Resolved to support causes in '14
Some say it is a sin to have knowledge and not act upon it. Being loath to risk the consequences of committing yet another sin, here are my resolutions for 2014. In each case, the resolution is based upon solid evidence.
1. One of the biggest threats to democracy in America is the influence of money. McCain-Feingold backfired. The Roberts Supreme Court has defeated efforts to reform. Resolution: I will support (financially and otherwise) efforts to provide for public financing of elections at all levels.
2. Gerrymandering may be as large a problem as money in politics. Karl Rove said it right: The party that controls state legislatures controls Congress. Thanks to the efforts of National Council of La Raza, Common Cause Florida, the League of Women Voters of Florida, and Fair Districts Now, Florida voters amended our state Constitution in 2010. The result was more equitable redistricting in Florida. The Brennan Center at New York University has stated that Florida is the only state in the union in which the party in control in the state legislature lost seats in Congress after the 2010 census. Resolution: Support the ongoing efforts of the above-listed groups.
3. 401(k) plans constitute a great concept. Unfortunately, too often the plans offered employees do not provide for investments in index funds. Over the last year many respected financial advisers have written that index funds should be a required option. Their administration fees are about 10 percent as much as those of actively managed funds. Those excess fees cost the employees 20 percent to 40 percent of their retirement savings, and index funds perform better over time. The excess fees amount to trillions going to Wall Street. Don't count on Congress to help. When, a few years ago, New York Sen. Charles Schumer cast his disgraceful vote against a plan to tax earnings of hedge fund managers as earned income, it became clear that the public can't expect regulatory aid from Congress. Resolution: Encourage my working family and friends to reason with their employers to include index funds as an option in their 401(k)s. It won't cost the employer much. The employer isn't pocketing the excess administration costs.
So, why write this letter instead of just acting on my resolutions? Mark Twain wrote: " 'Tis noble to do good; to teach others to do good is nobler, and much less trouble."
Tim Poulton, Port St. Lucie
Fear after oil train derails | Jan. 1
The AP story about a train derailment in North Dakota decries the dangers of transporting petroleum by rail. But its simplistic description of the accident (tanker train derails and explodes) varies from the version provided by other media.
In fact, a second train traveling in the opposite direction on a parallel track derailed, and a portion of it fell onto the adjacent track where the oil tanker cars were traveling, leading to the fiery aftermath pictured.
What one might logically conclude from the latter version, and the further comment that such derailments are not uncommon in the area, is that the state of the nation's railroad infrastructure and the condition of its rolling stock — not merely the transport of petroleum by rail — may present the greater danger.
Fred Kalhammer, Sun City Center
Majority agrees with incentives | Jan. 1
Deals need full disclosure
For the most part, I can agree with incentives to bring employers to our area. However, "the devil is in the details." These are what we generally do not see. In one of your four examples of community/taxpayer largesse, Amazon is receiving incentives to bring in 375 "above-average-paying jobs." What does "above average" mean? Does it mean $9 an hour instead of minimum wage, or $15 per hour, or $30?
There are lots of ways to fudge statistics, one of them being not showing the information. And this is what we usually get from the politicians and bureaucrats: "Trust us." Sorry, I am not likely to do that.
If a company says they are going to bring in 100 high-paying jobs at an "average" annual pay of $60,000, they might in fact make 98 of those jobs minimum wage or slightly higher and then add in two executives who are getting millions in income, thereby deviously reaching the average. It is time for all the information of these incentives be given to the taxpaying public so that a real confidence-building survey can be made.
Dave Cordes, Clearwater
On rail, public will pay | Jan. 1, letter
Hidden costs are still there
Just because a cost has become hidden doesn't mean it isn't there. Many have bemoaned the cost to construct and maintain proposed rail, often concluding that rail is not wise or sustainable because it will not make a profit. Guess what? Roads don't make a profit either.
According to the Florida Department of Transportation, a mile — 1 mile — of urban road can cost from over $8 million for a two-lane urban road to over $14 million for a six-lane road for construction. FDOT reports that maintenance of its assets topped $200 million in 2009-10, and that doesn't count the costs of county and city roads. AAA reports that it costs over $9,000 to own and operate a vehicle that travels about 15,000 miles a year.
So, are these roads making any money? Of course they aren't. There's no reason that rail should be any more profitable than any other part of our infrastructure. But if it can help relieve congestion and pollution and reduce reliance on roads, reduce the need for more road maintenance and reduce the need for more road construction, the net benefit will be a better quality of life in our area with little change in overall transportation spending. We spend mightily for roads — we just don't see it every day.
Gregory Byrd, Clearwater
Subsidies all over the map
The letter writer chooses to ignore any objective analysis, or else is in some way prejudiced against rail transportation. He fails to note that essentially all transportation in this country is subsidized in one way or another by local, state or national governments.
If a person chooses to travel by government-subsidized SunRail, that same person will not be traveling on government-subsidized roads and interstates. The writer should analyze the apparent "wash" and determine all the interactions of tax and private subsidies that support regional as well as interstate transportation.
And do not forget commercial air travel carries its public subsidies as well.
Harold T. Sansing, Dunnellon