The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is asking Pinellas County voters to approve a significant sales tax increase to fund its Greenlight plan. It claims that current property taxes are insufficient for needed bus service improvements. But the tail wagging this dog is the authority's much more troubling proposal to construct a light-rail system.
Greenlight proposes to construct a 24-mile light-rail system costing nearly $3 billion that may well be obsolete before it becomes operational in 10 years. Railway stations in St. Petersburg, Clearwater and three mid county stops will not be within easy walking distance for most passengers, thus creating a "first/last mile" problem.
A study by the Cato Institute concluded that vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions were reduced by light rail only for households living within one-half mile of the station. The majority of passengers saw increased vehicle congestion around the stations. Adding insult to injury, most light-rail systems across the country require hundreds of millions of dollars per year in taxpayer subsidies in order to operate.
PSTA is ignoring the emerging autonomous vehicle technology, which promises to efficiently solve the problem of getting people from their starting locations to their final destinations. Autonomous vehicles will be commonplace within PSTA's time frame for operational light rail. Four states — including Florida — have already passed laws permitting autonomous cars. The Netherlands has just announced a five-year plan to make its public roads safe for autonomous vehicles. And cities in Belgium, France and Italy are planning for driverless cars.
Greenlight would increase local sales tax to build a system based on unconvincing arguments and obsolete technology.
Ralph E. Warmack, Gulfport
Rail at the expense of buses
While the Greenlight Pinellas plan promises expanded bus service, I believe nothing in the plan or the referendum will force that to happen. Much of the Greenlight money will build an unneeded train connecting condos between downtown St. Petersburg and Clearwater. Even though Greenlight creates the highest sales tax in the state (a 14 percent regressive rate hike), PSTA will still need $1 billion more for the train than the sales tax will bring.
PSTA's own consultants directly tell the PSTA it may have to cut bus service if it can't raise enough money from sales tax revenue. Cannibalizing bus money for trains happened in Los Angeles, where poor, mostly black neighborhoods had to sue to recover 10 years of bus funds stolen for trains in what was called "transit apartheid." Voters cannot trust PSTA or the rich train-land developers to spend money on buses when the train is their goal and they are likely to prioritize spending on trains to support their "transit-oriented development" agenda.
PSTA has already demonstrated it can't be trusted with more tax money. It has spent nearly a million taxpayer dollars on an "educational campaign" for this vote, built a $30 million Taj Mahal headquarters and given raises to PSTA employees during a recession when others were losing jobs or taking pay cuts. Voters who want better bus service should demand better management of PSTA funds, lower cost, smaller buses with custom routes and money focused on people, not bureaucracy. Those who think Greenlight will help them will just end up waiting for the bus.
David McKalip, St. Petersburg
Reform bankruptcy law
Last month I served as a delegate to the National Patient Advocate Foundation Patient Congress in Washington. As one of three Floridians serving on NPAF's President's Council, it was my responsibility to speak with our senators and congressmen regarding three proposed pieces of legislation that deal with medical debt.
One in three Americans will report problems paying their medical bills, and medical debt contributes to 62 percent of bankruptcy cases in the United States, according to statistics from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
HR 1767, the Medical Debt Responsibility Act; S 2471, the Medical Bankruptcy Fairness Act of 2014; and HR 2211, the Accuracy in Reporting Medical Debt Act, all seek to separate medical debt from credit card debt. Patients who have declared bankruptcy because of medical debt should not have to go through debt counseling, and when their debt is satisfied it should be removed from their credit report within 45 days, not seven years.
NPAF's focus was to ask our elected representatives on Capitol Hill to support and co-sponsor each of these bills. Without exception, our visits were met with consideration and appreciation of our concerns.
Michelle Flowers, Gainesville
Hobby Lobby unaware it covered contraceptive drugs | July 8
Leave medicine to doctors
Unless you are a person's personal physician, you are not qualified to comment on what medicines or medical procedures that person requires. What you believe is not germane to someone else's medical needs.
If your doctor says you need a particular drug or procedure, who am I to second-guess that? I would look foolish if I tried to tell you that you don't need a particular heart medicine or asthma medication, and you'd probably be pretty angry if I took that option away from you.
Laura Vickers, Tampa
Out of answers | July 6
I can sympathize with anyone facing really hard times. However, the more I read about the Hartzell family, the more it became apparent that they were given numerous opportunities to help themselves but, because these involved following rules and having structure put in place, they let the opportunities pass by.
In the future, instead of giving people charitable handouts, they should go to a "life school" to learn rules, structure, how to keep a job and training for that job. When people who are down on their luck turn their back on help, it makes those of us who want to help and want to contribute think twice.
Joyce Lindsey, Tarpon Springs
Health premiums heading sharply up July 7, commentary
Although I appreciate an opinion piece criticizing Obamacare that is actually based upon factual statistics, I believe all such submissions should have to satisfy several prerequisites.
First, all articles should have to include an admission that the prior oligopolistic health care system was irretrievably broken. Second, the author has to admit that the Affordable Care Act is a far cry from its intended legislation after being watered down by an insurance and pharmaceutical-backed Republican congressional minority.
Finally — and Stephen Parente certainly has the pedigree for this — the author must offer an alternative solution that would not only be superior to the ACA but slippery enough that it could slide through a sharply divided Congress. I look forward to that article.
David Sandefur, Seminole
A sky-is-falling screed
The op-ed piece is a partisan attack on the Affordable Care Act by a former adviser to the 2008 John McCain campaign.
His sky-is-falling, apocalyptic scenario is at odds with the nonpartisan analysis by the Congressional Budget Office. And none of the curses he conjures have happened in Massachusetts, which adopted an ACA-like model years ago.
His "peer-reviewed economic model" doesn't seem to value the tens of thousands of lives saved due to the expansion of health care coverage by the ACA — notwithstanding the exclusion of nearly a million Floridians by the state Legislature.
It is immoral for the insurance industry to make profits from the tragedy and suffering of people; and it is financially unsustainable. All other advanced countries have universal health coverage provided by some variation of a single-payer system — at half the per capita costs as compared to the United States. To reduce costs and achieve universal coverage, we need "Medicare for all."
Robert White, Valrico
The costs of cruising | July 9
A lock would solve problem
Another option to enable mega-sized cruise and cargo ships access to Port Tampa Bay could be the creation of a lock similar to those used in the Panama Canal.
Briefly, this would involve dredging under the span of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge to allow a vessel to be lowered at least 56 feet and building a lock. The vessel would enter the lock, be lowered by pumping out water, and travel under the bridge. The vessel would then be raised by allowing water in the lock and proceed to the port.
Robert Chamberlin, St. Petersburg