Clerk's offices get shortchanged
The midpoint of the legislative session is a good time to remember the price we pay when basic government services are cut. For nine straight years the Legislature has cut funding for Court Clerk's Offices like mine in Hillsborough. Our court budget has been cut by 25 percent and my staff by 25 percent, or 230 people. Although we collect more than enough fines, fees and court costs in Hillsborough to meet our needs, the Legislature diverts $13 million of that every year to pay for things unrelated to courts. I believe money collected locally should be spent locally.
The result: My hardworking staff struggles to meet the rising demands. Last year, we served nearly 900,000 people in person and by phone. Despite increasing efficiency through a major reorganization and investments in new technology, our customers are waiting up to two hours in person and an hour or more on the phone for basic service. I am working with my fellow clerks across the state to persuade the Legislature to adopt a more predictable, sustainable funding method that keeps more of the money we raise locally for services delivered locally. I have met with Hillsborough legislators to discuss our budget challenges and they are sympathetic. As a former member of the House and Senate, I know the demands on our lawmakers are great. All I ask is they not forget the basics. After all, our customers are their constituents. And they are waiting.
Pat Frank, Tampa
The writer is Hillsborough County clerk of court and comptroller.
The blessings and challenges of growth March 25, editorial
Cooperation on climate
The Sunshine State is an attractive destination for new residents, and the diversity that comes with an increase in new arrivals is not only welcomed by Florida's coastal cities, it's a major attraction. There is an irony, however, that the state that ranks among the highest in influx of migration is also the region most affected by climate change.
There are elected officials on both sides of the aisle who are trying to do the right thing. State and federal legislators are standing up against fossil fuel interests and advocating for high-capacity renewable technologies.
Dana Young, a Republican state senator, filed a bill to ban fracking in Florida's already delicate limestone foundation. Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson wrote a letter to the Trump administration, signed by both Republican and Democratic Florida members of the U.S. House, urging a ban on offshore oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, has been a longtime advocate for the solar industry and for integration of renewables into the energy grid. The bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, committed to exploring solutions related to climate change, was founded by a pair of South Florida U.S. representatives.
There is still a lot to do to address and minimize the catastrophic affects of our warming climate, but the good news is that both Republicans and Democrats are taking part in the conversation, and they are starting to come to the table together.
Caroline Liberti, Tampa
Benefits in health, savings
Donald Trump said it: "Health care is very complicated." He was correct, but there is an answer. It is called a single-payer system. The biggest obstacles to achieving a single-payer system are greed and misinformation.
There are too many pigs feeding at the trough of the current free market system. The free market health care system has failed and continues to fail. Medicare is a single-payer system that has been very successful over the past 50 years.
Let me dispel some of the myths surrounding a single-payer system:
1. People will lose their choice of physician. In the free market system this is very true. In Medicare it is not. I have had Medicare for 15 years and can go to any doctor I choose or to whom I am referred. And I can get any test that I need.
2. A single-payer system is socialized medicine. It is not. Under socialized medicine the government owns hospitals and physician practices. Under a single-payer system the government does not. It simply arranges the financing and controls cost.
3. A single-payer system will ration health care. There may be some rationing, but it will be based on need and not on the financial status of the patient as it is now.
4. A single-payer system is too expensive. This is a huge myth. The savings in administrative cost alone would be $400 billion a year. Our current system is so complicated that hospitals are now hiring financial counselors to help patients to figure out how to pay their bills. The system could negotiate with Big Pharma to bring down the price of drugs.
David A. Cimino, M.D., St. Petersburg
Bus lanes as an option
Like so many people, I would like to see mass transit in the Tampa Bay area. There have been several people who have written about the benefits of building light rail (Denver, Atlanta and others). This is true, but it is only half of the story. What they don't mention are the projects where the cost overruns and maintenance runs into the tens of billions of dollars.
For example, when I visited Washington, D.C., there were three incidents where the trains broke down, with one having toxic gases. News articles put the cost of yearly repairs in the billions. Then there are the massive overruns for the line between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Last, but not least, are the massive cost overages in Honolulu. Not only has the price multiplied but it is now projected that it will only get 2 percent of the traffic off the streets.
I have talked to a few civil engineers who said that there is a better and much less expensive option. They suggested we build three-lane expressways similar to the Selmon Expressway and Veterans Expressway that are for buses only. During non-peak times, these buses could also be used on city/county streets. A final advantage is that these same highways could be used in times of emergency evacuations (such as a hurricane).
Bottom line — it is time that we started thinking outside of the box.
Tom Craig, Riverview