THE FLORIDA PATRIOT May 1st 2013
Pension reform was a tale of two very different bills in the Florida House and the Florida Senate in the beginning of this 2013 legislative session with both bills being miles apart. Speaker Will Weatherford (whose father in law sits on the boards of the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the James Madison Institute both pushing him to pass pension reform) tried to close the Florida Retirement System to new Police Officers, Firefighters, Teachers and other employees. The Florida Senate was having none of the last minute shenanigans that Senator Wilton Simpson (coincidentally Weatherford’s Boss, he consults for Simpson to the tune of 30k a year for one of his companies) tried to pull by amending SB 1392 with a strike all amendment that made it identical to HB 7011. Republican Senator Jack Latvala who warned Senator Simpson earlier in the session on SB 1392 if he tried to match the House Bill he would kill SB 1392 then. During the Florida Senate session Senator Jack Latvala made good on his promise and asked the first question “Is this the house bill”, except for a date change and adding “opportunity” yes Simpson replied.
Democrat Senator Clemons was next in with questions asking why would we want to close the pension plan isn’t it one of the best in the United States, Simpson replied it is #7 if he remembers correctly (it is actually 3rd best in the United States). Senator Nancy Detert was the next Republican who was not too pleased asking “I am familiar with the Senate plan, I am not familiar with the House plan, under the Senate plan we did not close the pension can you tell me the differences”? She then followed up by asking “How do we get that good Senate plan back, is this our only choice” which led the flustered Senator Simpson know he was looking at a rocky road for his last minute switcheroo amendment. Senator Jeremy Ring asked “1st responders are the ones spending 15/20/25 years taking risks talk about why this would be of value”, Senator Simpson flatly stated there was no value to them except being in control of their own money. Senator Margolis pointed out that 401ks have lost a bunch of money and have nothing to show for it, we are not making the decisions on where that money goes, they make the decisions for the entire State of Florida. Senator Dean asked if the contribution to the investment plan had gone down to which Senator Simpson replied “I wasn’t here I do not know”. It became clearly evident that poor Senator Wilton Simpson was going to look like Boxer Jerry Spinks taking on Mike Tyson in the late 1980’s during this Florida Senate battle.
Senator Negron tried to come to Senator Simpson’s rescue by asking “When few people start a job in their 20’s and end in their 60’s can you outline the advantages for this”? Senator Simpson replied to Senator Negron’s question with “If I start as a teacher for 8 years, then a construction worker for 8 years, then an egg farmer for 8yrs I can take my retirement with me”. It became obvious that neither of these Senators had spent time around many teachers, firefighters, and police officers whom typically choose their line of work as a “life choice” staying with their careers their whole lives, particularly police/fire. During debate Senator Margolis stated “This is unconscionable, we are trying to attract the best and brightest to teach our children, save our lives, protect us from criminals this is not going to work”. Senator Clemens added that Milliman had been sued by the State of Maryland successfully (for 70 million dollars…) and that he did not feel comfortable with that firms figures. Senator Clemens was correct in his assumptions the first study Milliman completed was incomplete and had to be redone in the beginning of the session and during the last committee debate of HB 7011 their representative did not even show up for questions. Also during the earlier debates of this bill this reporter was present and heard Florida Professional Firefighters President Gary Rainey point out that local government contributions would rise for the next 28 years for police/firefighters according to their own study. Senator Soto pointed out that wasn’t it just the other day at the bombing during the Boston marathon in the midst of this chaos we saw firefighters emerge to put out the fire, police drew their guns not knowing what they are going to face, EMT’s flew in to take care of the injured. Senator Soto continued “Their life expectations are short, they are not even sure they will collect their first pension check, now you want to take the one thing from the new people they hold dear, I cannot and will not support this amendment”.
Senator Jeremy Ring (possibly the most knowledgeable on pensions in the room) added “There is not a financial service expert in the world that would sound the alarm on our FRS”. Senator Thompson added “At one time I recruited professors where I worked, minimal qualifications were a Masters degree, many people passed me by because of salaries, but many people came to me because of our benefits and we had a defined benefit plan, how are we going to be competitive in recruiting for state government without good benefits if salaries are low”? Senator Thompson went on to say “I have learned if it is not broke let’s not fix it”. Senator Bullard said “When in the Florida House I was confused by some of the actions that we take, I find myself in the middle of this doublespeak, we acknowledge those folks in the gallery and then pass laws to throw them under the bus?
The Final blows of this Tyson/Spinks fight came strongly from Republican Senator Jack Latvala who the remainder of this paragraph will be his final statement of the debate that choked up the Senator himself. “What a privilege and honor it is to debate and argue for what we agree with and then leave as friends, as you know there was 4 or 5 ways from Sunday to not give this a chance to come for an up or down vote and once we get this up or down vote this goes away. We are not talking about what ALEC says, the KOCH brothers says, we are talking about 623k people that are in the system. If you want to sponsor a bill, you get a staff summary by our staff, normally 3 committee references and you get to work your way thru the process. You get to debate the bill, and the first we have seen of this bill and it involves 623k citizens, we don’t have actuarial studies, we have a couple of studies from the House that they had to send back because it didn’t have the right numbers and this is not how the Senate works. 70% of our state employees make less than 40k a year. I firmly believe based on my current employees that one of the reasons they work for the state is for the pension, they have not had a raise in 6 years. We need to continue to offer that pension, that’s the people we work with every day, that’s Wallace and Ruby that clean our office every day, that’s the seargent at arms here at the house. I resent that some people say that because you’re a government employee you are not as good as someone that works for the private sector. I have in my district a highway patrolman, every day he gets in his for car for the last 29 years and he doesn’t know if he’s going to get shot at and his salary is in the 40k’s and the reason he hangs in there is the pension. 2 years ago there was a wildland firefighter Brett Felton and he got stuck in a bog and John Burch headed to help him and both of them died that day and they both made 26k a year which is barely above the federal poverty level. 1200$ a month is what those families have left of their father/husband and now we are considering taking that from them? My pressman in my private company doesn’t carry a gun and that’s what we expect here…I really sincerely hope that you will join me in voting against this amendment”.
Shortly after Senator Latvala and a few other Republican and Democrat Senators spoke, 8 Republican Senators voted with the Senate Democrats and voted against this bill that would have handed the retirements of our future firefighters, teachers and police officers to Wall Street. Sadly, HB 7011 sailed thru the Florida House committees with ALL House Republicans voting FOR this bill and all Democrat Representatives voting AGAINST this bill (which makes me wonder why we have a Florida House of Representatives as it seems it is the “button pushing” branch of Florida’s government). While I’m sure handing 132 Billion dollars over to the Corporate Wall Street Masters/Koch Brothers that fund the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Americans For Prosperity, The Heritage Foundation, The James Madison Institute (man there are a lot of these organizations, I’m sure I missed one or two they must pay well lol) it is NOT what we proud Floridians are in the habit of doing.
03/15/2013 THE FLORIDA PATRIOT
Today in Tallahassee HB 7011 passed its 3rd committee with Republicans voting yes, Democrats voting no down party lines and will most likely head to the Florida House Floor for a final vote next. This bill closes the defined benefit “pension plan” to employees hired after January 1st 2014 forcing them to enroll in the much less popular “investment plan” defined contribution. The problem Tallahassee Republicans fail to understand (despite having multiple pension experts tell them on multiple occasions) is that closing new entrants to this plan is exactly like having folks under 40 suddenly stop paying into social security. When a plan stops having new entrants “pay into the plan” the local counties, sheriff’s offices, and cities will have to pick up the slack and raise taxes on businesses and residents to make the payments to contractually obligated employees. Currently, local counties and cities in FRS pay 14% to the State of Florida in order to fund FRS/pension plan for police officers and firefighters. According to actuarial figures stopping enrollment will eventually raise the 14% figure to 49% on local counties and cities paid to the State of Florida to fund FRS over the next 28 years which will in turn cause them to have to raise taxes on local residents and businesses.
Why are legislators taking this unnecessary step of closing the 4th best funded pension plan public or private in the world to new employees? One reason is its political red meat for groups like “Americans for Prosperity” that tweet on Speaker Will Weatherford’s twitter account regularly about the subject. It is probably one of the things that has gotten Speaker Will Weatherford an invite this year to CPAC and leads to his conservative credentials (how raising taxes for the next 28 years on local governments is conservative this writer does not understand). Another justification given today by one of the legislators in attendance Rep Workman (R) “My dad was sent a letter by his private employer after he retired saying he was to call this number he was losing his pension and being put in a 401k and we are not affecting current employees/retirees in this bill”. Unfortunately Rep Workman does not understand how wrong this is, for the next 28 years according to Milliman (the firm the State hired to do the study) costs do rise on local government for the next 28 years before they see a savings which will undoubtedly make employees contribute ever increasing payments to keep up the plan. To everyone in the room’s shock, not one representative from Milliman bothered to show up and defend their self-admitted flawed study which shows closing the plan raises costs. Rep Waldman (D) stated today “You folks are going to get a letter in future years telling you your out of luck, like Rep Workman’s dad did”. Rep Waldman (D) when discussing how this would proceed in future years pointed out “It is beyond logic to believe that 5 people can support 100,000 people and the State of Florida will have to come up with money years from now”. Another curious fact that Rep Waldman (D) pointed out was that in his 7 years in the legislature he has never seen only 1 person show up in favor of a bill and the expert that created the study did not show up to answer questions. Not a surprise, the 1 person that showed up in favor of the bill represented the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
After much public pressure from police and firefighters over the last two hearings of the bill, legislators added a death/disability amendment for first responders killed in the line of duty; however, this benefit is less than the benefit that was in place for current employees. Perhaps the most dead on comment of the day came from FOP President Preston who said “What you are doing now is setting your house on fire to avoid a hurricane”. Rep Rangel (D) stated “We are putting an unfunded mandate on our local counties and cities by closing this plan to new employees” and “I have received a phone call from the Florida State Troopers that there are 178 unfilled positions that they cannot fill due to low wages and benefits not being able to attract recruits”. Rep Taylor (D) added “You have taken billions from the pension plan and it is still 88 percent funded” and “Folks are not going to risk their lives on the streets for nothing”. Representative Taylor is correct, the State of Florida has “borrowed” 12 billion dollars from the plan since 1998 and has taken payment holidays for the last 3 years. Many current retirees made the trek to Tallahassee with one adding “The FRS at one point was 116% funded and has not made a payment for the last 3 years which is causing it to be 87% funded right now”.
Rumor has it that Florida House Republicans are being bullied into voting for this pension reform bill by Speaker Weatherford, but that it will not see the light of day past the Florida House floor vote. The more seasoned and experienced Florida Senate which has killed more than a few bad ideas generated in the House, has a pension reform bill SB 1392 which gently encourages enrollment by offering incentives to join the investment plan instead of the pension plan. Hopefully, common sense will prevail on the House Floor or in the final version of this bill and Florida Republicans will do the right thing for the taxpayers. If not, maybe we should save the taxpayers money and just elect Speaker Weatherford “King” as some legislators this session seem not to be willing to vote their own conscience, we will be watching and reporting how they vote at THE FLORIDA PATRIOT.
03/09/2013 The Florida Patriot
Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist spoke to a standing room only crowd today at the Ft Myers Democratic Women’s Club. If there was any doubt whether Democrats in Florida want Charlie to run for Governor or accepted him as a Democrat, multiple breakouts of spontaneous applause crushed those doubts. I wish I was the reporter to “scoop” the story and give you a definitive answer; however, that is not the case. During one of the many times Crist was asked today on whether he would run for Governor he said “He was thinking about running and weighing all factors for a potential run”. Jokingly Crist said that question was “The elephant in the room” and that he was having a lot of fun working for Morgan and Morgan in the private sector. During Crist’s speech today he spoke about how President Obama’s federal grants had helped keep firefighters and school teachers on the job here in Florida. When the Question and Answer session started I asked “Governor Crist if you were the current Governor would you veto HB 7011 which ends line of duty death benefits for new police and firefighters widows and ends traditional pensions for new employees entirely” Crist stated that he would Veto such a bill and that he respected the work of firefighters, teachers and police officers and that they deserved good pay and benefits. Two weeks ago Governor Scott was in Ft Myers and I got to ask the same question and was told “He had yet to take a position on HB 7011”.
Crist started his speech describing how his change to the Democratic Party started in Ft Myers when he introduced President Obama and gave him “the infamous hug” that became the front cover of one of Senator Marco Rubio’s campaign pieces during his Senate campaign. Republican friends cautioned Crist against welcoming President Obama telling him that it would be used against him, and Crist said he did it because it was the right thing to do. Crist talked of how President Obama told him” I know that this will cost you” and appreciated his support. Crist went on to say that most of his friends told him he had always been a Democrat he just didn’t know it. Crist went on to say how flattered he was to be asked to speak at the 2012 Democratic Convention on the same night as the President even though he was an Independent and was welcomed with open arms and then was called on again to help campaign in Ohio. During his visit in Ohio they visited the town where the infamous “Jeep” plant that Mitt Romney had stated was going to be closed and those jobs moved to China. Crist said that the workers and residents knew that plant wasn’t going anywhere and for him to tell the world the truth on the matter. Crist said when the decision to join the Democratic Party was made it was suggested to him by a friend that he do it at the White House at the Christmas Party he was invited to and he did.
Crist went on to speak about his roots, immigration, voter reform, education, the environment and first responder staffing mentioning that his family moved to Florida when he was 3 and he was a product of Florida Public Schools and that his two sisters were public school teachers. A Teacher in the crowd stood and thanked Crist for his veto on SB6 when he was Governor. Crist talked about the importance of good public education being the best way for people to get educated and then be able to have professional jobs that pay well. He went on to say you have to want Teachers to have good pay and benefits “all the time” not punish one year and give raises the next. Crist stated that his Grandfather Cristadolis had come to America from the Island of Cyprus when he was fourteen and that good public education had helped his father become a doctor who practices today at the age of 80 in St Petersburg Florida.
Crist stated when he was Governor he had increased early voting to 14 days and increased the hours and days you could vote by executive order so that everyone had their American Right to Vote. He was touched by the story of the 102 year old African-American woman who had waited 7 hours to vote and would not leave having friends help her until she had her chance to vote. After he had left as Governor, Crist said that the legislature had made it more difficult to vote by having mail-in ballots have to match the signature on your Voter card “only”. Crist talked about his own mother whom had a stroke and signature had been affected and wondered how many others were affected by this and why “only signature matching counted” for verification of ballots being counted or thrown out.
Crist talked about how he had first been brought to beautiful Lee County by his father when he was 9 years old to go Tarpon Fishing and had loved the area since. Crist went on to talk about the importance of protecting the environment to business as well as residents “If we don’t have the wisdom to protect the environment it will hurt tourism”. Crist made mention of the “God is Love” sign on Macgregor Blvd and that it is good to honor God.
Crist talked about how “corporations are not people, people are people” and that when you run for office and are elected you should “serve the people”. When asked about why immigrant children are paying out of state tuition rates, he felt that this should be changed and he supported the bill going through the legislature as those children were born here and are residents. Crist stated he was very optimistic and felt Florida had a bright future ahead. This reporter has been involved in politics for a long time and even though he did not come out and say it, today definitely made it feel like Charlie is going to run for Governor of Florida in 2014.
Florida House Republicans pass a pension reform bill through Committee without knowing the cost to taxpayers
February 7th 2012 The Florida Patriot
As I sat in the Florida House of Representatives, Government Operations Subcommittee Proposed Committee Bill GVOPS 13-01 committee meeting today on pension reform it seems there were more questions than answers. Surely you jest, Florida House Republicans (the bill passed committee advancing through the process 9 Republicans For/3 Democrats against 1 missed) want to change a pension plan that was over 100% funded in recent years, that the State of Florida has raided 12 Billion dollars from to balance the State of Florida budget over the last 3 years, and it is still the 4th best funded in the world and over 87% funded. Yup, the above figures came from a public records request from Florida Professional Firefighters President Gary Rainey who during public comment came prepared with exact statistics on the fund. Another exact statistic President Rainey provided is that Florida’s Retirement System has gone up 10 billion dollars in value since June 30th 2012 and now sits at 132 Billion.
It was a good thing that someone had the figures, as Representative Slosberg (D) repeatedly questioned the Director of the Florida Retirement System “How much will this change cost”, “Can you give me a ballpark figure” he could not. A 25 year employee who works calculating the Florida Retirement System whom the director summoned to the podium could not give a ballpark figure either and stated from the time they started it would take 6 weeks and should be ready “soon”. One of the questions that was answered today was that the State of Florida took a “Payment Holiday” (the State of Florida did not put in funding this year) from funding the plan this year also. If this bill becomes law as it reads now it will make all new hires after January 1st 2014 be placed in the defined contribution plan (401k plan) instead of the defined benefit plan (pension plan) closing the plan to new members for good. Think of taking all of the people say under age 50 and having them stop paying into Social Security right now and imagine how long it would take the plan to collapse. It’s pretty simple math, if you stop having new people “pay in” while having the current members get “paid out” it will not be long before taxpayers and local governments will be paying higher taxes to keep the plan solvent. Another part of this plan is that currently police officers and firefighters disabled or killed in the line of duty receive benefits that will take care of their widow/widower and children, under this new plan, the cop shot in the line of duty’s family will only receive back what he/she has paid in… no death benefits or disability.
Representative Workman (R) stated he was not in favor of waiting for the studies to be done showing the costs to taxpayers and that this was a “Good Starting Place” and voted yes to pass the bill through to the next step. Many firefighters and police officers made the journey to Tallahassee to speak against the bill today. A retired police officer with 30 years on the job related many stories of friends that had been shot, run over and other tragedies causing their deaths or total disabilities. One or two of the examples was of a police officer that had been shot 3 times in the chest with an AK-47 and another who had lost a leg when helping a motorist was slammed into by another car. During debate Representative Combee (R) countered these statements from police officers and firefighters by mentioning that “fisherman, truck drivers, and sanitation workers had a higher rate of death than police officers and firefighters”. That being a police officer while being dangerous was 7th on the list, although he had family that were police officers. The complete list of “Yes” votes were Rep Workman (R), Rep Combee (R), Rep Cummings (R), Rep Raulerson (R), Rep Brodeur (R), Rep Ahern (R), Rep Artiles (R). Representative Fresen (R) Representative O’toole (R) . The no votes spoke passionately about protecting future retirements of the hardworking state employees. No votes included Rep Rangel (D),Rep Campbell (D), and Rep Slosberg (D).
The Florida Chamber of Commerce representative who spoke in favor of passing the bill admitted that the plan was in good shape. Governor Scott, unbiased pension experts, the lawmakers who voted yes to pass this bill ALL admit that the pension is in good shape. The reasons given by the yes vote lawmakers today ranged from “We are one calamity away from having the pension unsustainable” they did not mention which calamity, locusts, tornado, earthquake, hurricanes? Rep Slosberg (D) had the most passionate remarks of the day saying “Instead of doing our due diligence, we are just going to ram it down these folks throats? Find someone else’s pockets to pick”. He also related the story of one of his twin daughters being skillfully and quickly transported by firefighters saving her life after a horrible vehicle accident and that he appreciated the job they do daily. Many teachers testified stating with one stating that graduation rates for elementary school teachers from a State of Florida University had dropped from 15,000 a year to 3,000 a year and that many were leaving Florida for better pay and benefits. A representative for the police officers stated that recently 13 officers had left one County in Florida for higher pay and better benefits in another state. A pension expert from an FPPTA that studies public pensions stated that “taxpayers costs will skyrocket if these changes are made”.
The common sense award and the sentiment that this writer agrees with came from a second generation firefighter from Central Florida who made the drive who stated “His father had taught him from a very young age, if it isn’t broken don’t fix it” good advice indeed. The Florida Patriot will be following this story as it develops.
January 28th 2013 The Florida Patriot
Shortly after the ink was dry on the results of the 2010 election results the newly elected Republican Supermajority in the Tallahassee Legislature led by Governor Rick Scott started on a course to dismantle the Florida Retirement System as we know it. Never in my 20 years as a firefighter in Florida had I seen such an attack on the FRS than during the 2011 legislature. It seemed back in recent history, 1998 to be exact, Firefighters and Police Officers had endorsed and helped elect Governor Jeb Bush whose first action was to take the City pension 175 plans and improve them for Firefighters and Police and was the first bill he signed into law. In 2010 the FRS had over 110 billion dollars in it and was over 80% funded and considered the 3rd best funded in the world public or private (it now has 132 Billion and is 88% funded which is considered very healthy).
During this same time the Florida Chamber of Commerce ran ads statewide trying to help pass the “Paycheck Protection Bill” which would have made having your public sector union dues deducted from your paycheck illegal. What’s this…the super majority was trying to restrict “1” thing from being deducted from your paycheck voluntarily, however, over 300 things including United Way could be deducted? Sitting in the 2011 State Senate pension hearings patiently awaiting my turn to testify why the State of Florida should not be able to “break the contract” they had signed with me and go against the State of Florida Constitution I heard a lot of testimony. The James Madison Institute testified which is funded by conservative Republican groups tried to prove that the 3rd best funded pension in the world was headed to insolvency. Eventually, my turn to speak had arrived and I pointed out that I had worked 72 hours in a row following hurricane Charley leveling my county and now they didn’t think that those hours should count in my pension calculation? Many of our Union Presidents spoke and pointed out just how ridiculous breaking the contracts of the hardworking police officers, teachers and firefighters while they were being laid off and taking pay cuts already as extremely unfair. Luckily, even though the paycheck protection bill had passed the Florida House, the wiser and more seasoned Florida Senate did not pass this bill. Unfortunately, the pension bill was passed and touted as “making public sector employees pay into their own pensions like the private sector” passed and a 3% Florida Public Employee Tax was levied on my paycheck.
A “Florida Public Employee Tax” you say, you must be mistaken that 3% goes into the FRS to stabilize our pensions right? The 3% that was overturned by a lower court was upheld recently by the Florida Supreme Court unfortunately goes into the general fund and not the FRS. Who stood up to fight for the public employees and paid for the lawyers to fight for the employees you may ask, Andy Ford President of the FEA and funded by the FEA. One of the reasons that public employees are losing and using Teachers as an example is that membership is over 50% but nowhere near 100%. There is a bill being crafted right now that would close the FRS “defined benefit pension plan” to all Florida Public Employees hired after January 1st 2014, putting them in the 401k style investment plan thus feeding the Wall Street vultures their next government snack. Taking social security as an example if we stopped all people under 55 from contributing to social security and put them into another plan it would collapse in a very short time as it is built on new members contributing. If this law is passed the FRS will in a very short amount of time go from being 88% funded and the 3rd best in the world to being underfunded which would then lead to the arguments to reduce the benefits paid to those retired and soon to retire wrecking a plan that is working fine at the moment.
Another bill making its way thru the committee’s this year would eliminate the 175 provision that Governor Bush put in strengthening the pensions promised to firefighters and police officers. Trying to gain some political cover from the blatant attacks on Florida Public Employees retirements, a few lawmakers have proposed small raises be given to teachers and other state employees. In 2011 a large amount of Florida Public Employees made the pilgrimage to Tallahassee (my drive takes 6 hours) to speak against pension theft and union busting which is ridiculous being Florida is already a right to work state. A very large number of employees also embarked on a heavy emailing and phone call drive that convinced enough members of the Florida Senate to “soften the blow” on pension reform (they were wanting 5% not 3% originally) and voted down the pension dues bill.
The 2013 legislature agenda appears to be headed almost the exact same way that the 2011 legislature was with pension reform being one of their top legislative priorities with them feeling invigorated by their “win” in the Florida Supreme Court. How do we firefighters, teachers, police officers and hundreds of thousands of other public employees stop this pension grab? Join your union and get involved emailing and calling your legislators. If we do not get involved early like we did in 2011, the FRS billions is sure to be handed to the likes of Goldman Sachs in the very near future.
One of my favorite books/stories I have read I picked up while vacationing in New Mexico. It tells of how things were in New Mexico in a small town in the 1850’s. One of the stories has to do with a small town that was besieged by regular attacks by murderers, rapists, and cattle rustlers. One day the townsfolk got together and drafted a notice that read. “To all murderers, rapists, cattle rustlers and no-gooders you have until high noon on Saturday to clear out of our peaceful town and not return or you will be rounded up and hung by the neck until dead dead dead.” In the book it had a picture of the actual notice in which the townsfolk specifically wrote dead 3 times. Half of the said no-gooders cleared out to never return, that Saturday afternoon the men in the town formed a posse accompanied by the town sheriff and rounded up the other half of the “no-gooders” who were not smart enough to leave and hung them by the neck in the town square leaving them up for 3 days as a message. This small town’s crime rate was non-existent for the following ten years.
The recent Sandy Hook School Shooting, Mall shooting, Jerry Sandusky molesting those boys at Penn State, and the increase of bad guys shooting and killing police officers have led me to believe it is time to return to “real justice”. After the movie theatre shooting, the shooting of the congresswoman in Arizona our TV screens are plastered with pictures and stories of how and why these monsters did their horrible deeds. There is no possible way to justify these horrible acts and quite frankly most people are in favor of justice being served. A small child is murdered or raped without hesitation, however, when the time for “justice” comes to be administered as in the Kaylee Anthony trial sometimes they “slip out of the noose” and avoid meaningful prosecution. Most of these killers plead guilty and get “life in prison”. The ones that are convicted and receive the death penalty the average amount of time spent on death row in Florida is 30 years or so before they are finally executed. The method of execution is by lethal injection where these animals are lulled to sleep. These forms of trial and punishment are hardly a deterrent to the people committing these horrible crimes.
We are a fair and just society that believes in the right to a trial by jury, and tries not to convict innocent people. We need to go back to somewhere between hanging in the town square and letting baby killers walk free because “the evidence was mishandled” or we will never stem this tide of violence.
Watching cable network news this week during the Wisconsin Governor Recall election I could not help but notice how much time, money and effort was spent with the Democrats and Republicans battling for this election. It made me think of how much time and effort the Democrats spend blaming former President George Bush and Republicans spend blaming current President Barack Obama about the federal deficit. The Federal Deficit is growing at an alarming rate. We have talked about cutting social security, medicare that our senior citizens have spent a lifetime contributing to and are currently relying on. We have talked about raising taxes, laying off school teachers, and closing fire stations. Meanwhile, we NEVER hear talk of cutting foreign aid to countries like Pakistan who have been receiving well over 1 billion dollars a year for many years. What have we received for our charity you may ask? Funding terrorists who would do us harm and hiding Osama Bin Ladin in this writers opinion. After it was discovered they were hiding Osama Bin Ladin we still continue to send over 1 billion dollars a year to Pakistan.
Almost as bad as funding countries that support terrorism is giving millions of dollars in foreign aid to countries that hold our debt and hardly need the money. A little know fact is that the United States in 2010 gave out 1.4 billion dollars in foreign aid to 16 foreign countries that held atleast 10 billion dollars in Treasury Securities. We gave China 27.2 Million dollars in foreign aid while they hold 1.1 trillion of our U.S. Treasury Bonds. We gave Russia 71.5 Million dollars in foreign aid while they hold 127.8 billion of our U.S. Treasury Bonds. Imagine how many local American communities that could be helped as well as the federal debt that could be paid down if we stopped foreign aid. The City of Immokalee Florida (an area hit very hard by the economic crisis) was recently awarded a 2 year FEMA grant for $700k to re-open one of their only fire stations and re-hire the 6 firefighters that were laid off a year ago. How many thousands of school teachers nationally have been laid off so we can give foreign aid to Pakistan and other countries.
Stopping foreign aid and taking care of our country is only the first step. When are the manufacturing jobs our country has lost overseas over the last 40 years going to return to America. How many Americans currently take the time to look and see where the electronics, cars, and other goods they purchase were manufactured? Our previous generations took great pride in buying American goods. How many times have you called the customer service department of a large American company only to talk to person on the other end of the phone in India or another country? Most Americans pay their fair share of taxes, which leads me to wonder why we are giving 21 billion in tax breaks to companies like Exxon Mobil that are profiting in the billions. Why is it that GE made billions in profits in 2010 but paid no corporate income tax and ships many of our jobs overseas for these tax breaks?
The problem in America is not Republicans, Democrats, Union or Anti-Union, the problem is “US”. I became a Republican because of argueably one of the best we have ever seen, President Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan knew who our enemies were and how to deal with them. I still remember that great moment where he stood at the Berlin Wall and told Mr Gorbachev to “Tear down this wall”. When Moammar Gadhafi and Libya gave us trouble he ordered our military to bomb them from the air, not spend a decade fighting a ground war and then building their infrastructure while our bridges and schools crumble. What do you think he would say about us giving billions of dollars to Pakistan for hiding Osama Bin Ladin or foreign aid to China while they hold 1 trillion of our debt? He believed that America was the greatest country and that we could always do better. Shortly after 9/11 our country galvanized as one and for a long time we worked together as a team. The housing bubble, 4$ a gallon gasoline, and many other economic factors brought us to where we are now of Americans fighting Americans. The previous generations of Americans fought World Wars, and faced many, many tougher problems than ours. It is time to work together as Americans to fix our problems and reach our full potential.
March 21st 2012 The Florida Patriot
Former Governor Jeb Bush endorsed Candidate Mitt Romney today following the Illinois primary and is now asking all Republicans to fall in line and endorse Romney so he will have a better chance in November against President Obama. This primary has been particularly bloody for all of the primary candidates with some of the most brutal attacks in campaign history coming from the infamous Super Pac’s. One of the richest super pac’s to attack Romney in the primary has been Casino Owner Sheldon Adelson whose net worth is reported to be 24.9 billion. So Mr Adelson has donated 15 Million to Newt Gingrich’s Winning Our Future Super Pac, which has funded ads that have landed some punches on Romney’s campaign. It is quickly becoming mathmatically impossible for Newt Gingrich to win, short of a miracle for Newt it is time for him to go. Possibly the most easygoing Presidential Candidate Ron Paul joked on Jay Leno about the other 3 getting out of the race and if elected Romney making Mr Paul Chairman of the Federal Reserve so he could end his own job. Finally, we come to Rick Santorum, Rick has concentrated his campaign so much on religion, birth control and other issues he may not have noticed the 4 dollar a gallon gas as his campaign bus has been traveling America. In a general election Mr Santorum does not poll well at all versus President Obama, and with video of Santorum sitting on stage while a pastor proclaims that America is not for Muslims it is for Christians running the mainstream media, it will be hard for him to garner wide support.
Enter Jeb Bush, dream candidate of some in the Republican party to ride into the Tampa Convention in August to save the day, possibly with Vice Presidential Sidekick Marco Rubio. A Bush/Rubio or Rubio/Bush ticket, could this totally be out of the question? How about a Romney/Jeb Bush Presidential ticket to try and help Mr Romney in November? Is Jeb Bush totally doing this to help the Republican party in it’s time of need to stop the blugeoning of other primary candidates that has been occuring in this Presidential primary giving ammo to the Obama campaign? Secretary of State Jeb Bush would certainly not be out the question as nothing seems to be set in the Republican Presidential Primary except that Mitt Romney is quickly becoming uncatchable mathmatically.
Governor Jeb Bush served the State of Florida as a popular Governor from 1999 to 2007 and even had the backing of the Florida Professional Firefighters and Police Benevolent Association when he ran for election and he coincidentally spearheaded a 1999 law that fattened the pensions of police and firefighters. The lucrative pension provision was the first bill signed into law by the former two-term governor, much to the dismay of the league of cities. Cities had sought authority to use the growth in dollars flowing to them from state taxes on property insurance premiums to go into existing benefits or easing municipal pension liabilities. The 1999 law requires the growth in these premiums go only to additional benefits. Fast Forward to January 27th 2011 when Jeb and Newt Gingrich co-author a piece advocating Congress have a new chapter in the federal Bankruptcy Code that provides for voluntary bankruptcy by states, so they didn’t have to pay those nice police and firefighters their pensions that he increased in 1999. Writing Op-ed pieces with Newt Gingrich and now endorsing Mitt Romney? This leads me to ask “What is Jeb Bush up to?
Jeb Bush again this year and his nonprofit organization, the Foundation for Florida’s Future, have helped to fast-track a stream of legislation that could reset the education equation in Florida. The bills, moving steadily through both the House and Senate, could gradually shift the financial and competitive advantage away from traditional public schools to private schools and charter schools, which are often managed by for-profit companies. The other form of education Jeb Bush has been pushing is virtual learning schools. Isn’t it hard to get a date to the prom if you don’t attend an actual school? On the day of the Vote for the parent trigger bill Jeb Bush was working the no Votes very hard to try to sway Senators to change their minds and pass it.
Is America ready for the Bush trifecta, does Jeb Bush want the job? We will have to wait until the Republican Convention in Tampa for all to be revealed and The Florida Patriot will be there to report it, hopefully from the convention.
Opinion piece by Dana Coston local police officer THE FLORIDA PATRIOT
I have always been a bit of a misfit. Growing up in Florida, the son of parents raised in the deep south, you’d think I’d have always been right at home. Problem is, Florida is such a hodgepodge of people from all over, it’s more like a northern state that floated south in many respects. The southern sensibilities my parents instilled didn’t always “click” with those around me. My parents were both lifelong Democrats…er, I should say “Dixiecrats” as their breed of Democrat was far more conservative and relatable than the Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid style of Democrat that parades around on TV today. Having one parent who grew up in the Great Depression and another in WWII probably has something to do with that. I however identified myself early on (even before I could vote) as a Republican and later (though my voter registration card still shows “R”) a Conservative. And I with this moniker that despite its apparent inconsistencies with the beliefs you might think my parents held, found us agreeing on matters political, more often than not. Despite 4 years spent at Emory University in Atlanta, GA, one of the bastions of southern liberalism, pseudo-intellectual pontification (from both professors and fellow students alike), and bowing at the altar of Jimmy Carter, I found that my core beliefs about the role of government unchanged. As nifty and attractive as the theories of Communism and Socialism are and no matter how prettily professors, PhD candidates, guest speakers, student groups, or even trusted friends packaged them, I always came back to one inescapable conclusion- They were wrong.
As government power waxes, individual liberty wanes. This is an inescapable and immutable truth. So, if we fast forward, I find myself in the profession of law enforcement. I could not have a more rewarding career or work with more incredible people. And this profession is one of many dichotomies- We are charged with protecting peoples’ Constitutional rights, but we are empowered to deprive people of life, liberty, and property. People expect us to be warriors ready to stand between them and those who would do them harm, but want us to be learned, sensitive, and friendly. Finally, as a profession, overwhelmingly law enforcement skews “right-of center” in terms of social and political viewpoints, but are often motivated to belong to political organizations and support candidates who they wouldn’t normally support out of self-preservation. I don’t think you will ever see a union with more registered Republicans and core Conservatives in it than a police union.
So, it took a lot of backstory to get us here, but I am a life-long Conservative Republican who works in a field with a lot of other Conservative Republicans. So, you might imagine my excitement when this new “Tea Party” movement sprang up. Its mantra: Return to Constitutional principles of smaller government, lower taxes, and personal responsibility. It was music to my ears! I was excited to see this movement take off and even get involved locally in politics. And at the local level is where I saw the Tea Party principles get twisted, corrupted, and taken totally out of context. “Smaller, more efficient government” became “crippled and almost unable to function.” I saw a small group of motivated, organized, agenda-driven people take what should be a good thing and pervert it. They claimed it was to right the spending wrongs of the past 10 years. They wrapped themselves in the Conservative banner and channeled people’s LEGITIMATE anger towards the FEDERAL government and turned it to their own ends locally. They lied. Those Tea Partiers who got onto Cape Coral City Council lied over and over again- They said they were pro-business. Lie. They said they wanted to grow and diversify the tax base. Lie. They said they wanted to help the families of Cape Coral. Lie. They said they weren’t against city employees. Lie. They said they wanted a university to relocate here or open a campus. Lie. They said they wanted to restart the UEP but “at the right time.” LIE! And it all comes down to the UEP. To ACTUALLY do any of the things that the previous regime claimed they wanted to do, the Utilities Expansion project is the lynchpin. How do you claim to be “pro business” when you have so little sale-able land with available utilities? They would sing songs of “light manufacturing” but seemed to forget that such businesses can’t run on well and septic. How do you grow and diversify the tax base if you can’t support anything other than strip malls and pharmacies with your current infrastructure? They wanted to “help the families of Cape Coral?” Really? So that milliage rate decrease that created the budget crisis…the one that saved homeowners about $16 a year…THAT was your plan to “help families?” Thanks for the large one-toping pizza Council. I’m still out-of-pocket to tip the driver.
You want to help? Build an infrastructure that will support business growth. Businesses want: 1) Customers…well, Cape Coral has about 162k potentials with 700k in the metro area, so check! 2) A workforce. We have 10% unemployment, so…check! 3) Good climate…check! 4) Cheap land…CHECK! 5) Infrastructure…Ummm. The fact is, if the previous council was so concerned about helping families, infrastructure would have been a top priority. Working to find a solution, rather than trying to scapegoat the 1500+ city employees should have been what they did. It wasn’t. Not anti-employee? I’m almost laughing too hard to type. I am not going to go into that here, but suffice it to say I have never seen a CEO and board of directors do so much to intentionally undermine their staff and workers. What about the mythical university? You know, the one that the Mayor likes to talk about? Same rules apply for it as other businesses. No water, no sewer, no internet…no university. And he knows it. So when he starts talking about wanting high-tech to move here, ask yourself WHY in the world a tech company would relocate here when the median education level of the residents is too low for them and they can’t get high-speed internet to 60+% of the city? They won’t. Finally, they “want to restart the UEP, but now is not the right time.” They cry about how assessments will kill lot and home sales. People will just hand over their lots! Well, with the majority of sales right now going to investors who have a long view, I doubt that. Furthermore, bidding and building NOW while prices are low, locks in the savings. If we wait, we will be in the 2005 situation of having to pay mini-bar prices for things like concrete, copper, and rebar. Use the market downturn to our advantage. There is never a “perfect time” to take on additional burden, but now is the best possible time to do it. The biggest lie of all? We are overtaxed at the city level.
I will use myself as an example because I am a worst-case scenario. I bought my house at the height of the housing bubble. So, here is my tax bill broken down- $1939.41 is the total for Ad Valorem Taxes PLUS special assessments. Of that, $1126.36 is “Special Assessments” and ALL of that has to do with water, irrigation, storm water, and wastewater…ALL of it. that means, my entire share of city and county taxes is $813.05 Of that, $256.01 goes to the city general fund. You know, the governmental body that actually provides me with the services to live from day to day- police, fire, parks, streets, etc.. That comes out to $21.33/month to live in this city. 13% of my tax bill goes to the entity that provides me with the most services. I am NOT overtaxed at the city level. You want to be mad at your taxes? Direct your ire to Washington, D.C. because there you have some legitimate complaints. If that doesn’t hit “close enough to home” for you, direct it across the river to the Lee County government. Citizens of Cape Coral are the county’s cash cows. But for all the taxes we pay to Lee County, what level of service are we receiving? I believe in low taxes, small government and personal responsibility. I also believe that you decide what level of government service you want and you set your budget and tax rate accordingly. Henry David Thoreau wrote in his essay “Civil Disobedience,” “I demand not at once no government, but at once, a better government.” I believe we have that better government now. This Council needs our support in their efforts to modernize this city and help it realize its potential.
Dana S. Coston District 2 Cape Coral Fla.