Saturday, April 21, 2018
Politics

Keep Florida's license plate distribution the job of tax collectors, not private vendors

The way we Floridians get license plates for our cars seems to be working just fine, thank you, and yes, we are talking about customer service in government here.

Local tax collectors handle the job. Some even get compliments for speed and efficiency. Some have won awards!

Clearly, we need a change.

State officials (motto: No Job Left Unprivatized) recently sprung a plan for a redesigned license tag with what they say would be easier-to-read flat numbers and letters to replace the current raised ones. The job of distributing the tags could be outsourced to a private company — all in the name of making money for Gov. Rick Scott's newest and dearest cause, schools, and his attempt to win the hearts of those education-types he dissed early on.

Julie Jones, executive director of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, wants $31 million to replace our tags with ones more easily read by cops and cameras. On balance, she says, the changes won't cost us.

Some aforementioned tax collectors beg to differ.

Hillsborough's Doug Belden and Pinellas' Diane Nelson, among others, believe that this can't help but cost taxpayers, and that the efficiency customers have come to know will suffer in private hands. ("People," as Nelson put it, "are not widgets.") The two have bona fides here: Belden's office has won the Governor's Sterling Award for high standards and customer service. Nelson has been in the tax collector's office for 43 years and became the boss in 2001.

The best thing about an elected official is the "elected" part. Bad service? Bureaucratic nightmare? Your vote says stay or go. But when a private, for-profit company runs things, the incentive to please can evaporate.

And are flat plates really better? Nelson, who sat on the plate redesign committee, says there are good ideas for improvement, like using a more readable font and eliminating county names. Belden has gathered cases that question the flat plate's superiority.

Bottom line: More study and more consideration are needed, and not a ramming through of an idea. If just for the public trust.

Interesting note: A public records request by Belden showed Jones' office had been talking to the corporate giant 3M about the new plates, sparking questions about a potential paving of the way. Jones has denied anything "nefarious."

The plan could also take the job of making plates away from PRIDE, the St. Petersburg-based nonprofit company that has had prison inmates manufacturing them for decades. PRIDE, which gets no government funding, puts inmates to work and trains them for jobs in the real world.

Currently PRIDE doesn't have equipment to make flat tags — hello, private vendor? But chief administrative officer Dee Kiminki says it would get it if necessary. To PRIDE, the job is important.

Why mess with success? Why not bring in tax collectors who have been doing a pretty good job of things, as well as customers who rely on them, and get their feedback on how to make things better from the start?

The blowback was enough for Jones to delay things, but the plan is still very much alive.

So a question, while everyone takes a breath:

If it ain't broke, don't you think there must be interesting reasons for trying to fix it?

Comments
Ex-FBI deputy director ‘disappointed’ in Comey comments

Ex-FBI deputy director ‘disappointed’ in Comey comments

WASHINGTON — Andrew McCabe, the former FBI deputy director, is "very upset and disappointed" by comments made by his former boss James Comey that contradict his account of a disclosure to the news media, McCabe’s lawyer said Friday. "Andy has at all ...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Carlton: Mayor’s race: plot twists, meteoric rises, candidate implosions. It’s what we do in Tampa.

Carlton: Mayor’s race: plot twists, meteoric rises, candidate implosions. It’s what we do in Tampa.

The one thing you can say for sure about electing a mayor in Tampa is you can’t really say anything for sure.Historical proof: A couple of elections ago, Harvard-educated hometown-boy-gone-to-Washington Frank Sanchez was going to be our next mayor, h...
Published: 04/20/18
Carlton: Kids, want to make them listen? Vote

Carlton: Kids, want to make them listen? Vote

Today across America, high school students are expected to walk out of class in their latest show of solidarity against gun violence and elected officials unwilling to do much about it. It marks a grim anniversary — 19 years since Columbine bra...
Published: 04/20/18
Castor ends speculation: She’s running to be Tampa’s next mayor

Castor ends speculation: She’s running to be Tampa’s next mayor

TAMPA — For months, Tampa political aficionados have speculated: Will she or won’t she?Does Jane Castor, the city’s first woman police chief and presumed heavyweight mayoral candidate, really want the job? Asked and answered. Castor filed paperwork T...
Published: 04/19/18
Everybody loses in a trade war, Canadian chamber CEO warns Tampa officials

Everybody loses in a trade war, Canadian chamber CEO warns Tampa officials

TAMPA — President Donald Trump has tweeted "trade wars are good, and easy to win."Don’t believe it, the president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce told Tampa business and political leaders on Wednesday."We share more with you than with anybody els...
Published: 04/19/18
Hernando clerk of the court announces resignation to run for judicial seat

Hernando clerk of the court announces resignation to run for judicial seat

BROOKSVILLE — Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller Don Barbee this week submitted his resignation — effective Jan. 7 — to run for an open circuit judge seat.Barbee, who is in the middle of his second term, said he made the move "with a tremendo...
Published: 04/17/18
Poll: Democrats’ advantage in midterm election support is shrinking

Poll: Democrats’ advantage in midterm election support is shrinking

Democrats hold an advantage ahead of the midterm elections, but a Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that edge has narrowed since January, a signal to party leaders and strategists that they could be premature in anticipating a huge wave of victorie...
Published: 04/16/18
Spokesman: Former first lady Barbara Bush in failing health

Spokesman: Former first lady Barbara Bush in failing health

HOUSTON — Former first lady Barbara Bush is in "failing health" and won’t seek additional medical treatment, a Bush family spokesman said Sunday. "Following a recent series of hospitalizations, and after consulting her family and doctors...
Published: 04/15/18
Trump assails Comey in tweetstorm, calls for ex-FBI director to be imprisoned

Trump assails Comey in tweetstorm, calls for ex-FBI director to be imprisoned

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump attacked James Comey in a fusillade of tweets Sunday morning, calling for the former FBI director to be imprisoned as Trump served up a number of his favorite theories and alleged misdeeds without evidence.Trump’s ...
Published: 04/15/18
President Trump’s approval rating is back near first-100-day levels

President Trump’s approval rating is back near first-100-day levels

President Donald Trump’s approval rating stands at 40 percent in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, slightly more than his 36 percent approval rating when last measured in January. It’s also the highest he’s enjoyed in Post-ABC polling since his fi...
Published: 04/15/18