Joe Henderson, Author at Florida Politics - Page 7 of 24

Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. I covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. I also was the City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. I served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. I have numerous local, state and national writing awards. I have been married to my wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and have two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.

Joe Henderson: After GOP gives NRA another ‘gun rights’ victory, what’s next?

This was a pretty famous case. You might remember it.

On Nov. 23, 2012, Michael David Dunn was at a gas station in Jacksonville when he got into an argument with 17-year-old Jordan Davis, who was there with some friends. It seems the music coming from Davis’ car was too way loud for Dunn’s taste.

There was an argument, which ended with Dunn going back to his car to retrieve a loaded handgun. He had a concealed-weapons permit for the gun.

BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM!

He fired off 10 shots in the car killing Davis, who was unarmed. He then went out for a pizza.

Dunn claimed he felt threatened and invoked Florida’s Stand Your Ground defense.

His first trial ended in a hung jury, but he was convicted in a retrial and is now serving life in prison without parole. If — well, when — the same thing happens in the future, though, the Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott have greatly increased the odds the next shooter will go free.

Scott signed a bill, introduced and passed by Republicans with a party-line vote, that could make it difficult (if not impossible) for prosecutors to convict anyone invoking Stand Your Ground. Prosecutors will now have to prove a shooter didn’t feel threatened and, well, how can they do that?

The National Rifle Association, of course, doesn’t see it that way. In a release after the new bill became law, Marion Hammer — NRA Grand Dame and Executive Director of the Unified Sportsmen of Florida — celebrated the new law that, in her words, “ … places the burden of proof back on the state where it belongs.  And it restores the right of the presumption of innocence and the right of self-defense.”

Well, not exactly.

Let’s say there is video of a shooting along the lines of what happened in Jacksonville, where a guy goes back to his car and gets his gun and starts blasting away. Well, what are you going to believe — your lyin’ eyes, or the argument Dunn tried to make that he thought he saw a shotgun in Davis’ car?

There was no shotgun, but Davis’ swears he thought he saw one. Going forward, the state would have to prove he made that up to cover his tracks.

Oh, but wait … the NRA isn’t through expanding what it laughably calls “gun rights.”

How long will it be before some legislative lap dog tries to push through a “permitless carry” law in Florida? Such a measure would allow anyone who would otherwise qualify for a license to carry permit to do so without the burden of obtaining a license.

Don’t laugh.

Twelve states already have that law, and it apparently came close to passing this year in Texas. When North Dakota adopted that law in March, the NRA noted in a release that it, “ … reduces the burden of government fees and mandates on citizens who choose to exercise their Second Amendment right to self-protection.”

Does it ever stop?

I know, silly question.

Joe Henderson: When a quid pro quo turns into quid pro no, all bets are off

As the special session of the Legislature was set to begin Wednesday, everyone heard of how the compromise deal that appeared to be the framework for a budget agreement was close to collapse.

Humm.

It brought Senate President Joe Negron into sharp focus, since he seems to be the one leading the charge to turn the quid pro quo reached in secret last week with Speaker Richard Corcoran and Gov. Rick Scott into a quid pro no.

It makes for dandy political theater and all, but shouldn’t all of this have been worked out BEFORE the three amigos appeared on stage together last Friday to tout the budget agreement? The way it was presented made it sound like everyone had gotten something they wanted and all the other lawmakers had to do was see the brilliance of the compromise and pull out their rubber stamp.

Guess not.

Let’s try to make at least a little sense out of this, shall we?

Simply put, the way education will be funded in Florida appears to be at the center of this knockdown, drag-out.

Negron’s main interest appears to be increasing money for the state university system. He has long championed an effort to bring Florida’s institutions of higher learning into the same status as, say, those in Michigan and Virginia.

That’s not surprising. Negron is an educated man, holding a master’s degree from Harvard and a law degree from Emory University. He apparently wants to restore money to the university system that would otherwise be redirected to the K-12 public system.

He also wants to use some of the state’s reserve fund to restore $260 million in cuts to hospitals

Why he didn’t make that point during the now-infamous secret meeting last week with Scott and Corcoran isn’t clear. Then again, maybe he did and the other two weren’t paying attention.

I’ll bet they’re paying attention now, though.

In a pre-session memo to senators, Negron said, “I have made no agreement that would dictate an outcome for this special session. Nor have I made any agreement to limit the subject matter.”

State Senator Jack Latvala tossed in a grenade of his own with this tweet: “Just 3 months ago @richardcorcoran wanted to abolish EFI and Visit FL. Now he wants to give them $150 million plus. What changed?”

For the acronym-challenged, EFI stands for Scott’s beloved Enterprise Florida jobs incentive program. Visit Florida is the tourism promotion arm. Corcoran used his opposition to both programs (CORPORATE WELFARE, he screamed) as a kind of Trojan horse so he could push forward with what appears to be his real agenda — an expansion of charter schools.

With the possibility of a Scott veto looming over Corcoran’s signature piece of legislation, they thought they reached the compromise that was unveiled last Friday. Scott seemed satisfied with the funding for his programs, and Corcoran threw in a few requirements in the name of accountability about how the money will be spent.

I guess they didn’t count on Negron’s last-minute gambit.

Corcoran responded to Negron’s memo with a lengthy statement that accused him of wanting “a massive property tax increase, wants to weaken accountability provisions for VISIT FL and EFI, and wants to raid reserves to give to hospital CFOs. Needless to say, the House is not raising taxes, not softening accountability rules, and not borrowing against reserves to pay for corporate giveaways.”

Whew!

There is no way to know how this is going to end or how long it will take, so I won’t hazard a guess. The last time I tried to do that, I got whiplash. I don’t want to make it any worse.

Joe Henderson: Gwen Graham may have Democrats’ best message, but can she sell it?

If you’re looking for the theme Gwen Graham will use in her run for governor, I think we have found it.

After she raised $2.25 million in the first month since announcing her candidacy, Graham released a statement Tuesday that read in part: “Florida families understand that after almost twenty years of Republican rule in Tallahassee, we’re running out of time.”

That simple declarative sentence might be the best line of attack Democrats have against Republicans in a statewide election. Republicans have won five consecutive races for governor, starting with Jeb! Bush in 1998 and, as Ronald Reagan might put it, “Are you better off today than you were then?”

That’s the question Graham seems to be asking.

Whatever the condition of the state – good or ill – Republicans own it all. They hold a 14-1 winning edge over Democrats in statewide legislative races in this century. Only Alex Sink’s win for Chief Financial Officer over Tom Lee in 2006 kept it from being a clean sweep.

Republicans are 18-4 overall in such races dating to when Jeb! broke through in 1998.

They control both branches of the Legislature.

All of this has happened even though Democrats have held a solid (but shrinking) edge in the number of registered voters.

Republicans shifted statewide policy dramatically, turning Florida into a gun-friendly state – most notably with the passage of Stand Your Ground laws. Environmental laws gave way to runaway development as the state’s population surged. Public schools have been under siege from Republicans, who continually push for more state money to go to for-profit charter schools.

Mass transportation remains a pipe dream in many parts of the state, while commuters have had to get used to the GOP’s ever-increasing love of toll roads.

Gov. Rick Scott, who is nearing the end of his second term, has made job creation a priority and most estimates agree with his boast of adding more than 1.3 million jobs since taking office in 2010.

However, a 2016 report from the Florida Legislature Office of Economic and Demographic Research noted the state’s average wage was only 87 percent of the national average.

Democrats clearly have some things to work with in their effort to become relevant again on a statewide level.

Republicans will counter that Scott helped lead the state out of the Great Recession, which hit Florida harder than most places. They will tout Florida’s bustling tourism industry, and they will say we must be doing something right because millions of people keep moving into the state.

All true.

But being solely in charge means there is no one else to blame for things that go wrong. That creates the opportunity for an opposition message that says, “Hey, wait a minute.”

Democrats have repeatedly fumbled that message for the last 20 years, but Graham may be on to something.

Now, all she has to do is get the voters’ attention.

Joe Henderson: Tallahassee gets special session, the public gets the bill

After the budget compromise reached by Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Joe Negron, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, the biggest question hanging over the Legislature’s three-day special session this week is whether there is enough time for some lawmakers to grow a backbone.

Only one of two things can happen.

There will either be a full-blown party revolt at how this was handled, followed by points, counterpoints, then fire and pestilence raining down on the state capital as rank-and-file members stand up to their leaders. I’m not betting on that one, by the way.

Or … party leaders will tell members how to vote because this compromise is the greatest thing since craft beer was invented.  After some serious harrumphing in private, those legislators will fall into line, lest their future committee assignments reflect the cost of rebellion.

The latter is the smart wager.

Democrats might as well send their “nay” votes in by Skype because Florida’s one-party system of Republican control has rendered them irrelevant.

In the musical Hamilton, there is a scene that could have doubled for what happened in Tallahassee. Corcoran, Scott and Negron were three key figures in the room where it happened. Decisions were happening, and other leaders need not apply. On Friday, they were kind enough to share news of the deal they reached.

Scott got what he wanted. Corcoran got what he wanted.

What everyone else got was a take-it-or-leave-it deal that smacked of smoke-filled rooms and quid pro quos. Even Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, who chairs the Senate’s budget panel on tourism and economic development, was left out of the conversation.

That led to this cynical tweet from Republican state Senator and possible gubernatorial candidate Jack Latvala: “It’s a shame the House wouldn’t negotiate during the regular session. Now we have to spend $60-70k a day on a special session.”

Write that on the tombstone for this Legislative Session.

Scott salvaged his priorities — more money for tourism promotion and incentives (read: taxpayer cash) for businesses to create jobs here. In the wake of the statewide backlash against the controversial HB 7069, which diverts millions from public schools to charters, Scott got a little more cash for public schools. I sense that will be coming to a U.S. Senate campaign ad next year.

Educators were not impressed.

“The gaping flaws in HB 7069 haven’t changed with this suggested increase in funding,” Florida Education Association President Joanne McCall said in a written statement.

“It doesn’t even pay for the massive giveaway to charter schools included in the bill. The governor and the legislative leaders who cooked up these changes and called for a special session are not addressing the needs of the parents and students in this state.”

This is probably a good time to recall that Corcoran called the union “downright evil” last because it opposed his plan for charter schools.

He added that the union’s stance was tantamount to “attempting to destroy the lives of almost 100,000 children, mostly minority, and all of them poor.”

Corcoran really, really wanted more money for those “Schools of Hope” charters that would otherwise have gone to public schools. Assuming lawmakers go along to get along, Corcoran wins.

Scott wins.

And what do we, the people, receive?

As always, we get the bill.

Welcome to Tallahassee.

Joe Henderson: Bob Buckhorn says Tampa will join other cities honoring Paris Climate Accord goals

The pushback from mayors all over the country began almost immediately after President Donald Trump announced the United States will no longer honor its commitment to the Paris Climate Accord.

Medium.com reported Friday morning that 83 mayors from around the country have said they will commit their cities to following the goals that agreement, despite the President’s decree.

They signed a letter promising: “ … we will adopt, honor, and uphold the commitments to the goals enshrined in the Paris Agreement. We will intensify efforts to meet each of our cities’ current climate goals, push for new action to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius target, and work together to create a 21st-century clean energy economy.”

Five of the mayors represent Florida cities: Van W. Johnson of Apalachicola, Richard J. Kaplan of Lauderhill, Philip Levine of Miami Beach, Buddy Dyer of Orlando, and Rick Kriseman of St. Petersburg.

Although he wasn’t included on that list, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn told me via text message he, too, will commit to having his city join that effort.

“Although the Paris Accord is more global in nature, every city has the ability to create policy that is appropriate for their particular jurisdiction,” Buckhorn said.

“Some cities are further along than others in developing comprehensive plans and metrics and there is always room to improve. This action by the POTUS is certainly an incentive to further refine those plans.”

Trump’s decision to pull out of the agreement has been widely panned around the world and at home — even in Pittsburgh, which the president held up as a reason for taking the action. The place once known as the “Steel City” for its reliance on that industry has transformed itself into a diversified center for medicine, banking, and technology.

In an interview on CNN, Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto said of Trump, “What you did was not only bad for the economy of this country but also weakened America in this world.”

The issue of climate change is especially sensitive to Florida cities. Continued rising sea levels threaten coastal cities, and scientists say the risk of more numerous and powerful hurricanes is increasing.

Because of that, Buckhorn said, “ … all of our efforts will be accelerated. We will continue to lead.

“We are increasing investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency.  From lowering our carbon footprint, investing in equipment that uses renewable energy and trying to attract and grow clean energy jobs, Mayors can and should lead the way.”

Joe Henderson: Sunshine law should remind leaders that people of Florida are citizens, not serfs

The irony of the state Constitutional Revision Commission trying to avoid sunshine laws is almost too rich to describe.

If allowed to happen, that would be a dark day indeed.

But that’s exactly what CRC Chair Carlos Beruff is proposing, even as the commission continues a series of town hall meetings designed to take public input into the process.

Beruff, who ran a bare-knuckles campaign for the Republican nomination in the 2016 U.S. Senate race but ultimately crashed when Marco Rubio decided to get back in the game, proposes to allow two or more members to discuss the commission’s official business in private.

Not only that, Beruff — appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to chair the committee — is pushing for authority to be the sole decision-maker about what measures the 37-member board puts on the ballot in 2018.

That would gut a requirement that a supermajority of 22 members approves all ballot initiatives.

The commission has been frosty to his proposals.

“What is called for is a presider — not a decider,” Commission member and former Senate President Don Gaetz told the Miami Herald.

So, let’s review: Florida has been noted for its landmark Sunshine Law that requires all government and related meetings to be open and with adequate advance public notice. The head of the Constitutional Revision Commission wants to ignore a bedrock principle of Florida law.

Good start, eh?

It’s worth noting that Beruff was a controversial choice to lead the commission.

A little over a year ago, he drew wide criticism last year for remarks at St. John’s County Republican Executive Committee, where he said of President Barack Obama: “Unfortunately, for seven and a half years this animal we call president — because he’s an animal, OK? … has surgically and with thought and very smart, intelligent manner, destroyed this country and dismantled the military under not one, not two, but three secretaries of defenses.”

That doesn’t exactly have the ring of someone interested in building consensus.

Beruff’s current ploy is just continuing an assault on openness that has been taking place for years. There are more than 1,000 exemptions to the law as legislators find increasingly inventive ways to avoid the annoying public scrutiny.

Three members of the South Florida Water Management District were criticized for discussing official business in Facebook chats. Barbara Petersen, head of the nonprofit First Amendment Foundation in Tallahassee, told TCPalm.com “this definitely appears to be a violation.”

Yes, it’s much easier to govern in secret, but that’s not how we do it here. You can’t just work things out in private and then inform the masses (maybe) what you have planned for them before you break for lunch. The people of Florida are citizens, not serfs. They have a right to know how decisions affecting their lives are being made. They have a right for input.

What part of that escapes Carlos Beruff?

Then again, why should anyone be surprised? He doesn’t seem like someone much interested in what other people think.

Joe Henderson: Frank Deford’s passing deserves a moment of pause and reflection

There are important things going on in the state today; I probably should pay more attention to them.

Will Gov. Rick Scott wield his veto pen? The nation’s policy on Cuba is attracting attention; 55 U.S. senators signed a letter urging travel restrictions on visits to that island nation be lifted.

That stuff, and more, will still be there tomorrow.

Right now, though, I want to talk about Frank Deford. He died Sunday at his winter home in Key West.

People have rightly praised him as a consummate story-teller, wordsmith, and a giant in the world of sports writing – although, for Frank, a more appropriate description would be writer, period. Never mind the subject.

In the introduction to a book called “The World’s Tallest Midget” — a compilation of his best long-form stories from Sports Illustrated — he said of sports writing: “It is, surely, the only form of literature wherein the worst of the genre is accepted as representative of the whole.”

I was a sports writer, primarily at the Tampa Tribune, for nearly four decades, and I don’t think as a group we ever escaped that shadow. In newsrooms across the country, sports was mockingly called the toy department. Still is, I would imagine.

Even after I moved from sports to become metro news columnist, occasionally I would get an angry email from a reader with the suggestion I should go back to sports. They probably thought that was witty because a sports writer couldn’t possibly understand politics and government. The “serious” work of gathering “important” news was done by professional journalists. The rest of us were just hacking out copy about ball games.

Frank Deford didn’t hack.

I was a young pup in the business in the 1970s and 80s when Deford was, as he described tennis star Jimmy Connors in one profile, “champion of all he surveyed, Alexander astride Bucephalus astride the globe.”

He was that good.

Like wannabe’s everywhere, I poured over each line of a Deford story in Sports Illustrated. He routinely did things with words that I could only imagine. The magazine wisely granted him time and space to dig deep into a subject, and he repaid by producing lasting literature.

He wrote a profile of a junior college football coach in Mississippi named Robert “Bull Cyclone” Sullivan called “The Toughest Coach There Ever Was.” In the story, he described the team’s top rival — a school called Pearl River.

Years later, on a road trip to watch the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play New Orleans, I might have (maybe) manufactured an excuse to drive up from there to Pearl River for a story just because Frank Deford made traveling to an obscure small college in Mississippi sound like something interesting to do.

It was, too.

Later, he produced commentary for NPR. I am sure it amused him on some level that listeners went, “Wow. Not bad for a sports writer.”

A few years ago, the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg held a private reception for Deford after he gave a talk there. As a reward for teaching a class at Poynter, I was invited. I sat with five or six other sports writers as we gathered ‘round the legend to soak it all in. It was riveting. I wish I had a picture, but I’ll never forget what that evening was like.

Deford and columnists like Jim Murray and Red Smith elevated sports writing and inspired a generation to take its craft, and itself, seriously.

Young boys grew up wanting to be like Mickey Mantle or Johnny Bench.

I grew up wanting to be like Jim Murray or Frank Deford.

One of the beautiful things about literature is that it survives eternally. These men wrote prose that happened to be about sports. They turned words into pictures and reminded everyone that when done properly, telling the story is an art. They made that matter. Godspeed, Frank Deford.

Oh, and one more thing.

Thank you.

Joe Henderson: If some Democrats don’t care about ‘issues’ maybe that’s leaders’ fault

Um, Sally Boynton Brown?

If you’re trying to explain why Democratic voters didn’t turn out in sufficient numbers last November to deliver Florida to Hillary Clinton, I suggest a different approach than saying basically “they don’t get it.”

That’s not a direct quote from the newly hired executive director of the Florida Democratic Party, but it is the essence of her intemperate remarks at a progressive caucus gathering in Broward County.

The Miami New Times, on the scene at the event, quoted Brown saying, “This is not going to be popular, but this is my belief of the time and place we’re in now: I believe that we’re in a place where it’s very hard to get voters excited about ‘issues,’ the type of voters that are not voting.”

She was right about one thing: that isn’t popular. In fact, that’s just plain dumb.

First, let’s just say what everyone knows: She is effectively blaming lower-income people and minorities for her party’s problems, as if it’s their civic duty to vote for Democrats.

These are people profoundly affected by the issues of the day, and you can be damn sure they care about those things. If they aren’t voting, it’s because there is a disconnect between them and party leaders.

Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by more than 330,000 voters in Florida, according to state elections data. There also are about 3.5 million voters unaffiliated to either major party.

With numbers like that, how do Democrats keep losing?

Start with their message — or lack thereof.

Republicans have been consistent about how they want to shape state government: fewer regulations, pro-business, lower taxes, squash any attempt at gun control, charter school expansion.

Republicans repeat those talking points until they’re ingrained in voters’ minds, particularly the independents. It worked well enough to give the GOP and Donald Trump wins in 58 of Florida’s 67 counties last November.

Issues obviously matter to Republicans. Is Brown saying they’re more passionate and responsive than those of her party? If that’s the case, point the finger at the person looking back in the mirror.

Part of the problem, in my opinion, is that Democrats approached the last election with a cocksure smugness. They didn’t explain themselves to voters because their attitude seemed to be that no one would be dumb enough to vote for Trump.

Guess what, Dems? There are millions of people right here in Florida who believe all you want to do is take their guns and give their money to someone else. Democrats used to be the party of working people, but now are painted as the playground of Hollywood elite. It’s their own fault.

In the battle for the hearts and minds of the people, Democrats seem to have lost the zest for battling in the trenches.

One stray word from a Democrat about gun control can send the National Rifle Association into rapid response. Democrats have allowed themselves to be pushed, shoved, bullied and ultimately defeated, and yet their response always seems to be “How could you?”

That, Sally Boynton Brown, is the problem that you don’t get. If you want more people to turn out on Election Day for your candidates, they need a better reason than, “It’s your duty to vote for us because we’re not them.”

Joe Henderson: When NFL suddenly needed a Super host, it knew who to call

It wasn’t luck that Tampa was selected Tuesday to host its fifth Super Bowl.

When the National Football League learned the new stadium being built in Los Angeles won’t be ready in time for the game in 2021, it had to find a city not only ready to step in on short notice, but one with a proven record of excellence.

Tampa checks all the boxes, and that’s because the team Rob Higgins has assembled at the Tampa Bay Sports Commission is as fine as any in the country and better than most.

Bucs co-chairman Bryan Glazer deserves applause. Tampa’s battle-tested political leaders, especially County Commissioner Ken Hagan and Mayor Bob Buckhorn, should take a bow. Higgins is the guy who really makes it happen though.

Smart, well-connected and experienced, Higgins understands better than anyone what has to be done in the trenches to successfully pull off a Super Bowl. NFL owners and leaders know that, which is why I have to believe the decision about what to do took about 10 seconds.

“Hey guys, that new stadium in Los Angeles won’t be ready for the 2021 Super Bowl. What should we do?”

“Um, let’s move it Tampa.”

“All in favor?”

“Aye!”

“Opposed? Anyone? No, great. Let’s go eat.”

I would imagine Higgins’ No. 1 obstacle in the coming months will be keeping his cellphone charged. The man is going to be busy. He will have to get renewed pledges from business, civic and political leaders that were part of Tampa’s bid package for the 2019 and 2020 games, but I can’t imagine that will be much of a problem. I am certain he will have cooperation from all the major players in the area: the convention and visitors bureau, Tampa International Airport, local and state security agencies, and so on.

The Super Bowl occupies an outsized place in Americana. By the time 2021 rolls around, it will be 37 years since Tampa hosted its first Super Bowl.

That game represented important psychological validation to people here that Tampa Bay had a place among the important locations in the country. Interestingly, Tampa’s main competitor to host that game was Los Angeles. The winning team that year? The Los Angeles Raiders, who beat the Washington Redskins 38-9.

Tampa essentially turned itself over that week to the NFL, and in return team owners basked in the love. That set a standard for future bids by other cities, which meant Tampa had to keep getting better and more creative to stay among the regular sites that get to host this game.

It must have worked because with this game Tampa will rank fourth on the list of cities that have hosted the largest number of Super Bowls.

We live in a pretty cool place, huh?

“Aye!”

Opposed? Anyone?

Didn’t think so.

Joe Henderson: FDOT’s Tampa Bay transit plan has new name, but really needs new ideas

Transportation issues in the Tampa Bay area have been well-documented and they will get worse before they get better — assuming, of course, “better” ever comes.

The Florida Department of Transportation wanted to attack the problem with a plan called Tampa Bay Express, or TBX. I’ll simplify: It called for building more roads, including 90 miles of highway people would have to pay tolls to use. A lot of people hated that idea and they raised such a ruckus that FDOT finally punted and came up with Plan B.

It still leaves open the idea of more toll roads, including express lanes across a rebuilt Howard Frankland Bridge. So, what’s different about this plan?

Er, um … it has a new name! Tampa Bay Next.

Other than that, it seems like basically the same ol’ sow’s ear, which, according to the Tampa Bay Times, is upsetting for FDOT officials to hear.

FDOT says a lot of things about this plan are different, starting with its claim the community will have much more input on what it does or doesn’t want. These meetings will take place over a couple of years.

“If the department didn’t really care about what these communities valued … why would I have even be having these meetings?” local DOT Secretary Paul Steinman told the Times. “If I was going to do what I planned on doing, I would have just gone and done it.”

I can save everyone some time by identifying one major issue. Most people don’t want to have to pay a toll every time they drive somewhere.

Especially bothersome is FDOT’s love affair with express lanes, where users pay a fee — which can be hefty, depending on the time of day — to get where they’re going quicker than the schleps stuck in the so-called free lanes.

Even FDOT has conceded the express lanes aren’t designed for everyday use by the common folk, so that’s a problem. A big problem. FDOT proposes a $6 billion attack on traffic congestion around lanes drivers need the income of a starting NFL quarterback to use.

How does that help?

I was in Texas recently and drove from Houston to Austin. Toll roads and express lanes are big there. It seemed like everywhere I went was a road that required a fee to use. By the time I got back, I had racked up about $60 in toll charges — and I was only there for three days.

In case you’re wondering, no — I didn’t use an express lane. I did notice while sitting bumper-to-bumper in evening rush hour that the express lane didn’t seem to be getting much use. Interestingly, a commuter train I saw near Rice University appeared to be nearly full.

Now, Houston is like Tampa Bay on a case of steroids. As bad as our sprawl is, I doubt we’ll ever see the kind of spread that Houston now has. What we have is bad enough, though, and if the anecdotal evidence I saw there is any indication, FDOT’s vision for Tampa Bay’s future is similar to what our friends in Texas now have as a large part of their lives.

That won’t solve the problem.

We to get more cars off the road. And a plan that rewards those with large incomes disproportionally over those with more modest means just isn’t right.

There has to be a better way.

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