Transit talks turn pointed | June 3
Voters are weary of rising taxes
The Hillsborough County administrator, leading the charge for a sales tax increase, accuses his opponents of "not paying attention." This cavalier attitude shows little respect for the people whose labor provides the grease for government's wheels. Either he has not heard us or is ignoring us as we scream "no" to sales tax increases at the ballot box. This rejection results in large part from "tax fatigue."
Historically, it has taken 19 percent of GDP to run national government. Today, it's nearly 25 percent — that's a 30 percent increase. County government takes over 7 percent of personal income in the bay area, plus 6 percent for schools, libraries, mass transit and the Children's Board. About 40 percent of what we earn is used to run government, and that does not include various fees, the gas tax and most of our sales taxes.
Expenses for the county administrator's direct reports have shot up by 59 percent year over year, from $1.78 million in 2014 to $2.8 million in 2015.
Anyone, with the noted exception of the county administrator, can see we are paying attention. It should be just as obvious that we do not approve of what we see.
Ken Roberts, Apollo Beach
Congress is the problem
I think America is still a great country and that it doesn't need to be "taken back."
The problem is a dysfunctional Congress that hides behind "doing the people's business." In fact, representatives do nothing to address the real problems we face. Denying climate change, basically working for the NRA, making it difficult for people to vote, shutting down the government, trying to repeal Obamacare repeatedly — while never offering a better plan — does nothing to help the middle class.
The facts show that our country is much better off today than when President Barack Obama took office.
Donald Trump is not the answer. He is a bully and a con man who will only exacerbate the gridlock we have in Washington. The solution is a new Congress, not Trump.
Jerry Denney, Tampa
Workers' comp rates could jump | May 25
Ruling could hurt economy
Job creators beware: Even though your business' workers' compensation rates decreased over recent years, a Florida Supreme Court ruling is reversing that trend — potentially pushing your rates toward the near-record levels of the early 2000s.
The high court's recent action threw out Florida's attorney fee structure — a system that was established to stabilize workers' comp rates that at the time were among the highest in the country. In this specific case, justices agreed that a plaintiff trial lawyer should receive $38,000 in fees for a case in which the injured worker was awarded only $800.
This ruling could threaten Florida's improving business climate. That's because job creators now face a 17.1 percent workers' comp rate increase, according to a rate filing proposed by the National Council on Compensation Insurance. In a state in which two of every three jobs is created by small businesses, a rate increase this significant may harm job creation and the economy.
Before 2003, Florida's workers' comp claims cost on average 40 percent more than the rest of the country when an attorney was involved. In 2003, a united business community joined with the Florida Chamber of Commerce in successfully urging elected leaders to address cost drivers like high plaintiff attorney fees and delays in getting employees health care. Those reforms resulted in behavior changes: Employees were able to receive important health care to return to work more quickly, while attorney fees became a bit more reasonable.
At the Florida Chamber, we remain laser-focused on ensuring that workers receive quality health care, and that job creators aren't stuck with a 17.1 percent plaintiff trail lawyer tax on workers' comp. We believe that putting job creators and injured workers first is the right thing to do to keep Florida's workers' comp system working.
Mark Wilson, Tallahassee
The writer is president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
VA home loans
Program helps millions
Since 1944, the VA loan program has made home ownership a reality for millions of veterans and service members. This long-cherished loan guaranty benefit hit a milestone last month, backing its 22 millionth home loan.
Veterans and service members have reinvigorated this historic program during a time of tight credit and limping wage growth. The Department of Veterans Affairs guaranteed a record number of loans in fiscal year 2015 and has backed nearly 3 million since fiscal year 2011. To put that growth in context, the VA didn't guarantee 3 million loans total in the 11 years before 2011.
Veterans and military members across the Tampa Bay metro area are turning to this zero-down loan program like never before. VA loan volume in the metro area surged 113 percent from March 2014 to March 2016, according to an independent data collection center. The average loan in March of this year was for $223,000, up from $199,000 in March 2014.
In an economy that has been slow to rebound, benefits like no down payment and no mortgage insurance continue to help a new generation of veterans and service members achieve the dream of homeownership. Veterans typically need a 3.5 percent down payment for FHA loans and 5 percent for conventional financing. Both can also carry costly mortgage insurance. Besides the up-front savings and less stringent lender requirements, VA home loans have had a lower average interest rate than both conventional and FHA loans for the past 23 consecutive months, according to mortgage software firm Ellie Mae.
This critical benefit program continues to make a significant difference for a new generation of veterans, service members and military families.
Chris Birk, Columbia, Mo.
The writer is director of education for Veterans United Home Loans.