Bad news for Florida taxpayers
Special interests won the day in Tallahassee last week. For two years, a coalition of my Florida Senate colleagues demanded that the Florida Department of Transportation renegotiate a sweetheart deal with CSX Railroad for a new commuter-rail line around Orlando. But in last week's hastily called special session, a tidal wave of special interests overcame common sense — and stuck you, the taxpayers, with the bill.
If Gov. Charlie Crist agrees, Florida will pay seven times the going rate for track. Plus, the freight carrier will still get to use the line 12 hours a day! Worse, when freight accidents kill people on state commuter-rail lines, taxpayers will pay the bill.
This deal says a Wall-Street company can no longer be held responsible for its negligence, which is horrible public policy. I hardly recognize some of my fellow Republicans in Tallahassee these days. When did we become the party of big spenders and corporate giveaways?
Tell the governor to veto this deal.
Bad things happen when big-money interests meet behind closed doors with state officials who spend taxpayer money like free money. That's what happened here.
Supposedly, last week's special session was called to solve a problem for South Florida's Tri-Rail commuter-rail system, which runs a $40 million annual deficit. Tri-Rail got a $15-million Band-Aid, but how does a one-time infusion solve its need for a dedicated funding source?
Soon, the Legislature will enter the regular session facing a $2.6 billion budget gap. My concern is ensuring that Florida doesn't pay CSX by taking money from education, criminal justice, or health and human services.
But given the power of special interests in Tallahassee, I would encourage you to hold onto your wallets and do what only you can do — remember their names on Election Day.
State Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland
Rail remains the most efficient form of transport
It's too bad so many people are unaware of the significant progress being made in commuter rail all over this nation, including Tri-Rail in South Florida.
Many raise the issue of population density as a limiting factor. TBARTA sent a delegation to Charlotte, N.C. to study what has been accomplished there. What they found amazed them!
Charlotte, with a low population density (much like the Tampa Bay area) realized years ago that roads and cars were not a solution to the transportation gridlock that was just over the horizon if we continued to use rubber-tired vehicles.
Charlotte convinced voters to approve a dedicated funding source and has pursued their rail plans. The projected ridership has been exceeded beyond their wildest dreams, and Charlotte is moving forward to expand their system. Ditto Phoenix, Dallas, Albuquerque, Salt Lake City, Nashville and St. Louis.
All forms of transportation rely upon public subsidy of some sort. The problem in the United States is that we have become obsessed with cars and planes, both of which are the least efficient at moving anything around the Earth, and have contributed significantly to climate change.
We lavish about $30-billion a year on highways, while AMTRAK struggles to provide service on 70-year-old infrastructure for which Congress has failed to fund upgrades for too long, under the pretext that AMTRAK must make a profit.
Every other industrialized country in the world understands that passenger rail will never turn a profit, but rail is the most efficient way to move over the surface of the Earth.
Once again, the flawed "free-market" mantra of the political ultra-right is taking the United States right up to the edge of the abyss. Hopefully, saner heads will prevail and avoid our tipping over into that abyss.
Mike MacDonald, Clearwater
Districts preserve voter choice | Dec. 7, letter
Voters need real choices
State Rep. John Legg's reply to professor Daniel Smith on the subject of gerrymandering captures perfectly the typical politician's aversion to reform of the political process, except where major partisan gains can be made.
He introduces the standard of a "clear breakdown of our current system" as needing to exist to address issues such as the partisan legislative and congressional district gerrymandering, which he denies, as they are but allegations.
Legg refers to the "long-established system" of districtmaking having weathered all the reviews over the decades. This must be especially comforting to an officeholder who boasts of his re-election in District 46 in 2006 without general election opposition. In reality, no district, county or state is well served by this circumstance. Only an incumbent would see it as a positive.
The Port Richey Republican makes no substantive defense of the bizarre, tortured tentacles of district boundaries capturing specifically identified voters.
The political electoral system is rotten due to lack of maintenance from nonpoliticians and voters. Florida voters need to take their usual concern for good public policy to a logical if radical extension and refashion the political process so electoral outcomes might not be known in advance.
Our state needs compact districts, a voter-oriented initiative process and more ballot access reform. Voters need choices!
Lawrence Allred, Seminole
A license to promote ignorance | Dec. 11, Daniel Ruth column
I do believe that Daniel Ruth himself holds "A license to promote ignorance." It seems he refuses to accept the fact that few of the tens of thousand Southern men who died in the Civil War owned plantations.
If each Confederate soldier owned a plantation and had vast riches stashed away waiting for the war to end, then perhaps Ruth would have a point in asking that the Sons of the Confederacy not be allowed a special license plate.
The majority of Southern men being forced to fight were poor farmers, owning no slaves, but were drafted to fight and die. The Confederate solder was fighting against an invader and had no thought of fighting a war so that others could enslave human beings.
Southern people have the right to honor their ancestors and their Southern heritage.
Dottie Clark, Apollo Beach
An agenda for U.S. innovation | Dec. 9, David Brooks column
Give citizens a break
David Brooks' comments seem reasonable except for his step No. 6, loosening H-1B visa quotas to attract skilled immigrants.
We are in a recession. Many of our own skilled people are without jobs. Do we really want foreigners to come in and take jobs from citizens?
Loosening H-1B quotas will flood the market and depress salaries. Give our own citizens a break. We need it.
Anita Clifford, Lithia