Congratulations are in order for Gov. Rick Scott and, now, state Senate President Mike Haridopolos for protecting taxpayers by halting Florida's ill-conceived high-speed rail project.
Now it's time for Scott, with Haridopolos' support, to put the brakes on the boondoggle SunRail project. The $432 million set aside for SunRail should be utilized for Florida's priorities and to plug the state budget deficit.
The SunRail commuter rail project, with its $1.2 billion first-year startup, lacks a funding source (a clever term for new or increased taxes) to operate and maintain the system for 92 years of the 99-year commitment. Florida's taxpayers would pick up the first seven years of operating and maintenance costs, with responsibility for funding the remaining years falling solely to the taxpayers of Central Florida.
On such projects, history consistently shows us costs are significantly underestimated and ridership optimistically overstated. But, unbeknownst to Central Floridians, the Florida Department of Transportation, with the approval of Central Florida politicians, has a solution for that: Funds for our existing road and bridge projects will be raided or deferred in order to provide for a projected 4,000 SunRail riders.
No prudent citizen or businessperson would incur debt without a hint as to how he or she would pay it back. Nor would a prudent bank lend money in such a scenario. Yet our legislators repeatedly ignore common sense and commit to spending with only a vague reliance on future optimism to guarantee against default.
It's time we limited Fantasyland to Disney World and not make it an everyday experience in Florida government.
Beth Dillaha, city commissioner, Winter Park
Numbers don't add up
You can buy an Amtrak ticket from Tampa to Orlando for $10 each way. Why do people think high-speed rail is a good idea when we all know that we, the people, will not use it ourselves? Driving round-trip to Orlando and back from my house is 150 miles. At 15 miles per gallon, that equals 10 gallons of gas at about $3 a gallon, or $30. With four of us in the car, that equals about $7 per person. Amtrak is $20 per person round-trip.
Why is the federal government hellbent on wasting our money on projects that will continue to bleed out our economy in future years?
Frank Crupi, St. Petersburg
Banks not paying up
It is time the laws are enforced to require banks to pay condominium fees when they take over a unit in foreclosure.
Our association has been fighting a bank for more than six months to collect funds due from the foreclosure action, association fees and other fees. Letters to the bank go unanswered. Our legal fees are mounting. The real killer was when the bank offered us a reduced payment as payment in full.
Banks are killing our economy and making the homeowners who play by the rules carry them. Banks think the rules do not apply to them and use our funds to pay the lawyers to keep the game going.
Richard A. Prestera, Treasure Island
Rodeo death defines danger | Feb. 22
As a mother, my heart breaks for Brooke Coats' parents. Watching the tragic death of a daughter is something no one should have to endure.
This death may, however, expose that rodeos are not benign, safe entertainment — for participants or animals. Though abusive treatment of the animals is not condoned, it is rampant in the industry. These animals buck because of the spurs and flank straps that are required. Electric prods and other tormenting devices are banned but still used.
Rodeo attendance throughout the country is dwindling. That's why you'll see singers and performers booked at rodeos in order to help drive up attendance. Public opinion will continue to change as more people see the reality of life for the animals involved and the danger to the participants. My sincere hope is that another young life isn't lost before rodeos end for good.
Julie Hanan, Lutz
Medicare fraud sweep | Feb. 18
Help stop scammers
This article discussed the largest Medicare fraud indictment on record and the ways health care providers defrauded the system. I commend our law enforcement agents on this bust because Medicare fraud affects not only the Medicare system, it hurts the health care services that beneficiaries and caregivers receive. Florida taxpayers pay $3 billion to $4 billion annually because of Medicare fraud.
In the Florida Senior Medicare Patrol program, we stress that Medicare fraud prevention begins and ends with the individual. The Senior Medicare Patrol relies on more than 4,700 volunteers across the country. These wonderful volunteers protect older people and fight health care fraud, leaving more money in the system for everyone.
In Florida, our volunteers have assisted us in educating tens of thousands of Medicare beneficiaries about how to avoid becoming victims of health care fraud. We also intervened on behalf of many Medicare beneficiaries with complicated problems, including fraud and identity theft, related to their Medicare benefits.
We at the Florida Senior Medicare Patrol need your help. If you'd like to become a volunteer, contact us toll-free at 1-866-357-6677. Contact us also if you would like to report fraudulent activity.
Makeba Huntington-Symons, Florida Senior Medicare Patrol, St. Petersburg
Coverage isn't cheap
My wife and I are both 65-plus and on Medicare. We pay $8,100 per year before we see a physician or enter a health care facility.
How much more do you expect us to pay to provide free medical care for the 30 million people who don't have it (or won't pay for it)?
In addition, if you currently pay less than $8,000 a year for health care coverage, we are supplementing your health care. If you're a public employee, the supplement is in the form of higher taxes. If a private-sector employee, the supplement is the higher prices we pay for goods and services.
Medicare costs are high, but not because it is "free."
Terry R. Sutton, Weeki Wachee
Bill aims to ease state gift ban | Feb. 22
We don't trust them
Whether state Sen. Dennis Jones or state Rep. Jimmy Patronis likes it or not, the gift ban law is there for a reason. The reason is simple: We the people do not trust our elected officials.
And the reason? They have not earned our trust. With increased pressure from lobbyists, backroom deals, gerrymandering and failure to pass a law requiring full disclosure of where donations come from, why should we?
Are our politicians so ashamed of where the gifts and donations come from that they cannot bear to disclose? They claim the law is just "window dressing." Fine, then write a stronger one.
Ray Day, Spring Hill
I believe the bill proposed by Sen. Dennis Jones and Rep. Jimmy Patronis should only be enacted with an amendment. All legislators accepting total amounts greater than $500 should be required to wear a NASCAR-style driving suit covered with patches. The size of the patches would increase with the amount received. The primary donor would choose the suit color. This way voters would know who bought their legislator.
Jim Hunter, Lutz
Fun is focus at History Fair | Feb. 20
In this time of bad news, turmoil and strife, it is refreshing to read about young people and their interest in history. All aspects of learning are integrated, and history is vital to understanding where we are going by learning where we have been. There is so much more to history than dates and victories.
These young people should be commended for their interest as well as their actions.
Mark L. Grantham, Gulfport
Red-light cameras causing red ink | Feb. 22
Costs are too high
It seems that Fort Lauderdale is not receiving the income that had been expected from the installation of red-light cameras. Drivers are challenging the tickets in court and winning. The increase in legal fees and court costs are cutting into the profits.
I have always believed that the red-light cameras were all about the money, and this article supports that. There was no mention of how many accidents have been prevented or how the cameras have increased highway safety and driver awareness.
Our elected officials were only interested in how much income could be made from the cameras. Now it seems the only one making any money is the company that installs and monitors them. I can't believe Fort Lauderdale is the only city having this problem, and it won't be long before the cost of the cameras exceeds the income generated.
William McDermott, New Port Richey
Along with slow growth, lower pay | Feb. 20
Wakeup call for workers
It was shocking to read about the former executive complaining about being offered jobs at $15 per hour. His statement — "You're not going to be able to pay your bills on that kind of salary" — is incredible. I don't know what universe he lives in, but you can be sure it's not the same as mine.
I would guess that at least 85 percent of Florida residents would be tickled pink to have a job that pays $15 per hour. Of course, at those wages it is unlikely that they live on the waterfront or in McMansions in gated communities.
This person should be thankful he had savings and a reliable income from his wife's job to see him through, not be complaining that he has been unable to find a job at the $60,000-$80,000 range.
Jay D. Jennings, Brooksville
Internet tax loophole costs Florida billions Feb. 20, editorial
Floridians reap savings
There is a glaring clarification needed in your editorial asserting that Florida stands to lose $2.4 billion because Internet sales are not taxed. Floridians actually will not lose anything. That $2.4 billion will be in their pockets unless the Times gets it way, and then it will be in the general revenue account of the state of Florida.
Jeff Harmon, Tampa
Pirates kill four American hostages | Feb. 23
Not just pleasure boaters
It is peculiar that this article omits a significant part of the account of the four Americans killed by Somali pirates.
Scott and Jean Adam were longtime Christian missionaries who for years used their boat to deliver Bibles to dangerous locations throughout the world. While they recognized the inherent danger, they would not be swayed from what they believed was their calling.
This is the real story, not just pleasure boaters with bad judgment.
Richard Scott, Clearwater
Watchdogs slam DEP choice | Feb. 23
The article about Florida's new Department of Environmental Protection secretary and his history as holder of a huge permit to pollute is information the public needs.
Today, if you work for the DEP as a park ranger, you aren't allowed to sell either art or music CDs at arts and crafts festivals in a state park. The double standard boggles the mind.
Annette Long, Chiefland
FM 89.1 up to full power | Feb. 24
Can't hear it
As a supporting member of WSMR, I was personally misled by the station staff. I was assured repeatedly that full power meant I would be reached in southern Pasco County. Zephyrhills does not receive the FM 89.1 signal.
Staffers have always been thoughtful and kind to me, but they always avoided one of my questions: Why didn't they continue the classical music on 89.7 and put their "CNN-like" station on 89.1?
James Achterberg, Zephyrhills
Methinks Eric Deggans is a bit premature in saying the station is up to full power, unless he considers a full blast of nothing but static to be an acceptable broadcast. I live in South Tampa, and after reading his article I changed the radio dial, only to find no music, no talk, only static. I gave it an hour and still the same result.
Judith Batson, Tampa
Workers' rights at stake
I am a retired Chicago public school teacher and proud member of the Chicago Teachers Union. The Wisconsin teachers realize that the economic crisis demands concessions in terms of pay and other benefits. But the right to bargain and negotiate a contract should be protected.
I understand why a great many people, because they don't have these things, resent government employees for their negotiating rights, decent pensions and benefits. But does it make sense that union workers lose their rights too?
Study your history. One hundred and fifty years ago, workers were beaten and killed for trying to unionize. Look at all that was gained through the years: child labor laws, decent work hours and wages, safe working conditions, workers' compensation and much more. Unions were responsible for most of this. If unions disappear, who fights for workers' rights?
Carole Gallotta, Bradenton
A poor example
What a poor example for Wisconsin students. The teachers are lying about being sick in order to protest the proposed state budget. In addition, many are using form letters prepared by doctors to excuse their absence. The teachers should be reprimanded and the doctors should have their medical licenses suspended. Let's hope Florida teachers and doctors have more integrity.
Thomas E. Pease, Tarpon Springs