Thursday, July 24, 2014

Poll Shows Solid Opposition to Greenlight Pinellas

The results of a July 22nd poll done by St. Pete Polls on Greenlight Pinellas has been released. This poll was taken of 764 registered Pinellas voters, who voted in 2010 and 2012, and has a margin of error of 3.5%.

The poll results reflect solid opposition against the Greenlight Pinellas sales tax referendum, for which most of the money would go to build a light rail from downtown St. Petersburg to downtown Clearwater.

The proposed train in Pinellas may already be falling off its tracks.
Greenlight Pinellas falling off its tracks
Over 55% of those polled would vote NO if the referendum were held today. Over 68% are opposed to having the highest sales tax in the state as well as 78% polled oppose if it will cost households over $4000.
St Pete Polls results on Greenlight Pinellas


St Pete Polls results on Greenlight Pinellas
The poll data results can be found here.

We are not surprised to see increasing opposition to Greenlight Pinellas. It is apparent that many taxpayers in Pinellas do not want the highest sales tax in the state. They also must see little, if any, benefit from the permanent 14% sales tax increase that raises taxes $100 million a year into perpetuity to build a light rail they won't ride.

Taxpayer funded PSTA is spending about a million taxpayer dollars to "educate" the public. The pro rail PAC, Yes for Greenlight aka Friends of Greenlight, has already raised almost $600K to advocate for the train. 

Ironically this poll, like some others, indicates the more voters and taxpayers get "educated" about the referendum, the more they oppose it. But it's hard to sell a bad product and Greenlight Pinellas is a lousy product. 

Voters in Pinellas are figuring it out:  Rail costs too much, does too little and benefits too few.

What this poll reflects is that Greenlight's pro rail "deep pockets" may be winning special interests and their accommodating elected officials, but the grassroots NoTaxForTracks Pinellas "shallow pockets" campaign is winning the voters.    

Looks like Deja Vu circa 2010.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Gene Webb - Greenlight is "Bad Law"

Gene "Doc" Webb was one of the featured speakers at the No Tax for Tracks Pinellas kickoff rally on July 20, 2014 in Palm Harbor.

Gene offered some interesting insights, most of which have not been discussed elsewhere, and we were able to catch it on video.

Gene is a 40 year resident of Pinellas County, and worked in senior management for the city of St. Petersburg for over 28 years.  He's read, reviewed, and written many laws and ordinances in his public service career, and calls the Greenlight referendum "bad law."  It's the "most poorly written piece of legal language... in my 40 years in Pinellas County."

Get informed. Watch it below. It's well worth your 14 minutes.

 

Gene writes regularly for EyeOnTampaBay, and will have more information and commentary each week.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Media Neglect While Obamacare Implodes

Today’s Federal Appeals Court ruling that Obamacare subsidies can only be provided through state exchanges has created another train wreck. The law very clearly stated that Federal subsidies are available to those who buy their plan from “an Exchange established by the State”. It took a lawsuit to confirm the very language the Democrats rammed through with the bill. Thirty-six states, including Florida, use the Federal exchange, the infamous Healthcare.gov.
Federal Appeals Court Ruling on Obamacare Subsidies
Americans knew that Obamacare was a fraud and a train wreck from the beginning. Democrats had to lie (in fact the biggest lie of last year - you can keep your healthcare period), use special procedures, bribe special interests like insurance companies who were promised tons of new customers, and use back room bribes within their own party to pass Obamacare.

Then when Obama even decided he didn’t like parts of it, he arbitrarily and unilaterally decided what to enforce, what to delay, what to waive for special groups so that the Obamacare that’s implemented today looks nothing like the actual law that was passed. Hundreds of thousands of Floridians got kicked off their existing healthcare plans last year. Many lost their doctors and those who did have insurance saw premiums, deductibles and co-pays go up.

Again, as these Obamacare issues swirl and Obamacare begins to implode, where in the world are Senator Bill Nelson and Rep. Kathy Castor who voted for it? MIA and in hiding on this issue.

Obamacare Imploding?
As we previously posted here, here, here and other posts as well, our local media has continued to give these two representatives who voted for Obamacare a free media pass.

The Hotair.com post linked to above states:

As Pelosi once famously said, they had to pass the law to find out what’s in it. Now they know.
And also brings this up
Michael Cannon, who spearheaded today’s lawsuit, arguing that this also means the individual mandate penalty no longer applies in the 36 states covered by the federal exchange.
Such a ruling would free nearly 1 million Floridians and more than 1.5 million Texans from the individual-mandate tax. In 2016, it would free families of four earning as little as $24,000 per year from an illegal tax of $2,085.
The Obamacare train wreck is literally being pulled apart piece by piece. More lawsuits are winding through our courts. Is it about to implode from within? The chaos and uncertainty this bill has created and is creating is why there was such a push to defund it last fall. How prescient that was as Obamacare continues wrecking havoc on our lives.

Will the Tampa Tribune or Tampa Bay Times ever confront Nelson and Castor? Will they ever hold them accountable for the Obamacare mess and chaos they helped create? Both media have certainly gone after other elected officials about much smaller issues. What are they afraid of?

Inquiring readers want to know where Nelson and Castor stand on Obamacare, what do they propose to do about it, but instead all we get is journalistic and media neglect.



Sharon Calvert

HART Board Raises Concerns About MPO's Rail Plan and Proposed Restructuring

At yesterday's HART Board meeting, the Board raised concerns about the MPO's Downtown rail plan and the proposed restructuring of HART.  The meeting was interesting, informative and three hours long. For transparency, I was there and made a public comment regarding the MPO presentation that was going to be made and the proposed HART restructuring.  

Rich Clarendon, from the Hillsborough MPO, presented a study called Downtown Transit Assets and Opportunities.  This study was driven by the Downtown Partnership, a special interest group. Some other partners who participated were the city of Tampa, FDOT, HART and the Historic Streetcar Board. It is not clear at this time whether the Downtown Partnership or the MPO paid for the study.

The study's intent was to build on assets we have in the urban core to serve populations who have not used transit and look at where we have under-utilized existing rail lines. I was very surprised to see what was proposed.

Every single map of the Systems Alternatives in this study showed rail. All of the rail lines go far beyond the area considered downtown. Many of the rail lines reflected CSX lines. There has been no negotiation with CSX.  In the past there have been numerous issues and additional costs associated with acquiring CSX lines. The goal of this plan is a core system of fixed guideways of premium transit from Westshore to USF.  The routes looked much like those from the 2010 referendum.
MPO Downtown Transit study rail lines
The study also included some rubber-wheeled options, expanding circulator services.  One of the MPO's goals and objectives was to find “lower cost options”.  We know there are lower cost options than rail.  The goals should be to find cost-effective, efficient and flexible transportation options.  

Another MPO goal was to identify projects for their 2040 Long Range Transportation Plan and for HART's 10 year Transit Development Plan (TDP). That is a bit confusing since HART has a vetted and approved 10 year TDP.  

The biggest immediate goal must be to find a revenue source for the streetcar that is bankrupt.  Perhaps that issue should be addressed first.

Hillsborough county has multiple dispersed work centers and our downtown is relatively small compared to comparably sized counties.  If this downtown plan was pursued, what happens to transportation solutions for the rest of the county?  Currently, the city of Tampa has a majority of HART's services but the growth is occurring in the county and that growth will continue.  Look at the growth happening in South County.  HART's TDP, if funded, would double our bus service and could probably be fully implemented in the next decade without using federal money.

There was much discussion and also concern about how this plan would integrate into what the county Transportation Policy Leadership Group is doing. There was agreement that coordination is needed but also lots of questions.  Does this duplicate any part of the TDP?  The land development charts appeared duplicative of what came out of the Economic Prosperity Stakeholder Committee and the Transportation Policy Leadership Group. Does the rail overlay with existing bus service?  What are the ridership projections? Demand needs must be done. Lots more data is needed to fully digest all the alternatives before committing to such plan.

We wonder if the Tribune thinks differently. The Tribune print version is disingenuously titled "HART board rejects MPO's transit growth plan." Does the Tribune think a simple presentation by the MPO of a few charts outlining various rail lines with little data to back up their proposal is reason enough for the HART board to include in their plans? Remember NO negotiations have been done with CSX and CSX lines were all over this plan. 
Instead of giving that plan the nod (emphasis mine), the HART board voted to ask Hillsborough for funding to hire a specialized planner that can look at all transit needs throughout the county.
Why would the HART Board give this plan a nod? 

The rest of this meeting was centered around the Transportation Policy Leadership Group's proposed restructuring of the HART board. The Board may vote at their next meeting, August 4th, whether to support or not support the proposal.  The Tribune article completely neglects reporting on this issue.  Why?

The proposal to restructure, repurpose and super size HART with an expanded mission was voted on by the Policy Leadership Group without getting a legal opinion from the Hillsborough County Attorney's office. The County Attorney only provided legal considerations for Governance to the group the day the Policy Leadership Group voted on the proposal, not a legal opinion on transforming HART.  That brings up a big question why the Policy Leadership Group would vote to move forward without first requesting a legal opinion from the County Attorney. Who's to blame for not doing that?

The HART Board attorney did provide a memorandum which indicates the proposed change appears more complex than what County Administrator Mike Merrill inferred.  The proposed change is of a magnitude requiring much more than a simple configuration. One of the biggest issues with the proposal is that HART does not do roads and is not authorized to do roads. HART should not do roads and HART board member Fran Davin expounded on that at this meeting.  A separate entity must manage our roads.  
HART Board Powers and Purposes
Transit, of course, is at the "heart" of HART.  What was decided by the board was HART needs the ability to do longer term planning.  They agreed to pursue dollars from the county/MPO for the capacity to do longer range plans. Interim CEO Katherine Eagan estimated HART would need approximately $500K to do this type of planning. MPO is a planning agency so helping to provide funding for transit planning makes sense.  

It's still not clear exactly where this planning money will be coming from to HART, from the county or from the MPO or both.  Commissioner Sharpe, Chairman of the County Commission indicated that the county could provide the $500K to HART.  

What is interesting is the County is in its new fiscal year budget process. The proposed transportation budget for FY2015 reflects a total of $6.5 million for roads next year.  That's basically our local gas tax dollars and that's it - no Community Investment Tax money available for roads. 
County Road Budget
The National Association of Counties website states that "construction/maintaining local roads is one of a counties prime duties". Hillsborough County's road money has run dry and it appears nothing has been done by our commissioners to re-prioritize funding to our roads. 

However, Commissioner Sharpe can find a half million dollars to re-prioritize to give to HART for transit planning.  Shouldn't Sharpe, who is also Chairman of the MPO, first ask the MPO that is a planning agency, to assist with providing the planning funds?

The word to watch was Referendum and Commissioner Sharpe stated that "when we have a Referendum" we need to have a battle tested plan. The MPO rail plan, pushed by the Downtown Partnership, was not battle tested nor ready for Prime Time.

Dr. Polzin made the best suggestion of the day - put some bus service in and see if they are successful.

Now that sounds like a real plan and one that actually gets something done.


Sharon Calvert

Why Are a Few Florida Supervisors of Elections Breaking the Law

Guest Post from local reader Gregg Prentice:

It’s now been 7 months since 29 of Florida’s 67 Supervisors of Elections were notified of their portion of 3,000+ voter registrations potentially illegally listing a UPS store as a legal residence. To their credit 13 of those Supervisors have cleared 100% of their registrations. But, there are 9 other Supervisors who have provided insufficient excuse for failing to do what the law clearly requires.

The counties with well below 50% success in 7 months are: Broward, Duval, Leon, Orange, Palm Beach, Sarasota, Seminole, St. Lucie, and Walton.

The problem here is not one of county size. Two of the largest counties, Miami-Dade & Hillsborough, had some of the fewest ineligible addresses, and are of the 13 counties that have cleared 100% of their UPS store registrations.

But because some of the biggest procrastinators are also Florida’s worse offenders, state-wide closure on the issue has embarrassingly stalled at only 26%. And it may get worse before it gets better. Because now, instead of shrinking their existing mess, these rogue counties have allowed 137 additional registrations listing a UPS store as a residence to be added to their voter roll.

These 137 new registrations indicate that these Supervisors are also still not obeying the law that requires them to maintain and use a list of valid residential street addresses for their county (F.S. 98.015(12)).

Makes you sort of curious what else they’re up to.

In addition at least 3 Supervisors have identified more than 5,000 additional registrations they consider as having listed an ineligible residence address. But instead of following the law to get these cleaned up, they’re allowing them to stay on the voter roll essentially indefinitely. They do assuringly indicate they’re hoping to not let these registrations vote until they provide a valid residential address, even though that approach failed in 2012.

Glaringly, none of the Supervisors have been able to point out an applicable statute or rule to support ignoring their legally required duty under F.S. 98.075(6) & (7).

One Supervisor’s office even claimed that since their staff found the ineligible residence addresses without outside help, that they weren’t required to follow that statute!

What’s your definition of the word “is”?

And what’s your Supervisor’s approach to these type registrations?

Florida’s Division of Elections has been aware of these issues, but as yet does not seem to have had a positive impact.
Florida Division of Elections
Does any of this make anybody else curious enough to help determine state wide how many other registrations list a non-residential address as a residence? Or to in general more closely monitor the performance of our Supervisors of Elections?

To a few Supervisors’ credit (but also another item in the things that make you go “hmmm?” category): Because the voters never responded to their Supervisor’s requests for a current residence address, the 13 counties with 100% success ended up removing 93% of their UPS store registrations.

Further, of the 800+ registrations that were cleared state wide, slightly more were removed from the voter roll than had their addresses corrected.

As reported earlier in an April 2014 article, “Voter Fraud?  If they're not catching the easy stuff, what else are they missing?", definitionally ineligible registration residence addresses should not exist. Accordingly, Florida law provides a prompt and clear process to correct a voter’s residence address. And the law says if a voter does not respond to the Supervisor’s contacts, “the supervisor shall make a final determination of the voter’s eligibility” (F.S. 98.075(7)(a)3).

That’s noteworthy, for at least three reasons.    

First, the law says “shall”. It’s not optional. Yet somehow too many of our Supervisors have too many excuses for making the wrong “final determination”.

Second, if the Supervisors were truly doing their jobs, they would have identified and cleared these registrations on their own during their 2013 non-Federal election “list maintenance” cycle. The 38 counties who didn’t have any UPS store registrations this past December did just that. Why didn’t the other 29?

Third, the F.S. 98.075(6) & (7) mandated process triggered by at least December 2013 requires far less than 4 months for an honorable Supervisor to accomplish. Accordingly, at least 13 (and arguably 51) Supervisors have. Yet here we are at 7 months post notice, with an election season looming, and we have 9 Supervisors behaving like we should just sit back and enjoy the ride.

And speaking of folks not doing their job, perhaps it’s time to ask your local media how a Supervisor of Elections intentionally disobeying the law isn’t a newsworthy story?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Westshore Regional Multi-Modal Center Public Hearing

The Florida Department of Transportation held a public hearing on July 17, 2014 to receive comments about their site recommendation for the planned Westshore Regional Multi-Modal Center. The location, where the DoubleTree Hotel and Charley's Steakhouse now reside on Cypress, is the current recommended site over three other sites nearby selected for final consideration.  About 100 people - affected residences, businesses, and other interested people attended.

In a brief conversation with Hillsborough County Commissioner Chairman Mark Sharpe, as he was on his way out to the Hillsborough County 2015 Budget public hearing, Sharpe wanted to make sure the WRMC could accommodate rail.  I guess so, since he and his fellow commissioners have neglected roads in Hillsborough County yet again, as there is only about $5.4 million planned for roads in the 2015 budget currently planned for $3.9 billion, or about 0.13%.

In talking with Gao Ming, the FDOT Intermodal Systems Development Manager, regarding plans, timelines, costs, etc.  He stated that this hearing was focused on collecting public comments for the recommended site, and that the site selection was not final.  They will not know the final plans until the site is finalized. Then they can start on the plans on what to build, determine how much it will cost, the level of private participation, funding sources etc. The WRMC project is not yet funded.



There were several exhibits showing some of the ideas and concepts, as well as the criteria used to identify and rank the final sites. Several FDOT staff were available to answer questions, as were representatives from the Tampa Airport. TIA will connect to the WRMC via a new people mover, which is expected to take about 3 minutes to and from the airport.


Site Map.  Site C is the recommended site.
Kirk Bogen, an environmental manager for FDOT, kicked off the formal hearing about 6pm. After reading a preamble to cover the legal and procedural aspects of the hearing, four people from the nearby neighborhoods spoke.

Several sites in the area were considered and evaluated against a common criteria.


Site Evaluation Matrix
Site "C" is the current recommended site, and would not force the relocation of any residences.  The DoubleTree and Charley's Steakhouse would be demolished.

Elaine Van Aiken (at about 1:27 in the video), head of Human Resources for the DoubleTree on Cypress, delivered an impassioned statement about the 200 employees of DoubleTree, many long term, that would be out of work, as well as the impact of destroying one of the largest hotels in Tampa.

Another speaker, Ricky Roberts (about 3:37 in the video), was concerned the project is not taking into consideration the people that the WRMC will affect.  He also expressed concerns about the increase in traffic in their neighborhoods, which they've already witnessed with all the increased development and denser development in the Westshore area.  Roberts stated his concerns about the impact on their home values.

Who would think that increased densification would lead to more congestion?

FDOT also included some examples from Tempe, AZ and Athens, GA, as well as an artist rendering of what the WRMC may look like.  Of course, this is all subject to change.


Rendering of potential Multi-Modal center
Looking closely at the rendering above, there are elevated walkways between the WRMC and and transit station between the northbound and southbound lanes of I-275, approximately where the planned I-275 Express/Transit lanes will be.  This is interesting because:
  1. The current work on that stretch of I-275 is slated to complete in the Fall of 2016.
  2. The "I-275 Express" lanes are supposedly funded (discussed in concept with an Atkins NA consultant who prepared the feasibility study for FDOT).  That construction will not start at least until after Fall 2016, and likely take a couple of years.
  3. Given the WRMC linkage to a transit station in the I-275 Express lanes, the project dependencies imply that the WRMC may not be complete until well after I-275 Express lanes (depending on project design, funding etc.)
  4. This puts the WRMC opening well after 2020.
In fact, if you read the last few lines in the site evaluation matrix highlighted in red above, you will note Estimated Total Cost (Year 2025 Cost) of $109 - $127 million.  This seems to confirm that the opening of the WRMC is up to a decade in the future.

In other words, don't get too excited.

This hearing was part of the process.  The final recommendation will be completed after all the public comments are received and reviewed by FDOT. The public still has time to comment until July 28 by going to www.fdotd7studies.com or calling Project Manager Elba Lopez at (813) 975-6403.

More details about the WRMC plans are at http://active.fdotd7studies.com/westshore/multimodal/public-involvement/public-hearing/ .

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Illegal Immigration Overpass Protest

Over 321 immigration protests were held July 18 ad 19 according to the Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, including one held yesterday in Hillsborough County.  The Eye was there to cover the action where a number of groups, veterans and concerned citizens gathered at the overpass of I-4 on US 301. 




We saw and heard lots of support from those passing by on 301 and I-4 with honks, waves and thumbs up. This issue is now in our living rooms as we watch the pictures and videos of tens of thousands of minors and others crossing our southern border. 

How is this impacting Florida?  According to this recent Miami Herald article:
Florida Gov. Rick Scott's administration expressed concern in a letter Friday about reports that the federal government planned to send unaccompanied immigrant children from the Southwest border to Miami this weekend, seeming to be unaware that it is a regular practice and asking for any health information the government had for the minors. The letter seemed unusual to immigration attorneys who say the practice has been going on for years (emphasis mine). 
In the letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Friday, state Health Secretary John Armstrong wrote: "The Florida Department of Health has received unconfirmed reports that the federal government is bringing unaccompanied minors from the border to Florida today."

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/07/18/4242936/fla-health-dep-surprised-by-immigrant.html#storylink=cpy
Did Floridians know this has been occurring for years?
Miami immigration attorney Cheryl Little said she was confused by the letter since the federal government has for years housed unaccompanied children who have crossed the U.S.-Mexican border in South Florida shelters. She said her organization, Americans for Immigrant Justice, meets with dozens of these youth each week. 
Little said the number of youth her organization has provided services to has increased drastically in the last year — up from about 1,600 in 2013 to that many as of July of this year (emphasis mine). 
She said the two main youth shelters in Miami together house about 200 youth and are adding another 24 beds. She said minors are sent there as they await their legal cases, often for asylum or to reunite with parents in the country. They tend to stay in the shelters from a week to a month, depending on the case.
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/07/18/4242936/fla-health-dep-surprised-by-immigrant.html#storylink=cpy
According to Steven Hayward's Powerlineblog post 
“Nothing happens for no good reason.” 
It is a curious thing that the Obama administration apparently put out for bid a contract to process 65,000 children some months before they started showing up in large numbers. Why was this done? What was the information that led the administration to take this step? It’s almost as though someone knew what was coming.
We wonder if Cheryl Little's Americans for Immigrant Justice organization applied to provide these services. 

Immigration Protest at US-301 and I-4
We watch busloads of the illegals being transported to various locations across the country, some places sparking huge protests that force the buses to turn back. According to this Washington Times article the immigration issue is now hitting critical mass with American citizens.
In the absence of political leadership, the public is jumping out of the pot on its own. A new Gallup poll shows that immigration now tops the list of most important issues facing the country, higher than dissatisfaction with government, the economy, jobs or health care.
As of now, not a single illegal-alien detainee seems to have been sent to Louisiana or Arkansas, the states bordering Texas that are closest to the site of the border deluge. This is no accident. Those two states have Democratic senators up for re-election who are vulnerable enough to lose, but who might still be able to prevail. The White House appears to have decided not to send any illegals there to avoid the potential for political damage.
Has Obama finally eroded the previous passivity on the immigration issue with Americans? 

Will we see more of these Overpass protests like the one yesterday in Hillsborough County?

Will this become an election issue?