This past weekend in Orlando, Americans for Prosperity Foundation hosted a conference for grassroots activists from around the nation.
With informative breakout sessions in the mornings to highlight successes on the state and local levels, and “big tent” events in the afternoon with national conservative leaders, there was something for everyone, including ample free time to “network”.
The “malaise” that affected many of us locally after the bitter results of the 2012 Presidential election has been pretty widespread, and organizers from many locations reported falling attendance at many of their events. Hopefully, that is now starting to change. Although we are still licking our wounds, conferences like this one demonstrate that there is still life in the conservative grassroots, we have leaders in the movement that “get it” and have the fortitude to take it to the President – to lead the fight against the train wreck that is Obamacare, the endless debt and deficits, the administration that cares little for the rule of law, the separation of powers, or the role of the states in our constitutional republic.
“It’s amazing what is possible in America“, said Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, when people are free – free to make their own choices, free from the suffocating regulations of intrusive government. He talked about education as the key for the jobs of tomorrow, and the success they have had in his state in shutting down failing schools and greatly expanding the charter school system which has done a lot to improve the lot of minority children. Last week, unfortunately, Obama’s Justice Department has decided to sue Louisiana to roll back these reforms and return students to their failing schools. Judging by his fiery critique of the President and his policies, it is clear he will stand up against our rogue Attorney General and fight to retain the success they achieved.
Our own Senator Marco Rubio declared “There is nothing wrong with America – but there is something wrong with this President“. The good news, he said, is that “we still have time to save the American Dream“, by reforming the tax code and eliminating regulations. “We don’t need Common Core”, he said, and he will not vote for any budget that funds Obamacare or to increase the debt ceiling without a balanced budget amendment and specific cuts.
Unfortunately for Senator Rubio, there is still a lot of anger in the movement about his role in passing the “gang of eight” Senate immigration bill. In the hall were members of Flimen with pink shirts that said “Pink Slip Rubio”, and throughout his speech you could hear sporadic calls for “No Amnesty”. Although he avoided this issue in the speech, he did address it in a smaller group that met with him prior to the session. In a hotel suite with about 40 supporters, after answering some questions about Syria, Obamacare and other issues for which he was among friends, someone in the back asked “what about immigration”. A hush fell across the room at this point and he had no choice but to address it with a somewhat lengthy justification that amounted to “the status quo is unacceptable so we have to do something“. To me it sounded like doubling down. Not good.
Then Arthur Brooks, President of American Enterprise Institute, succinctly summed up the Obama message: “Rich people have your stuff and I’m going to get it back for you.” This shouldn’t have worked as envy is not American, but unfortunately all our side had to say to his supporters was “You’re a moocher” – no wonder we lost. The words “fairness” and “compassion” have been kidnapped by the left and we should take them back and own them, because progressive ideology is neither fair nor compassionate. As a humorous and memorable side comment illustrating our difference in values, he recalled a bumper sticker seen in San Francisco – “Your body may be a temple but mine is an amusement park”.
Next up was Governor Rick Scott, gearing up his re-election bid with a positive jobs message. Recalling his 2010 pledge to create “700,000 jobs in 7 years”, he reported us as on-track, with the likelihood of 900,000 jobs created by 2018. Scott is still popular with the Florida grassroots, although his support for Medicaid expansion had a lot of heads scratching. We do still remember that he declined to create a state Obamacare exchange, though. A few hecklers in the audience periodically shouted “No Common Core”, reflecting dissatisfaction with the direction that our education system has taken over the last few years. Scott talked about his activities as a booster of the state’s business climate and his good-natured rivalry with Texas and Governor Rick Perry who was the last major speaker of the day.
A 2012 Presidential candidate until his campaign faltered early in the primary process, he is possibly gearing up for another run in 2016. Well known as a jobs governor, the record of the Texas economy on his watch has been very impressive. As he makes the rounds of the states selling the Texas miracle, he has gained the ire of many blue state governors who do not appreciate his pointing out the shortcomings of their performance or the failings of the Progressive economics.
On another theme, “All roads lead back to the states“, said Perry. One size fits all federal programs (like Obamacare) are anathema to the founding principles of this country. A favorite target of the Obama administration, whose ideology sees the power in the states to be a roadblock to their big government agenda, Texas is now being sued by Eric Holder and the Justice Department as they try to end-run the Supreme Court and re-impose Voting Rights Act restrictions that require federal permission for such things as Voter ID laws.
On the final day of the conference, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, another possible 2016 presidential candidate and clearly the favorite of the gathering gave us reasons for optimism. With the success of Ron Paul’s filibuster on drones, and the failure of gun control initiatives after Sandy Hook, the President was forced to “listen to the people”, he said. On Syria, with Obama now going to Congress for authorization, on immigration, on common core, – the people are making their voices heard and throwing a wrench into the Obama agenda. His job as a Senator, he says, is to restore economic growth as the lack of growth is related to all of our other problems. Tax Reform (“Abolish the IRS“), and regulatory reform (“Repeal Obamacare – every single word“) are the key. He sees Obamacare as the greatest job killer of all time and sees de-funding it in the upcoming budget process as the key. In answer to skeptics that see that tactic as a political liability for Republicans, he says “You lose 100% of the fights you surrender at the outset.” Standing ovations were frequent for this speech.
All in all, the speakers reminded us that conservatism is not “in trouble” as the mainstream media may have you believe, but resurgent and full of fire. With his agenda in tatters, the Obama team sees winning back the House and holding the Senate next year as their only chance to have a legacy of anything but failure. Any thought of compromise or even dealing with a Republican House is not is the President’s wheelhouse. Although 2014 will be a harder slog than 2010 when we took them by surprise, at the end of this conference it was clear that we have depth, we have tools and we have a maturity that comes from adversity and learning from the losses of 2012. Thanks to AFP and organizations like them, the conservative grassroots will have help and structure that will amplify our effectiveness going forward.
The November election, for which absentee voting has already started, has been described as the “most important of our lifetimes.” Can that really be the case? Are Obama and Romney that different?
Deficits, new entitlements, foreign policy mistakes, polarization, corruption – these have all happened when both parties have been in power. Jimmy Carter projected weakness and gave us the Iran hostage crisis, high unemployment and inflation. Ronald Reagan ended the cold war, but gave us Iran-Contra and failed to control spending. George H. W. Bush left Saddam Hussein in power and raised our taxes. Bill Clinton raised them higher and gave us continuous scandals while enjoying a comfortable economy fueled by the Internet boom. And George W. Bush brought us back from the brink of 9/11, but added a new entitlement, grew the deficit and bogged us down in two wars through his preemptive strike doctrine. What of our current President?
Barack Obama has said he wanted to “transform America” – and has begun to do so. He has rejected “American Exceptionalism” and apologizes for what he sees as our transgressions – racism, colonialism, exploitation of the poor, and destruction of the environment. In setting about to “right these wrongs”, no other President in our history has attempted to change the very essence of America in such a fundamental way.
Our vote in this election is a referendum on this transformation, and perhaps our only chance to accept or reject what will likely become permanent in a second Obama term.
Why has America “worked” for 236 years?
Our first founding document, the Declaration of Independence, created a basic framework – our “first principles”, if you will.
- We are endowed by our creator with “certain inalienable Rights”, and among them are “Life, Liberty, the Pursuit of happiness”
- Governments are instituted to protect these rights.
- Governments serve at the consent of the governed.
These principles of our founding have led to the basic characteristics of American life – that we have the freedom to make our own choices in life, that we have the right to own property, that we are guided by the rule of law not of men, and that we have the opportunity to rise to whatever level of society and wealth that our abilities permit. These characteristics have produced the world’s largest and most dynamic economy, equality of opportunity for all, and an immigration magnet that has drawn people to America from all over the globe.
With individual incentives to succeed, by making our own choices, creating our own wealth and keeping what we create, 300 million Americans exercising our own choices in pursuit of our own dreams create an environment that lifts us all, in ways that can’t be predicted. A few central planners, deciding what should be produced, the kinds of energy we are permitted to develop and use, how we can use our property, how our health care will be delivered – that sort of thinking is foreign to a successful, productive, innovative America.
Barack Obama is not the first to reject these positive forces as regressive and “unfair”. He is not the first to champion the “redistribution of wealth”, where the government takes from some through taxation and disburses to others it deems more worthy. He is not the first to use the force of government to intervene in the markets, picking winners and losers through crony capitalism where it is more important to have a good lobbyist than a good product or service. He is not the first to impose oppressive regulations through the EPA, the NLRB, the Interior and Energy departments, to stifle business growth and concentrate economic power in the hands of the state. He is the first American President in recent times though, to campaign on these principles as “fairness”, and castigate the producers and job creators as the enemy of the middle class, while encouraging dependence through unprecedented growth in the welfare state through food stamps, and the use of Social Security Disability as a kind of permanent unemployment insurance.
The President has been open about his plans and value system and there is very little left to the imagination. He actively promotes tax increases on the wealthy, limits on energy use through restricting permits and canceling the Keystone Pipeline, supports uneconomic enterprises like Solyndra, compromised religious freedom through the Obamacare contraception mandates, limited right-to-work laws by attacking the Boeing plant in South Carolina, and weakened property rights by intervening in the auto bailout to stiff the GM bondholders and Delphi pensioners. These are all detrimental to the economic engine that powers our success.
What has happened in the last four years and why has the economy not improved?
The Economic crisis of 2008: Preceded by the collapse of the housing bubble, itself precipitated by government intervention in markets (Community Reinvestment Act, Fannie/Freddie), global banks and investors were left with mortgage backed assets that were difficult to “mark to market” – precipitating a liquidity crisis. In response, TARP, the Troubled Asset Relief Program, was introduced. Supported by both sides as necessary to inject liquidity into markets and prevent them from grinding to a halt, some would say TARP accomplished its goal, although others complain that some banks should have been allowed to fail. In any case, TARP was implemented during the Bush Administration and had bi-partisan support. All the subsequent economic actions taken by Barack Obama were implemented against the wishes of the Republican minority.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act: ARRA, (aka “the stimulus”) pumped over $700B into state and local governments to prevent layoffs of union employees, green energy companies like Solyndra, and projects favored by Democrat politicians for their districts. (Note – this is not to single out Democrats – many Republicans including Paul Ryan asked for and received stimulus money for their districts. Since the Democrat majority wrote the bill though, most of the money favored their interest groups.) One estimate puts the amount of the stimulus that went to “shovel ready” infrastructure jobs (roads and bridges, etc) at less than 5%. The ARRA bill had no Republican support in Congress. Since this money was new, off-budget spending, it did not come from tax receipts but was borrowed – much of it from China.
The Auto Bailout: The “managed bankruptcy” of GM and Chrysler turned much of the ownership over to the United Autoworkers Union, stiffed the bondholders who would have been favored in a conventional (ie. court managed) bankruptcy, erased the pensions of Delphi employees and other non-union workers, closed a large number of dealerships owned mostly by Republicans, and left the taxpayer on the hook for tens of billions even to this day. This also had little bipartisan support.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act: PPACA, (aka “Obamacare”), was delegated to the Democrats in Congress to write, and they returned a 2400 page monstrosity that many on both sides of the aisle admitted they did not read. In spite of a full year of noisy opposition in town halls, large rallys in Washington DC, polls showing overwhelming opposition to the bills, and 100% Republican opposition in Congress, it was rammed through by using a reconciliation process after the election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts took away their filibuster-proof majority. Burdening one sixth of the economy with what will become a command and control health care system, Obamacare has done more than any other action to inhibit businesses from expanding and hiring. It should be noted that other major entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security had broad bipartisan support for passage.
In other actions, Barack Obama:
- Reduced oil and gas leases on federal lands and offshore and blocked the Keystone Pipeline
- Promulgated EPA regulations that will make it impossible to build or maintain coal fired power plants
- Tried to prevent Boeing from building a plant in right-to-work South Carolina
- Served up 4 years of deficits exceeding a trillion dollars
- Raised the national debt to over 16 Trillion
- Passed Dodd/Frank – which enshrines “too big to fail” and makes it difficult for small regional banks to survive
- Grew the payroll of the Executive Branch by 25% to $177B in 2012
- Rescinded ‘welfare to work’ requirements, implemented the “Dream Act”, and a cybersecurity policy by executive order against the will of Congress
How does Mitt Romney Describe it?
In answer to a question during the second debate at Hofstra, this was Mitt Romney’s summation of the Obama record:
We can’t afford 4 more years like the last 4 years:
- He said by now unemployment would be at 5.4%, the difference from reality is 9 million Americans out of work
- He said he would reform medicare and social security because they are on the road to bankruptcy – he hasn’t even made a proposal
- He said he would put out an immigration plan to deal with our challenges – he didn’t even file one
- He said he’d cut in half the deficit – instead he doubled it
- He said families would see $2500 reduction in health care premiums – instead they went up by that much and full implementation of Obamacare will cost another $2500
- The middle class is getting crushed under a president who doesn’t know what it takes to get economy working again
- He claims creation of 5 million jobs – that’s after losing 5 million jobs – the number of people still looking for work is still 23 million
- One out of six people are in poverty, 32 million on foodstamps when he took office – now 47 million
- The economy is growing more slowly this year than last year, which was slower than the year before
- The policies he put in place – Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, tax policies, regulatory policies, have not let the economy take off and grow like it could have
- 5 million jobs doesn’t keep up with population growth, and the unemployment rate is down because people have left the workforce
- Obama is great speaker but has been unable to fix anything – cut the deficit, reform medicare and Social Security, or get rising incomes (down $4300 per family)
- This election is about who can get the middle class a bright and prosperous future
So why would Mitt Romney be a better choice?
You have heard the case AGAINST Barack Obama. Here is the case FOR Mitt Romney:
Experience and skills
- Mitt Romney was Governor of Massachusetts, successful even with an 83% Democrat legislature.
- Mitt Romney has been a successful Business Creator – both with Bain Capital itself as well as the many companies they helped start or recover.
- Mitt Romney is a Humanitarian, with a track record of good works at the local level through his church and personal philanthropy.
- Mitt Romney is a Problem Solver – he rescued the 2002 Olympics from bankruptcy and disaster.
Knowledge and worldview
- Mitt Romney understands and respects the founding, the unique nature of the country, our keys to success
- Mitt Romney had the proper reaction to the out of control debt and spending (“road to Greece”)
- Mitt Romney has clear and simple spending priorities – “Is it worth borrowing the money from China to do this?”
- In spite of months of negative ads from the Obama campaign casting Mitt Romney as a liar, a scoundrel, an out-of-touch plutocrat, a woman-hater, a racist and many other despicable things, he has continued to run a positive campaign and after the first debate where the country saw him for who his is, is now respected and trusted by a majority in the polls.
Time to Choose
It is time to choose. You may agree with my assessment of the choices or you may not. You may approve of the transformation that is taking place or you may oppose it strenuously. Or you may feel that economic recovery is the task before us, not transformation, and it should have been for the last 4 years. Keep in mind that elections have consequences, and some of them are world-changing. It is now in your hands. Please choose wisely.
Many press accounts of the debt ceiling compromise say “… the tea party won…”, and President Obama was forced to capitulate. It does not feel that way to me. For some reason, this feels as bad as the malaise that followed the passage of the Affordable Care Act. For days it seemed like the sun would not shine again.
Many in the tea party and 912 world are very disappointed in the outcome, and for some reasons that have not been widely explored. Yes it may have been difficult to get more from the divided Congress. But several aspects of the bill seem to have given the initiative for further action completely to the Democrats. The question that hangs in the air like smoke after a firefight is …. what now? What is the strategy to fend off the coming tax increases. How will the “select committee” resolve ideological differences over the role of government and fend off the “trigger” that will decimate the military?
Many tea party and 912 members worked hard to get Congressman Allen West elected, some going back to the 2008 race. We want to be loyal, we want to support him in 2012. But we really need to understand. This is some of what we need to know:
- The bill cuts about $1T over 10 years, but the reduction from planned spending over the next two years is pocket change. Since this Congress can’t bind a future Congress to a course of action, why is anything in the out years even relevant?
- The second “tranche” requires agreement of 6 Republicans and 6 Democrats, yet to be named, or else massive cuts are applied to the military budget and to Medicare providers. Since cuts of the suggested size would severely impact our war fighting capablility and leave us weak in a world of increasing danger and instability, how could this even be contemplated? And as to Medicare providers – will not cutting doctors and hospitals create massive supply disruptions that will make care for seniors difficult to obtain?
- Since both aspects of the mandatory actions on failure of the commission could be considered results sought by a majority of Democrats (based on past actions), hasn’t this bill essentially handed all the leverage over to that party? Why would the 6 Democrats on the commission have any incentive to compromise?
- Speaker Boehner’s PowerPoint charts say that the commission will not be able to raise taxes. Both Harry Reid and President Obama on the other hand, say “balance” – (meaning tax increases on “the rich”), is what they expect of the commission. How are these points of view to be reconciled?
- The CBO scoring of the bill assumes the Bush tax cuts are allowed to expire, raising taxes by several trillion, possibly accounting for all the “savings” from the bill over 10 years. What is the plan to prevent this massive tax increase on small businesses and the middle class?
- We understand that necessary changes cannot be made in one step, and that control of only the House and not the Senate and White House makes progress difficult. Accepting the premise that August 2 was a drop-dead date narrowed the range of options. That said, what leverage is remaining to the conservatives and what further steps can be taken short of defeating the President and winning control of the Senate in 2012? How do we continue the fight?
- And lest we forget, what happened to the pledge to have bills published on the Internet for a few days before a vote?
Both of our local conservative Congressmen from districts 22 and 16 voted for this bill. The Palm Beach County Tea Party is preparing a set of questions for them to help us understand their positions. We will report the answers when they are available.
So what’s in this new “deal”?
According to the Powerpoint released by the Speaker’s office (CLICK HERE), it is a good deal. Response from both sides of the aisle have been mixed though, and most are waiting to read the real bill. They better be quick though as they will likely have to vote on it tomorrow.
Here’s what seem like good things:
- No Tax Hikes are included in the bill
- Cuts more over 10 years than the debt ceiling is raised
- Cuts and caps discretionary spending
- First “tranche” is $900B increase now, second “tranche” needs to be acted on by Congress next year
- Second “tranche” of $1.5T enacted if BBA sent to the states by year end OR joint committee cuts spending (by Thanksgiving) more than another $1.5T
- Triggers require across the board cuts if caps are violated
- According to the Powerpoint, it makes it “impossible” for the Joint Committee to increase taxes
Some not so good things (not all mentioned in the Powerpoint):
- Spending cuts are back loaded – first two years are pocket change.
- Requires 12 member bipartisan “joint committee” to agree on second round of cuts – if no agreement, automatic cuts are applied to Medicare (doctors and providers get cut – not beneficiaries) and Defense. Medicaid, Social Security, Veterans and military pay are exempt
- Powerpoint claims that committee cannot raise taxes, yet one analysis implies that the Bush tax cuts will be allowed to expire – effectively Obama’s tax on “the rich”. Will have to wait and see on that one.
So is this a good deal or not? My thought is that we may have been snookered again, just like with the continuing resolution earlier in the year. The democrats orchestrated this to be resolved at the last minute and the House will be asked to vote on it without having even a full day to consider the ramifications. Washington at its UGLIEST!
I withhold my judgement until I can read the bill. So should you.
In Washington DC, an ideological battle of the century is taking place between the forces of wealth redistribution ($2 Trillion in new taxes?) and conventional economics (you don’t raise taxes with 9.2% unemployment). There is little likelihood of compromise, because each is influenced by a mindset that cannot accept the others worldview.
So too in Palm Beach County there is a deep divide between those who see no problem in raising tax rates “a little bit more”, and those that think we have crossed a line with 25% increases over the last two years. On Monday, the County Commission voted 4-3 to set the maximum millage for 2012 to 4.8751, a 2.6% increase. The actual tax rate will be set in September at this rate or lower, but they could have acted now to prevent a hike.
On one side are those that are beneficiaries of other people’s money – the myriad of residents who benefit from county programs financed by property taxes, and their champions on the county commission. Raising tax rates comes natural to them.
These would include Burt Aaronson, whose constituents in district 5 “like their services”, and are always willing to “pay a little more” in taxes to keep them coming. How much tax does a $60K condo owner pay anyway? Commissioner Aaronson wanted to restore some cuts to the financially assisted agencies (FAA) that he thought were $60,000. When it was pointed out that the amount was really $600,000, it did not seem to make any difference. Easy come, easy go.
Another champion is Jess (“don’t talk about millage!”) Santamaria. Commissioner Santamaria is very worried about the county employees being ravaged by inflation that is almost 3%. On top of that, they are being asked to contribute 3% to their pensions. “That’s like paying 6% more for everything!”. Does the commissioner think that only employees of the county are affected by inflation and pay for their retirement? Someone should mention to the Commissioner that FRS reform would not be reversed by raising the millage, nor would a rollback rate give county employees a raise.
Another is Priscilla Taylor. Commissioner Taylor has more real-world experience than most of them, having run a business and been in the legislature and on the Port Commission. Normally she brings a refreshing analysis to an issue, but in this month’s discussion on tax rates, she seemingly phoned it in – acting as if raising the rates to rollback (“pennies a day”) is an obvious choice since the cuts “do not amount to anything anyway”. After all, 50% of the respondents to her “online poll” think raising tax rates is just fine with them.
Then there are the three commissioners who voted to keep the maximum millage at 4.75 and not raise our tax rates.
Steven Abrams is usually the wise voice of reason on the board, and the closest thing we have to a fiscal conservative. He voted against the tax hikes of the last two years, and has the ability to see beyond the hoards of petitioners with their outstretched hands and consider the effect on the local economy. Commissioner Abrams can usually be relied upon to do the right thing.
Paulette Burdick is a participant in her first budget season as a commissioner and has been operating in a very responsible way. She has taken the Sheriff to task over the excesses in his budget and faced down his CFO George Forman on the point that the Sheriff must do his fair share. She has gone farther than the other commissioners in raising that issue. Although members of different parties, she and Commissioner Abrams seem to agree that now is not the time to raise tax rates.
Karen Marcus, not usually seen as a tax cutter (she voted for the increases of the last two years), this time voted against the rate hike. Representing the only district that leans right (41% Republican), she may be picking up on some of the uptick in tea party interest in local issues among the north county residents. As Chairman this year, it was her direction to staff to bring in a flat millage budget in the first place.
Which brings us to the “swing vote”, Shelley Vana.
Commissioner Vana likes to have it both ways. She wants to find “efficiencies” and think outside of the box on budget choices. She doesn’t want to see a lot of cuts (in the past she has said she totally opposes layoffs or any discussion of outsourcing), but she wishes we could find a way to spend less. Then she voted for the higher rollback tax rate, suggesting that it was “just a starting point” until we can find some additional savings before the September hearings. How perfectly reasonable and wise! We will try! We will study! Maybe we can do it!
This is what is known in some circles as “thinking with your heart”. This is the behavior of a politician, not a leader. A leader who really believed that a 3% rate hike was avoidable, would set the bar at 4.75 and set out to make it come true by forcing some of those “efficiencies” she is always talking about. Instead we get dithering and pretty words.
It should be noted that Shelley Vana is the only commissioner who is currently up for re-election in 2012*. Do the voters in district 3 know what their commissioner is doing?
There are now about 8 weeks before the next budget meeting on September 13. Get involved – let your commissioner know how you feel about another tax rate increase, and plan to attend that meeting. Those who benefit from the county programs will be there in numbers. Show the commissioners there is another view in the community.
(*Note: There will also be elections in districts 1 and 5, but the incumbents are currently precluded from running by the term limits law. Since there is a likelihood that this law, passed by 70% of the voters will be challenged in court, Karen Marcus and/or Burt Aaronson could be running also.)
The following is the May TAB update sent to the coalition partners. South Florida 912 is a founding member of TAB.
Since our last update, much has happened on the county level.
County Capital Projects: The County Commission voted to proceed with the convention center hotel, projecting that 35% of the costs will be provided by new general fund debt, and later (acting as the Solid Waste Authority Board), picked Babcock and Wilcox to build the $500M waste-to-energy facility (for which the bonds have already been sold). For the details see the links below.
TaxWatch Study: With this new debt looming, the County Clerk and Comptroller’s team made their annual financial report today. In the debt guide document, we can see that the total outstanding debt for the fiscal year ending last September is approximately $2.1B, an increase of about 61% since 2001. This was already about $1600 per county resident, before accounting for the burn plant. Luckily, we will get an independent evaluation of the situation through the auspices of Florida TaxWatch. Funded by the Palm Beach Civic Association and individual contributions raised by task force member Jere Zenko, TaxWatch has begun a study of county capital projects and debt as it compares to their last look in 2006 and our peer counties, and an evaluation of underutilized county land, buildings and other assets. TAB assisted in the definition of this project, and we hope to see the results of this work some time in June. For details see Palm Beach Civic Association Sponsors TaxWatch Study.
Ethics: Also today, the Commission voted 7-0 to approve the new Ethics and Inspector General ordinances, extending their scope to all 38 municipalities in the county. After a long and contentious battle over the scope of the oversight, the work of the drafting committee was accepted mostly intact. For details, see the Post story: Palm Beach County passes sweeping ethics reforms.
Budget: We are working on a TAB proposal for the 2012 budget, but there are a few balls in the air. Only a month ago, the working assumption on valuation was a decline of 5%. Since then, the Property Appraiser is re-evaluating and may come in at the 1-2% level. The Legislature passed significant FRS reform (see Pension Reform – the Final Bill) that we estimate will be worth about $40M to the county this year, counting PBSO and Fire/Rescue. Both of these things should take significant pressure off the millage rate unless there is a move to restore some of the pension take-aways to employees. We have questioned the county Budget Director about this and are awaiting a reply. We expect the answer has not been determined yet, but will be evident before the first budget workshop on June 12.
Smart Cap: The Legislature passed SJR958, which will put a “Smart Cap” (similar to TABOR) constitutional amendment on the 2012 ballot, applying only to the state budget. While county government has shown some restraint over the last few years in the downturn, with real estate values bottoming out we may again be “off to the races”. One way to prevent this would be a local version of Smart Cap, implemented as a Charter Amendment. See Smart Cap – Good for the State, Good for the County.
Finally, we have been having an interesting conversation about Fire/Rescue spending with a South County Firefighter / Paramedic on the TAB website. For an insider’s viewpoint, see Conversation with a Firefighter / Paramedic
Thank you for your interest in responsible government spending.
The TAB Team.
Throughout our analysis of the county budgets, we have been somewhat critical of Fire / Rescue. We observed that the growth of their budget (even adjusted for service area size) was significant over the last 8 years, and the firefighters in the county are compensated more than 50% above than the national… [Read More…]
On Friday May 6, the conference committee put the final touches on FRS Reform and sent SB2100 to the Governor. Although it is not as far-reaching as the Governor wanted, it is significant, both in the precedent it sets (employees must now contribute to their pensions) and in the budget savings for both… [Read More…]
As the Legislature winds down the session, there has been much progress on the bills we have been tracking that relate to county budget issues. The following is a status:
SB2100/HB1405 having emerged from conference on Friday May 6, has been sent to the governor. From the House bill,… [Read More…]
The Palm Beach Civic Association, in conjunction with the Town of Palm Beach County Budget Task Force (CBTF), is engaging Florida TaxWatch to perform a study of Palm Beach County capital expenditures, debt and reserves, and inventory of underutilized land and buildings. Funded half by the Civic Association… [Read More…]
The Florida Legislature is moving forward on a constitutional amendment for the 2012 ballot to limit state spending to a “growth factor” tied to inflation and population growth. A previous attempt in 2009 had included county and municpal governments in its scope, but that has been omitted this time…. [Read More…]
The Taxpayers won again – just barely.
After a 9 1/2 hour marathon meeting at the Solid Waste Authority auditorium on Jog Road, the SWA board upheld their selection committee’s choice of Babcock and Wilcox to build and operate the $600M waste-to-energy plant that is the biggest taxpayer-funded project… [Read More…]
This morning, the Board of County Commissioners voted 4-2 (Marcus/Aaronson/Vana/Burdick in favor, Abrams/Taylor against, Santamaria absent) to “conceptually approve” a county subsidy of $27 Million to The Related Companies to build a 400 room Hilton next to the convention center. They also approved $200,000… [Read More…]
South Florida 912 is a coalition partner in TAB, the Palm Beach County Taxpayer Action Board, which recently offered some thoughts about unions, public employees, and how they are paid:
With the conflict over public employee compensation raging in Wisconsin and likely to spread across the country, there are still misconceptions about how public employees are compensated (and how well), the role of unions in setting the levels of compensation, and the political aspects that typically are more significant than the economic aspects.
We at TAB believe that setting equitable compensation for public employees is as important to budget reform as finding and eliminating programs that have outlived their usefulness. Just as entitlements are the major challenge to the federal budget, state and local budgets are defined by their personal service costs.
Read the rest of the article HERE.
By Fred and Iris Scheibl[ PRINT ]
As anyone following the process has discovered, there is friction among the branches of government in Tallahassee. When Governor Scott decided to reject the federal grant for building a high speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando, a “gang of 25” Senators were not pleased. So displeased that they wrote a letter to Obama Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, asking for more time to circumvent the Governor’s decision before “our” $2.4 billion were allocated to California or New York, or some other “rail-friendly” state. (Click HERE to see the letter).
District 25 Senator Ellyn Bogdanoff is one of the “gang of 25” signatories, as is district 27 Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto. Both Republicans are newly elected to that body and both were supported in various ways by South Florida 912, including a prominent recommendation on our “leader’s picks”. Since we support the Governor’s decision and rationale on high speed rail (it is a boondoggle, makes no economic sense, and will likely put the state on the hook for future subsidies), we contacted both Senators for their rationale in end-running the Governor.
Senator Benaquisto described her decision as “process related’. Although she does not support using federal funds to build the rail project, and doubts that a private sector project would be profitable, she signed on to the protest letter to protect the prerogatives of the Legislative Body. She was not in the Legislature when the original rail bill was passed (which provided funding to qualify for the federal grant), but was swayed by the argument that the actions of a previous legislative session (and previous governor) could not be unilaterally overturned by the present Governor. She also is now having second thoughts about the issue.
A Conversation with Ellyn Bogdanoff
Ellyn Bogdanoff has a nuanced view of the issue. After exchanging several emails on the subject, she offered to meet with us to better explain her position. In her view, much of the issue has been obscured by trivialized media reports and she believes the constitutional issue it engenders is larger than any discussion of high speed rail.
This afternoon, we had the opportunity to meet with the Senator at the comfortable Starbucks in the Gardens Mall. Accompanying her were legislative and political aides who were traveling with her throughout the district today.
We started our conversation in agreement – most of the coverage we read about the Legislative Session in the Palm Beach Post and Sun-Sentinel is superficial and doesn’t delve into the whole story.
As a member of the Florida House, the Senator supported Sun-Rail and the groundwork that was laid to qualify for federal transportation grants for the high speed rail projects. We don’t agree on this issue, but the Senator has been consistent. Irrespective of the underlying policy though, she views this current issue as one with constitutional ramifications.
While Senator Bogdanoff agrees with most (80-90%) of Governor Scott’s positions on issues, she believes that many of his actions since coming into office are arrogant, but more importantly, unconstitutional.
As a corporate CEO, he had the ability to take actions without necessarily consulting or deferring to other ‘bodies’. The state government on the other hand, is structured to assign separate powers to the legislative and executive bodies. The Governor, the executive body, does not have the authority to unilaterally overturn what the legislature had appropriated in past sessions. Nor does he have the ability to ‘legislate’. She referred us to an Orlando Sentinel article describing the contention between Governor Scott and the Legislature: (Click HERE for the article.)
Governor Crist did much that she considered unconstitutional as well, including the arbitrary extension of voting time during the 2008 election.
To Senator Bogdanoff, fidelity to the Florida State Constitution trumps any position on issues where she would otherwise agree with the Governor. If one ignores blatant constitutional violations when one agrees, then what happens in the future when other rights are being trampled?
She believes that we (ie. grassroots activists, South Florida 912, South Florida Tea Party) can and should remain ‘pure’ in our positions. She however, as a legislator, has to be focused on achieving ‘incremental’ wins. She has worked hard to have a leadership ‘seat at the table’ (Ellyn Bogdanoff now chairs the Budget Subcommittee on Finance and Tax) and if one behaves as a ‘bomb-thrower’, but gets nothing passed, then what is accomplished? In the give and take that her leadership role entails, if she can get 85% of what she wants, by voting for the 15% she doesn’t agree with, then she’ll do it. High speed rail was such an example – the Orlando-Tampa line was perhaps not the route she would have preferred, but she compromised to move on the larger package.
We have agreed to disagree with the Senator on high speed rail for Florida. We do not believe that the ridership projections are realistic and thus believe that any rail effort will ultimately result in requiring subsidies from the taxpayer. She believes that any private corporation agreeing to build and run the line would not do so if they didn’t think they could be profitable without subsidies.
Prior to Governor Scott’s decision, both Wisconsin and Ohio rejected similar grants. They (like us) see the entire Obama rail dream as a $57B progressive pipedream. None of these projects are likely to be profitable and will require operating subsidies to make riding them affordable. This is true of Tri-Rail and it is true with Amtrak, for which the Pew SubsidyScope Project estimates carries a subsidy of $32 for every passenger and loses money on 41 of 44 routes.
After our discussion of high speed rail and the separation of powers, we briefly touched on some other issues of local interest.
Key to budget restraint at the state and local level is FRS reform. The proposal as outlined by the Governor includes reduction in special-risk accrual, elimination of COLA and a 5% contribution by participants. Senator Bogdanoff considers the proposal as it stands, “dead on arrival” as there are not the votes to go that far. The bills (SB 1128 and 1130) that have been introduced by Senator Jeremy Ring (FS32), Chairman of Governmental Oversight and Accountability, are working their way through his committee, but fall short of the Scott proposal (and what is needed).
Another bill, SB1406, sponsored by Senator Bogdanoff, would introduce a 2.5 cent sales tax increase to replace the ad-valorem tax for the school systems. Although it deletes a requirement that a district school board levy the minimum millage rate necessary to provide the district’s required local effort, it does not prevent them from doing so. We suggested that this presents a double taxation case like the local Fire/Rescue sales tax proposal but she insists this is a true tax swap. She did say though to make it work, it will require an additional constitutional ballot amendment in 2012 removing school board funding from property taxes.
We ended the meeting keeping communications open. She has been willing to explain her rationale for her positions. We may not always agree on specific issues, but appreciate the Senator’s candor and openness.
Again, friends, I can’t find any piece of legislation that Harry Reid may bring before the Senate during this Lame Duck session that has any purpose other than bury America so deeply in tyranny that the next Congress will have no ability to dig us out of it. Also each piece of legislation will contribute, in my opinion, to a an even more rapid and cataclysmic decent economic activity than what is taking place now. This will lead to massive social disorder and chaos that you do not want to experience, but which has plenty of historical precedent. Please take these matters seriously and take action now.
The following piece explains beautifully in four short paragraphs, which I have numbered  thru  why S.510 must be stopped completely and immediately.
Monday, November 15, 2010 6:54 PM
Dear Friend of Liberty,
A critical cloture vote is scheduled for this Wednesday, November 17, on S. 510, the so-called “Food Safety Modernization Act,” which will open the floodgates for tyrannical federal bureaucrats to crush local producers of healthy food.
The statists in the Senate are banking on us not paying attention after the elections in order to ram another disgusting bill down our throats.
 In other words, it will be up to bureaucrats to decide whether or not local food production is decimated by federal regulations or shut down if the FDA has “reason to believe” the food on the premises is contaminated. [The Granting of this kind of ARBITRARY POWER is the HALLMARK OF TYRANNY.]
 While family farms face greater scrutiny and increased costs, the government’s Big Agriculture allies will have no problem adjusting to the new rules.
 In these tough economic times, S. 510 will drive up the costs of food production by adding more layers of government interference. Like Cap and Tax, which will guarantee higher energy bills, S. 510 will ensure you pay more to meet an essential need.
We know Congress won’t be the one tightening its belt: Section 401 of S. 510 authorizes nearly $1 billion to grow the government’s reach and calls for over 17,000 new bureaucrats to be hired through fiscal year 2014 (just for starters).
The bill also grants blanket authority for federal agencies to impose international guidelines and standards on domestic food producers – giving agencies authority to harmonize all American food production and processes in line with the globalist Codex.
Well-intentioned amendments to this rotten bill are not enough to make it anything other than unconstitutional.
It should be noted that Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Judd Gregg (R-NH), Chris Dodd (D-CT), and Richard Burr (R-NC) coordinated to reach a “bipartisan” agreement earlier in the year to forge ahead with the otherwise stalled bill.
If you are a constituent of any of these senators, they especially need to hear from you.
Don’t let the statists empower their Big Agriculture allies and destroy reputable food producers like the independent family farm, where the free market works every day to provide the public with healthy choices.
Click here to get contact information for calling, faxing, and emailing your senators today! Tell them to oppose S.510 on every vote – including cloture.