The Tampa Tribune's
Deceptive And Dissembling Rail Editorials
by: John F. Sugg
Senior Editor -- The Weekly
sponsored by: Tamarind Associates Inc.
revolutions go, what happened in Hillsborough County on Election Day got scant attention. The media were ga-ga over Jeb's
victory. Pundits dug in to analyze and
reanalyze the GOP's national self-immolation after it sought to use Clinton's slippery zipper to whip the nation into
a moral crusade. America just didn't
want to be whipped.
voters here in Hillsborough did some fine thrashing of their own. The result has been to turn county politics
on its head. Too bad the daily newspapers hardly noticed.
the standpoint of the vast majority of those who went to the polls, the bad guys were routed. But, as we'll see, the
scalawags can still cause havoc with county
finances and with the concept of democracy.
terms even the editorial writers at The Tampa Tribune can understand: The wheels got knocked off Ed Turanchik's
train. Hillsborough's Casey Jones smashed into the wrath of the people.
watershed issue for three commission races Nov. 3 was the proposed Hillsborough commuter rail system. The
broader voter anger behind opposition
was aimed at massive "wealthfare" projects that
benefit a few and burden the rest of us with taxes. I'm speaking, of course,
of Malcolm Glazer's stadium, which was just a warm-up exercise compared to
the gargantuan pork-barrel deals that power the transit schemes.
short, the election was taxpayer payback time. The two most visible symbols of the stadium tax and rail schemes -- Joe
Chillura and Dottie Berger -- were
handed their heads with a "thank you, now get lost" farewell from the voters. Commission candidates who were even a
teensy ambivalent on the rail system,
such as Marsha Passmore, were annihilated by opponents who stood firm against trains, such as Ronda Storms.
little less heated race, incumbent Chris Hart, who has emerged as a persistent critic of current transit plans, defeated an
appealing Democrat, Kim Wall, who
voters were discerning. In the worst nightmare imaginable for Turanchik
and his public relations agents on the Trib's editorial page, one race featured an anti-rail Democrat facing an anti-rail
Republican who had defeated the
pro-rail Berger in the primaries. Citizens were able to perceive that merely being against something wasn't
sufficient unless a candidate had the
knowledge and experience to reform local government. Thus, despite a general GOP tilt in local races, they elected
Democrat Pat Frank.
months ago, Turanchik and Berger were clearly the dominant commissioners, and could usually depend on Jim Norman,
Tom Scott and Chillura. Only Hart
and Jan Platt exhibited restraint and common sense when it came to transportation issues.
we have two new commissioners, Frank and Storms, joining Hart and Platt for a fiscally responsible majority. Berger is
history, and Scott and Norman may prove
fair-weather friends to Turanchik once they consider the thundering signal sent by the voters. I'd call that a
minor revolution, and a pretty definite
statement by citizens on what they think of such endeavors as trains and stadiums.
said, we've had some curious events since the election. The Trib on Nov. 9 ran a lengthy editorial designed to bludgeon elected officials into pushing forward a long- range
transportation plan that includes rail. The group that is
entrusted with the plan is called the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), composed of officials from
play Truth Squad:
- The Trib editorial sneers at
what it calls an "anti-rail minority." Oh? What crystal ball
is involved here? If there is a majority, it was clearly heard in the
commission races that elected Hart, Frank and Storms, and in the
lopsided loss former Commissioner Chillura suffered in his race for
Congress. Actually, most people really haven't been informed about
rail, thanks in large part to the daily newspaper, which has:
printing critical information (the cost of the project skyrocketing
from $350 million to well over $1billion),
Distorted and dissembled
on its editorial page.
For every $1 spent on rail, the Trib tells us, there's a $2.39
return. The newspaper cites USF's Center for Urban Transportation Research
(CUTR). That number is actually correct. What the Trib neglected to tell you
is that roads have a measurably higher return, according to CUTR Deputy
Director Steve Polzin, and that was part of the same research cited by the
newspaper. Either bad homework or dishonest reporting here.
The Trib says "not enough money is available to widen every
road," and that "air quality is an issue." As experiences in
city after city shows, rail does not reduce congestion, and it often is a
greater cause of pollution and waster of energy than cars. The rail plan being
foisted on Tampa involves each little train being powered by diesel engines.
Pardon me, but cough, cough.
"Not enough money is available to widen every road that is overloaded," the newspaper says. That's for certain
if we build a rail system. Rail will be
lucky to carry 2 percent of trip-takers each day, yet will cost at least 27 percent of what is envisioned for
the transportation budget -- these
projects almost always cost far more than proponents claim. Roads will be given about 59 percent of the funds. It's
hard to make direct comparisons, but just the interstate system alone
accounts for a third of all passenger miles traveled in Hillsborough. So,
even if the road money only funded interstates -- in reality, highway dollars build
much more and account for a much
higher percentage of travel -- those expenditures
would still be eight times more efficient than rail. If local rail
hucksters follow examples in other cities, they will take
actions that acerbate congestion, and they will make it more expensive to
travel by car. These Big Brothers want to force you to travel less and, when
you do travel, to go where they want you to go.
Finally, The "Big Lie." The Trib says rail
opponents "don't want to give the people (the) choice" of a referendum.
guys, but as I've reported several times, it was the rail proponents who, as
long as they were in control, equivocated on the need for a vote. Turanchik
in two interviews over the past three years told me he didn't think a
referendum was necessary.
Now we come to the mischief rail proponents are currently
the opposition to rail began organizing, the train buffs reluctantly agreed to a vote in 2000. But, it was clear
in an interview last week with Turanchik
and in the Trib's editorial that what is envisioned is, for lack of a better term, "the Malcolm
Glazer Option Play." Just as voters were forced to OK
Glazer's stadium in order to get decent schools, train backers want the
transportation ballot to lump everything together and force us to approve
rail in order to get roads, bikeways and buses. "That's what I understand
is happening," Platt said.
county commission had instructed its members who sit on the MPO -- Turanchik, Chillura and Hart -- to take no action
until the new commissioners were sworn in this week. True to form, Turanchik
on Nov. 9 ignored the instructions of his colleagues, and helped
ram through an endorsement of the transit plan that includes rail. Chillura
joined him. Hart didn't and considers the action underhanded.
the commission voted Nov. 12 to endorse how the Community Investment Tax (CIT) money is going to be
spent from 2003 to 2008. Why the
Absolutely no reason, other than that for outgoing commissioners, it was the last chance to pay back favors and reward
cronies. A front-row line of well-heeled
developers beamed as the commission voted, with only Platt and Hart dissenting, to deliver the goodies.
commissioners have a way to pay for operations of the projects they approved? Nope. Will the new commissioners, who
take office this week, be able to rescind the allocations? Perhaps, but the
county could face legal fights. The
commission was foolhardy, to say the least.
vote didn't directly provide money for rail, but the document the commissioners endorsed incorporated trains as a
county priority that would absorb about
$740 million in local, state and federal during the 2003-2008 period. This is part of the ongoing strategy
to create layers of tiny bureaucratic
decisions that endorse rail.
you've never had a chance to vote.
Trib tells us the rail plan has resulted from "many hours of public meetings, open discussions." In reality, the
train has been driven by developers, wealthy landowners, the rail industry
the commission should consider is leveling the playing field. The county should remove any appearance of an endorsement of
rail. It should not spend money promoting
it. A referendum should be crafted that allows voters to pick which transportation alternatives they want.
Then the two sides should mount their
campaigns, raise their own money and engage in spirited community debate.
this year, the Weekly Planet offered to host debates on rail. Turanchik declined. "I am an elected
official," he said, implying that his likely sparring partners were a lower form of life. Now that
he's an endangered species
on the commission, outnumbered by elected anti-rail officials, maybe it's
time for real dialogue with the people of Hillsborough County.