I applaud Gov. Rick Scott's decision to cut state funding for the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority. TBARTA was created in 2007 and duplicates services already provided by the Florida Department of Transportation, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit, Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority and others. TBARTA dilutes the power citizens have to influence transportation decisions at the local level, as its region spans from Citrus County all the way down to Sarasota County. TBARTA has a land-use working group that seeks to modify zoning in areas it'd like to see high-density development occur, even if it supersedes the current property owner's wishes.
TBARTA's objective is to coordinate transit across the region, but HART and the PSTA already coordinate services across all three bridges. Projects TBARTA claims to be working on had already been initiated and could continue without its involvement. Bus Rapid Transit with intelligent signalization was already planned for Hillsborough before TBARTA's formation. The vanpool service is the only program it can claim ownership of, and that existed before its intervention.
TBARTA's master plan includes 250 miles of costly passenger rail that is an exact overlay of the rail plan voters rejected in November. TBARTA commissioned a costly poll after the vote to determine what messaging persuaded voters most and stated that poll results were for educating the voter next time. Propaganda like this is unacceptable and unethical.
TBARTA already began this education process last month when it robo-called thousands under the guise of seeking public comment for its master plan. The effect of this method over traditional public hearings was to crowd out informed opposition so it could report broad public acceptance for the one-sided presentation of its rail plan.
Thank you, Gov. Scott, for eliminating wasteful spending on this duplicative agency and for restoring local accountability on future transportation decisionmaking.
Karen Jaroch, Tampa
School budget reductions herald downward spiral
I'm only a soon-to-be high school junior, but I am outraged at what is in store for education in Florida and Pinellas County. An additional $60 million cut from the education budget? If officials want our country to continue its downward spiral by taking away the foundations of success, then just keep withdrawing that money.
And what of the teachers? They deserve more. I have had so many efficacious, guiding teachers who have touched me greatly; teachers I'm still in contact with and love. Every teacher whom I know goes out of his or her way to do the job, giving so much extra time and energy.
Officials blame teachers for the disparity in the performance of black and white children, but the culprit can be found in the home. It all starts there. Success is found where a mom reads to her kids, shows them right from wrong, showers them with love, and provides them with everything they need. The teacher can only do so much. After that, the responsibility ends.
Chelsea Helt, St. Petersburg
Congratulations in order
Congratulations to Times for its coverage of high school graduations as well as the focus on the valedictorians and salutatorians in the area.
And to the graduates, congratulations on your accomplishments. You can be proud of what you have achieved. Pat yourself on the back and, at the same moment, look forward to the bright future ahead of you.
At a time when a lot of the reported news seems so dismal, it has been refreshing to read articles about these successful young men and women who represent our future.
Marilyn Warner, Clearwater
He will be missed
I couldn't believe it when I saw that Howard Troxler was leaving. He will truly be missed by the Floridians who actually care about our state of affairs. I'm sure others are jumping up and down with relief. Hopefully someone will take his place, although we all know that is impossible.
Let's hope for the future of our beautiful state that we don't give up our belief in checks and balances for the greater good. That is what Howard always strived for: what is honorable and just for everyone, not just the powers that be.
Good luck, Howard. You will be missed.
Kathleen Jones, New Port Richey
If they won't tell, you know it smells May 29, Howard Troxler column
Successor badly needed
Three cheers to Howard Troxler. I only hope there is at least one journalist out there who has read this column and will have the guts to take the bull by the horns and pick up where Troxler has left off. But, alas, much of what I read in the papers and magazines seems to bow to whoever is in control.
When we get thrown out of public meetings just because we are Democrats, Republicans or independents, the government has overstepped its boundaries.
John Nicklin, Tampa
Hot under the collar
We recently got a notice that our homeowners insurance had been raised 40 percent, from $2,600 to $3,635. Nothing had really changed for us in the last year. We have made no claims and we had not built any new structures on our property.
We were told the increase was because we have a gas heater in our home that has been determined to be a risk.
Our home was built in 1926, and we have lived here for the past 23 years with the same heater. It had never been determined to be a risk before. We tried to explain that our heater was nothing more than an appliance that we have in our home much like our stove or water heater and that we have had this unit since we have lived here. The mortgage company's response was that the heater is considered to be a "space heater" and it will not insure us without an increase in premium or a change in the unit.
We scheduled someone to come out and disconnect the service. When we spoke to the gas company, it told us that we were not the first family to call to have its heat source disconnected due to mortgage companies refusing to insure without an increase in premium.
So my wife and I will throw a few more logs in our fireplace this winter, huddle around the hearth and hope that the annual cold snap doesn't go too far below 32 degrees.
Mark Hampton, St. Petersburg
Make all pay fair share | June 7, letter
Rich subsidize others
A letter writer suggests that the Social Security shortfall should be solved by removing the cap on income taxed for the program. The reader says it's not fair that Social Security taxes are assessed on 100 percent of her income while "millionaires and billionaires only pay the … tax on the first $107,000 they make."
I can see why someone would believe this is not right. However, you can't look at Social Security solely on just the amount paid in. To truly determine if it's fair, you have to look at how much someone receives relative to what they pay in.
According to justfacts.com, an individual who earns $15,000 per year for 46 years will pay (at the current tax rate) $86,000 in payroll taxes. That person can expect to receive a Social Security benefit of $10,008, or 11.7 percent, per year of the total amount of taxes paid. However, a person taxed at the current cap of $106,000 will pay a total of $599,000 in taxes into the system. This individual will receive $30,168 per year in benefits, or just 5 percent of the total amount of taxes paid.
While high earners might have a cap on what they pay in Social Security taxes each year, the system also guarantees that approximately one-half of their taxes go to subsidize individuals who make less money.
Scott Stolz, Tarpon Springs
Bank finally pays when moving truck shows up | June 7
Poor customer service
Thank you for the article describing the trouble a couple had with Bank of America. My son has been trying to resolve his mortgage problem with it for months. He keeps getting the runaround, cannot speak to anyone in a position of responsibility, and cannot make a payment at the bank because it insists payment be made by Western Union (which he has done and now it claims payment was never received).
Is it any wonder the bank is regularly No. 1 on the customer service "Wall of Shame"?
Fred Beerman, Tampa
Enough ugly power poles
We are fortunate to live in a very beautiful state, yet driving I am struck by the huge quantity of exceptionally tall, very ugly power lines being put up. I don't buy the argument that burying these ugly cables underground is more expensive.
Every time there is bad weather, the power goes out. Then you have to factor in the cost of hacking back all our beautiful oak trees. Surely if other countries can economically and effectively put power lines underground, America can.
Angela Manning, Clearwater
We're No. 1 — but not in a good way June 8, commentary
Successful models plain to see
Thanks to Ezra Klein for some clear facts about our health care system. The United States spends 50 percent more on health care on average than other countries and yet the others have better outcomes.
The models for cutting health care costs are in plain sight, yet Congress on both sides of the aisle won't talk about it because of lobbyists for the insurance and health care industries who funnel huge campaign donations to them.
The average American doesn't stand a chance against big-money donors except at the ballot box. Educate yourself and don't vote against your own best interests.
M. Leslie Nichols, Safety Harbor
U.S. results don't measure up
The recent article concerning our very high health care costs should be considered against the measurement of the effectiveness of our health care system.
It's not the easiest thing to measure, but the World Health Organization did produce a global "scorecard." Although the statistics date from 2002, they are significant:
Preventable deaths per 100,000 of population — United States ranked 14th with 110; France was first with 65.
Life expectancy — United States ranked 24th at 70; Japan was first at 74.5.
Most telling is that we rank 33rd in infant mortality, with over six deaths per 1,000 births; Iceland has less than three per 1,000 births.
So not only are we spending significantly more for health care, our system appears to deliver significantly less.
Derek Roberts, Clearwater