James Taylor debates new preferences for solar power in Florida. Taylor’s rebuttal begins at 25-minute mark – video appears here.
The Tampa Tribune presented a misleading narrative on state borrowing in order to smear Florida’s Republican Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Jeff Atwater and provide cover for prominent Democratic politician and former state CFO Alex Sink.
The Tribune published an article Wednesday claiming the Florida Republican Party engaged in hypocrisy when it sent out a press release this week “blasting Alex Sink for voting as a Cabinet member in 2008 to borrow money for school improvements.” The Tribune singled out Atwater in the title of the article, “GOP bashes Sink over decisions by Republicans – including Atwater?”
The article correctly noted the Republican press release criticized Sink for voting to issue two bonds in 2008 totaling $1.2 billion. The article also correctly noted the Florida Cabinet, consisting of the governor, attorney general, chief financial officer, and agriculture commissioner, has sole decision-making power on whether to issue bonds – effectively borrowing money – to finance state spending programs.
In March of 2008, the Cabinet voted to issue bonds totaling $586 million to construct government buildings. Gov. Charlie Crist, Attorney General Bill McCollum, CFO Alex Sink, and Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson voted unanimously to authorize the bonds.
The Cabinet voted in June of 2008 to issue bonds totaling another $625 million for similar building projects. Crist and Sink were the only two Cabinet officials attending the meeting, and both voted to authorize the bonds.
Jeff Atwater was not a Cabinet officeholder in 2008. He was a member of the Florida Senate in 2008. The Senate plays no role in decisions to issue bonds.
The Tribune claimed, “Starting in 2008, when Atwater became state Senate president, he would have had substantial influence over the shape of the state budget.” Implicitly, the Tribune argued Atwater could have exercised his power as Senate president enact a leaner 2008 budget such that the Cabinet would not have to issue bonds to fund desired government building programs. The Tribune, however, failed to mention the legislature crafted the 2008 budget in 2007, before Atwater became president. As Senate president in 2008, Atwater could not unilaterally rewrite a budget the legislature passed a year earlier.
Atwater did, however, exercise his authority as Senate president in 2008 to make substantial cuts in 2008 and 2009 government expenditures. As the Sun-Sentinel pointed out in March 2008, within two months of Atwater becoming Senate president, the Senate slashed $500 million in spending for the duration of 2008 and similarly began paring 2009 expenditures.
To be fair, three Republican Cabinet members voted for the March 2008 bond and one Republican Cabinet member voted with Alex Sink for the June 2008 bond. However, the one Republican who voted with Sink in June was Charlie Crist. During Crist’s term as governor, Democrats often referred to Crist as “one of the best Democratic governors Florida has ever had,” and Crist has since become a Democrat. The two other Republicans who voted for the March 2008 bond are no longer active Republican political candidates, largely because they were perceived as politically left of the GOP’s center of gravity. McCollum, who pundits assumed would be elected governor in 2010, lost the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary to conservative favorite Rick Scott. Bronson is no longer involved in state politics.
Since the 2008 Cabinet bond votes, one Republican became a Democrat, another Republican lost a primary to a conservative challenger, and the other Republican has dropped out of politics. Jeff Atwater played no role in the bond decisions, and affirmatively used his power as Senate president to slash state spending. Since Atwater became Florida CFO in 2010, Florida has reversed its perennial deficit borrowing and posted consecutive budget surpluses.
For publishing an article titled, “GOP bashes Sink over decisions by Republicans – including Atwater?” the Tampa Tribune has some explaining to do.
Convicted felons should have an easier time regaining the right to vote, according to Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. Putnam, an ambitious Republican politician who many believe is the front-runner for the 2018 Florida gubernatorial election, shared his concerns about convicted felons’ voting rights in an interview Friday with the liberal Tampa Bay Times.
Under Florida law, the Florida governor and his or her cabinet oversee convicted felons’ requests to have their voting rights restored. Former Gov. Charlie Crist restored nearly 40,000 convicted felons’ voting rights during his first year in office, while current Gov. Rick Scott restored less than 100 during his first year in office.
“I don’t think that going all the way back to full, automatic restoration is the way to go,” Putnam told the Times. “But for certain classes of crimes, I think an expedited restoration process is appropriate. For more violent classes of crimes, I think they should still have to come before us.”
The voting rights activist group Who Can Vote, funded by the leftist front groups Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, highlighted the sort of non-violent convicted felon for whom Putnam would like to more quickly and easily restore voting rights. In a feature article on Florida’s voting restrictions regarding convicted felons, touted a crack cocaine dealer who served time in federal prison. After release from federal prison, the crack cocaine dealer became a writer advocating leftist political causes. Who Can Vote championed the crack cocaine dealer as the sort of non-violent convicted felon who should more easily regain voting rights.
Putnam’s advocacy for convicted felons continues a longstanding track record of championing leftist causes. Liberal establishment Republicans worked behind the scenes last year touting Putnam as a potential primary opponent for Scott in the 2014 gubernatorial elections. Putnam’s long history of tacking left on issues such as prescription drug entitlements, renewable energy subsidies, cash for clunkers, and the Obama stimulus endeared him to liberal establishment Republicans and the Florida media who felt Scott was too conservative for Florida. The extremely liberal Tampa Bay Times published a 2012 article titled, “Putnam, the pol who proves refreshingly sane.”
The University of South Florida is playing a key role in Obamacare propaganda and implementation efforts, applying for and receiving more than $4 million from the Obama administration to sign people up for the controversial federal program.
The federal government contracted with approximately 125 organizations throughout the nation to serve as Obamacare “navigators.” The navigators will tell people about Obamacare and sign them up for the federal program. Leftist activist groups and controversial organizations, such as abortion provider Planned Parenthood, comprise many of the groups receiving taxpayer money to spread the word about Obamacare.
In Florida, the University of South Florida applied for and successfully attained key status in the Obamacare propaganda and signup efforts, receiving more Obamacare grant money than all other Florida groups combined. USF will keep much of the money for its Obamacare outreach efforts and also farm some of the money out to other groups for the same purpose.
The University of South Florida is a public university dependent on Florida taxpayer funding. Government watchdogs expressed concern, but no surprise, that the state taxpayer-funded university is so eagerly assuming the role of hired Obamacare advocate.
“Educational elites lean liberal and now they get money to help advance a liberal cause such as Obamacare,” St. Petersburg attorney and public policy expert Kerry Brown told Media Trackers Florida. “This is delicious dining at the public trough by USF. No surprise here.”
I am pleased to see that my ongoing work with Media Trackers Florida is giving liberals “heartburn,” according to the Sun-Sentinel. In an article published earlier this week, the Sun-Sentinel documented some of our successes. My favorite is liberal Democratic Rep. Joseph Gibbons saying Media Trackers Florida “really have been beating Democrats down very badly.”
In a separate article, the Sun-Sentinel reported on Florida Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith similarly complaining about our effectiveness beating down liberals. Smith stretches the truth in many of his complaints, so we published a follow-up article, available here, setting the record straight.
Traffic studies in Florida and throughout the nation contradict Sen. Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth) on his claims that shorter yellow lights do not cause an increase in motorists running red lights.
As Media Trackers Florida reported Monday, WTSP-TV in Tampa St. Petersburg aired a news segment revealing Florida Department of Transportation officials encouraged local communities to shorten the length of yellow lights at intersections with red light cameras. The shorter yellow lights, without any notice given to motorists, caused twice as many people to run red lights at the intersections with cameras. This allowed the state government, local governments, and red light camera manufacturers to reap more money in fines for red light violations, but it also caused more dangerous driving conditions and at least one death.
Clemens, who receives campaign contributions from red light camera manufacturer American Traffic Solutions, defended the surreptitious shortening of yellow lights in the state. Clemens told WTSP that similar numbers of motorists will run red lights regardless of the length of yellow traffic lights.
A number of studies contradict Clemens’ assertion. Researchers at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute reported last fall that drivers often face an immediate dilemma between slamming on their brakes or continuing through the intersection. The best way to enhance safety in these situations, the researchers found, is to make yellow lights longer, not shorter.
“The dilemma zone occurs when the driver has no feasible choice,” explained Virginia Tech researcher Hesham Rakha. “In other words the driver can neither stop nor proceed through the intersection before the light turns red. This can also occur if the approaching vehicle is traveling faster than the posted speed limit and/or if the driver’s perception and reaction time is longer than the design one-second value.”
The website Motorists.org, administered by the National Motorists Association, presents several additional studies showing shorter yellow lights increase safety risks at traffic intersections.
Researchers at the University of South Florida report government officials use red light cameras primarily as a tool for raising revenue rather than enhancing traffic safety.
“Cities and counties install red light cameras as a ‘hidden tax’ on motorists. RLCs [red light cameras] are a new revenue stream for government and those companies that produce RLCs according to the study,” the researchers explained.
“Motor vehicle safety is advanced through evidence-based methods. Attempts to generate revenue through traffic citations are directly contrary to public safety,” the researchers observed.
Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) officials shortened yellow lights at intersections with red light cameras to enhance revenue from red light fines, a WTSP-St. Petersburg 10 News investigation discovered. The shorter yellow lights are catching motorists by surprise and played a key role in a recent traffic death, WTSP explained.
State and local transportation officials in 2011 reduced yellow light times at various intersections in Florida below federal guidelines and without issuing any warnings to unsuspecting motorists. Intersections with red light cameras were specifically targeted for shorter yellow lights, WTSP found.
Red light cameras caused Florida drivers to hand over $100 million in fines to last year. Just over half the money goes to the state, with local governments and the red light camera manufacturer splitting the remaining half. WTSP found half the fines issued last year would not have been issued if yellow lights had been left at their prior lengths. In effect, surreptitiously shortening the yellow light times caused a doubling in the number of people running red lights at traffic intersections with red light cameras, creating more dangerous driving conditions.
WTSP began its investigation after a driver ran a red light in Hernando County last December and killed a woman in a resulting accident. WTSP discovered the yellow light had been shortened at the intersection, with no notice given to motorists, and the driver who ran the red light would have been going through a still-yellow light had the yellow light time not been shortened.
“Red light cameras are a for-profit business between cities and camera companies and the state,” National Motorists Association executive director James Walker told WTSP. “The [FDOT rule change] was done, I believe, deliberately in order that more tickets would be given with yellows set deliberately too short.”
“You’re basically punishing safe drivers with deliberately improper engineering. That’s not moral to me,” said Walker.
WTSP reported that studies show shorter yellow lights force people to make more panicked decisions about abruptly stopping or accelerating to speed through an intersection, which increases safety risks.
Eight Republican state legislators and one Democratic state legislator responded to the investigative report by calling for changes in how FDOT sets yellow light timing, WTSP reported. Also, Hillsborough County officials said they will look into restoring yellow lights to their prior lengths but Tampa city officials indicated they intend to leave their yellow lights at the shortened lengths.
American Traffic Solutions (ATS) makes the red light cameras in Florida intersections and ATS lobbyists support shortening yellow light times at intersections with red light cameras. State Sen. Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth), who cashed multiple campaign contribution checks from ATS, defended the shorter yellow lights to WTSP.
“Clemens says drivers will just get used to the longer yellows over time and keep speeding through intersections. It’s the same talking points the red light camera companies use themselves,” WTSP reported.
The liberal Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald blasted Florida lawmakers for passing a funding bill excluding ineffective teachers from receiving generous pay raises.
Earlier this year, the Florida Education Association, a statewide union of Florida teachers, applauded Gov. Rick Scott’s call for a $2,500 across-the-board pay increase for all Florida teachers. The Florida legislature passed compromise legislation this week tying teacher raises to performance standards.
Under the legislation, all teachers who receive an “effective” evaluation will receive at least a $2,500 pay increase. Teachers who receive a “highly effective” evaluation will receive a $3,500 pay increase. The vast majority of Florida teachers receive either an “effective” or “highly effective” evaluation. Teachers who grade out as ineffective will not receive a pay increase.
Blasting the legislation for excluding pay raises for ineffective teachers, Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee Bureau Chief Steve Bousquet urged Scott to veto the entire education budget, including the $3,500 raises for highly effective teachers.
Acknowledging the legislature’s 2013 budget provides $480 million for teacher pay raises, Bousquet nevertheless wrote, “The pay raise is tied to pay-for-performance plans not yet in effect in most school districts. That’s not the across-the-board increase Scott has sought for months.”
“What he should do is congratulate his fellow Republicans who wrote the budget on a good first try, then veto the entire education budget and tell lawmakers that he’s dead serious about an across-the-board raise for teachers,” wrote Bousquet.
“Republican lawmakers would be appalled by a Scott veto of the education budget, which is all the more reason why Scott should do it,” Bouquet argued.
Scott should “then invite hundreds of teachers to a rally on the steps of the Capitol,” Bousquet asserted.
The Florida Education Association (FEA), a statewide union of Florida teachers, criticized Florida lawmakers for passing an education budget providing $480 million in school employee raises but requiring teachers to share the raises with non-teaching school employees.
If signed by Gov. Rick Scott, the 2013 Florida education budget will be the largest in state history. School employees will receive $480 million in pay raises, which would set teacher and school employee salaries at their highest levels in state history. Nevertheless, the FEA issued a press release criticizing the plan for making teachers share the $480 million in pay raises with non-teaching school employees, such as guidance counselors, media resources specialists, and teachers’ assistants.
“We are also disappointed that the Legislature, without making additional funds available, has required that the money allocated must be distributed to school administrators in addition to the instructional personnel who actually deliver education to our students,” FEA argued in a press statement sent to Media Trackers Florida.
The education budget also includes $300 million in additional funding for retirement benefits for teachers and other education employees.
The website Teacher Salary Info reports Florida teachers make an average of more than $50,000 per year in salary, with benefits worth an additional $15,000 per year. The average salary for all jobs in Florida is $40,000, the South Florida Business Journal reports, citing Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
A review of PolitiFact Florida’s “fact checking” of recent statements made by Republican Speaker of the House Will Weatherford and Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith shows PolitiFact Florida is applying a double-standard to the detriment of Weatheford and the benefit of Smith.
As Media Trackers Florida reported earlier this month, PolitiFact Florida set a very low bar for truth-telling after Smith claimed “Florida is second in the nation in the uninsured.” Applying three different possible ways of calculating medically uninsured people in Florida and the United States, PolitiFact Florida reported that all three showed Florida to be third in the nation in uninsured people, not second as Smith claimed. Despite Smith telling an objectively verified falsehood, PolitiFact Florida assigned Smith a ruling of “mostly true,” claiming “Smith is slightly off on his numbers, but his point is on solid ground.”
Coincidentally, PolitiFact Florida recently ruled on a statement made by Weatherford regarding a similar fact pattern. Weathford claimed Florida’s campaign contribution limits on individual donations are “the second-lowest” in the nation. PolitiFact Florida reported that Weatherford’s campaign contribution claim, much like Smith’s uninsured claim, is subject to different methods of calculation. Unlike Smith’s claim, which was false regardless of the calculation method, PolitiFact Florida reported that Weatherford’s claim is true under at least one calculation method. Other calculation methods would place Florida somewhere other than second, yet still among the lowest in the nation.
While PolitiFact Florida gave Democrat Smith a “mostly true” ruling, despite Smith being factually wrong under all calculation methods, PolitiFact Florida gave Republican Weatherford a “false” ruling, despite Weatherford being factually accurate according to at least one calculation method and being only slightly off on his numbers regarding other calculation methods.
PolitFact Florida assigns rulings of “true,” “mostly true,” “half true,” “mostly false,” “false,” and “pants on fire.” Accordingly, PolitiFact Florida ruled Smith’s objectively false statement was three degrees of separation more truthful than Weatherford’s objectively true statement.
PolitiFact Florida markets its “fact check” rulings as a means for voters to tell which candidates for public office are most truthful with their constituents. Voters who place a high value on truthfulness and use PolitiFact Florida as a resource will now be more likely to vote for Smith, despite his objectively verified falsehood, than Weatherford, despite his objectively verified truthfulness.
A Media Trackers Florida investigative study last year found PolitiFact Florida consistently gives Democrats more favorable rulings than Republicans. PolitiFact Florida is a branch of the Tampa Bay Times, which has a longstanding history of endorsing Democrats for public office rather than Republicans.