everyone involved with putting on this debate from the DNC to top network brass should take a look at the results and begin to work on a format that is less a food fight and more of a delivery of issues and positions to the American public.
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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

PSTA’s Central Avenue BRT project loses out in federal funding process – again!

Tampa, Fl
From: Tampa Bay Guardian

Edited by: Tom Rask

Posted by TBG2016 on FEBRUARY 15, 2020

At PSTA’s Legislative Committee meeting on February 5th, PSTA’s federal lobbyist Harry Glenn spoke of a list that the FTA  has.  “It’s actually a list of projects…that kind of gives the Congress an expectation of what projects they [the FTA] expects to get funded in the next year,” Glenn said.

The FTA is the Federal Transit Administration. Glenn was responding to a question from Pinellas County comissioner Charlie Justice (full exchange here) about how so-called “Small Starts” projects like the Central Avenue BRT (CABRT) project are administered by the FTA.
Harry Glenn

Yet the CABRT project has now been on that “funded in the next year” list Glenn spoke of for three years without receiving a so-called construction grant agreement (CGA). Obtaining a CGA is the first and necessary step before being recommended for funding by the FTA.
And with yesterday afternoon’s release of the FTA’s “Annual Report on Funding Recommendations” for fiscal year 2021, it appears that this “funded in the next year” period Glenn spoke of will be at least four (4) years for the CABRT.

“Remember, this is the president’s request for funding, and Congress has appropriated more than that amount in the last couple of years,” Glenn told The Guardian. “PSTA is doing exactly what they should be doing.”

The Guardian previously reported on PSTA’s failure to secure a CGA last year as well, and the PSTA board’s unwillingness to acknowledge this fact at their meetings.

“This is not a competitively awarded program, where you will win and somebody else will lose,” Glenn said at that same February 5th meeting. ” You work through the process and as you check off the boxes, funding will become available to you.”

Glenn’s claim that the program is “not competitively awarded program” conflicts with PSTA CEO Brad Miller’s statement in that same meeting in which he called these projects “very, very competitive.”

The funds are awarded under the so-called 5309 program, which the FTA says is a discretionary program. That means there is no guarantee that a particular program will be funded, or that a program that receives a CGA will be funded.
Karen Jaroch

“It’s definitely a setback for PSTA that they still haven’t received a CGA,” former HART (Hillsborough Area Regional Transit) board member Karen Jaroch said.
Jaroch said that the CABRT project is one of many projects totaling approximately $1.6 billion competing for a pot of money less than half that size. Jaroch continued – “The FTA awards project funding only when PSTA can assure them that the project scope and costs are firm and reliable, that all local funding commitments are in place, and that all localities in the corridor are on-board.”

“Significant issues have been raised by PSTA’s grant submission, such as falsely claiming that St Pete Beach was a funding partner in the original application, the formal objection to the project by two of the three cities impacted by the project’s auto lane elimination and changing route endpoints. These facts don’t inspire sufficient confidence in the project, “Jaroch added. “Overcoming these facts will be difficult when compounded by PSTA’s past track record of abusing a federal grant meant for transit security and St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman’s unwelcoming comments about President Trump.”
ABOVE – Kriseman’s 2015 tweet

Jaroch was referring to Kriseman’s 2015 tweet (seen left)  in which he barred Donald Trump from entering the City of St. Petersburg. Most of the proposed CABRT will run within that city’s limits.

Obtaining a CGA doesn’t insure FTA funding. Some projects that obtained a CGA were never funded, and others , such as the Fort Lauderdale WAVE Streetcar, were cancelled by the City of Fort Lauderdale even after it obtained a CGA.

The FTA funded a St. Louis streetcar project that closed down in December after just one year of operation. The shutdown leaves local taxpayers on the hook to repay the FTA some 24 million dollars for construction costs. Adding insult the injury, the streetcar broke down on its final run, leaving riders to fend for themselves.

With such spectacular and recent PR disasters, the FTA is likely to look even closer at what projects it funds. The FTA is sure to want to avoid another “St. Louis Situation” at all costs.

 Absent a new funding source, i.e. more tax dollars, PSTA is headed for insolvency. Add the strong opposition from affected residents and municipalities and the CABRT project has a steep hill to climb.

“My understanding is that this is just a snapshot of where they are now,” Harry Glenn said, referring to the just published annual funding recommendations from the FTA. “There are additional funds available that can be allocated. When that will happen, I don’t know.”

Will the CABRT project ever be built? Or is it a project that is always a bridesmaid, but never a bride, at the wedding and spreading of federal funding?

As always….the Guardian reports and our readers decide. Like our Facebook page to find out when we publish articles.

READ THIS POST AT: Tampa Bay Guardian

This post is contributed by the Tampa Bay Guardian. The views expressed in this post are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher of Bay Post Internet or any publications, blogs or social media pages where it may appear.

Cross Posted with permission from: Tampa Bay Guardian

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Clearwater Asking the Age-Old Question is Climate Change and Sea-Level Rise Real?

I suspect that most of these people are descendants of those who made  fun of Noah while he was building the Ark, and we all know how that turned out.

Tampa Bay, Fl 
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD  
Author: In Search of Robin, So You Want to Blog.
You would think by now that we can all pretty much agree that Climate Change, and Sea-level rise are reasonable concerns. The notable exception to that statement is slowly shrinking number of politicians who just can’t seem to get their head’s around the fact the science about sea-level rise and climate change is real.
All of this leads me to an article in the Tampa Bay Times by Kirby Wilson and Tracey McMananus, Clearwater’s Rising Risk.
That leads me to two of Clearwater’s more noticeable Climate Change deniers City Council members Bob Cunduiff and Bud Elias. There are some notable quotes Wilson/McMananus article from both.
As there is an election in the offing in Clearwater, all candidates are postulating the normal solutions such as elimination of fossil fuels, using electric or natural gas-powered vehicles.
From the article, attorney Bruce Rector, a candidate for Clearwater Seat 2, said, “Whether man is causing it or not is not a question for a member of City Council, adding, It doesn’t matter why. There is pretty good evidence it is changing what are we going to do about it?”
Good point Mr. Rector. If I lived in Clearwater, you would have my vote.
It is time we started to elect some people with more pragmatic views of Climate-Change  impact and stop treating this major threat to our state as a political football.
You can  check out my recent Posts by clicking on Baypost Climate Change.
Here is the real point. If we started today converting all vehicles to eco friendly fuels, shout down all the coal-fired  electrical generation facilities in Florida or all in the US and implemented all of those other half crazy ideas you read about, the likelihood is it would not prevent the impending issue caused by a sea-level rise.
The real question is Bruce Rector’s question: “What are we going to do about it?”
Seawalls, dyke, dams and other physical barriers that the big construction and public works people are likely to propose will simply not work in the long run, think New Orleans. 
So, here is where the political will to deal with this problem becomes the issue.
It is time to stop all coastal developments in those endangered areas defined by sea-level rise projection at least in southern Florida and along the West Coast.
At risk, property must have a mitigation risk tax or fee assigned that is adopted immediately with those funds flowing into the funding for low lying property acquisition.
Laws need to be enacted that absolutely prevent this from becoming a Realtors and attorney's gold mine.
We need to increase the funding being set aside at the state level and begin to set aside funds at the County and local level for buying low lying property and converting it to green space to mitigate property loss and horrific increases in property insurance. And that means a Property mitigation tax on all Floridians to quickly build these funds.
Not much of a political platform to run on.
Time to get the political head out of the sand or it may be drowned when the unexpected tide comes in.
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