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Military/Veterans Poll: 66% disapprove of Obama and 63% disapprove of Obamacare

The Tarrance Group released its veterans survey on key issues facing the nation. Below are key findings from the survey using a representative sample of N=834 Veterans and members of the military.  Interviews were conducted 3/8-16/14 using a mixed methodology of live telephone interviews and online interviews. The margin of error is +/- 3.5%.

  • Sixty-eight percent of veterans believe the country is off on the wrong track (vs. 21% say right direction), and by a margin of more than two to one, veterans disapprove of the way President Obama is handling his job (66% disapprove  vs. 29% approve).
  • Veterans also hold negative views toward President Obama’s healthcare law.  Over six in 10 (63%) of veterans disapprove of Obamacare (vs. 28% approve), and nearly half (46%) believe Obamacare will be worse than VA healthcare.
  • All surveyed—veterans and members of the military— believe the top issues facing Congress are dysfunction in Washington (23%), followed by government spending and debt (19%) and economy/jobs (17%). 
  • In addition to the concern over spending and the debt, nearly three-quarters of veterans and members of the military (73%) agree with former member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen’s statement that our national debt is “the greatest threat to our National Security.”
  • There is widespread awareness of the backlog of claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs (66% of veterans/members of the military have seen, read, or heard about the backlog), and nearly one- quarter (22%) report having experienced the backlog.  Of those who have experienced the backlog, 58% report currently having a backlogged claim. Those who have experienced the backlog report it lasting at least 7 months (60%), with 36% saying it lasted more than one year.

Below is a breakdown of sample military status and branch of service in the survey:

CVA poll image

RELATED STORY: When veterans become victims: Reform the VA now

Rubio: On Tax Day 2014

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) on Tax Day 2014 notes, “Tax reform is critical. And it’s not just critical to take the hassle out of our lives. It’s critical for the economic future of our country. Our economy is stagnant. It’s not growing fast enough. It’s not creating enough jobs. And by the way, about 40% of the jobs that it is creating pays $16 an hour or less.”

Is reform of the tax code needed or a scraping of the entire income tax? Many are calling for either a flat tax or FairTax system.

To mark Tax Day 2014, Rubio sent out the below video addressing constituent concerns about the broken tax code system. Rubio points to the tax codes stifling effect on the economy as proof of the need for tax reform:

[youtube]http://youtu.be/RteG2ceXtk8[/youtube]

In the video, Rubio outlines various disconcerting facts about the increasingly complicated tax code and the unnecessary burdens it places on taxpayers:

  1. It takes 13 hours for the average taxpayer to file their taxes, including record keeping, planning, as well as filling out forms.
  2. Last year, Americans spent 6.1 billion hours and $168 billion complying with all their tax filing requirements.
  3. The tax code, rules and regulations now totals more than 73,000 pages, as opposed to 400 pages when it was created in 1913.
  4. Americans will pay $3 trillion in federal taxes and $1.5 trillion in state and local taxes this year.
  5. Americans must work 111 days this year to pay their federal, state and local taxes.

Rubio:

“One of the things holding back our economy is a broken tax code. We have a tax code, for example, that punishes companies for investing their profits back into their businesses, to hire more people, to give their workers raises, to expand their operations. We have a tax code that actually encourages our employers to take their business overseas. Those are some of the things we have to fix as well. So I agree with you wholeheartedly, and that’s why I hope this November we’ll have new leadership here in Washington that will move on this important item.”

RELATED STORY: Obama has Proposed 442 Tax Hikes Since Taking Office

Florida’s 303 public pension systems are unsustainable

Florida has the third highest number of public pension systems in the United States. According to the U.S. Census Bureau the states with the most public pension systems were Pennsylvania (1,425 systems), Illinois (457 systems) and Florida (303 systems).

The U.S. Census Bureau publishes The Annual Survey of Public Pensions: State- and Locally-Administered Defined Benefit Data, which is a census of all 222 state government pension systems and a sample of local government pension systems. The latest report was published in August 2013.

The six states with the largest amounts of total state and local cash and investment holdings in 2011 (the latest year data is available) were California ($600.0 billion), New York ($319.3 billion), Texas ($192.6 billion), Florida ($157.8 billion), Ohio ($152.4 billion) and Illinois ($127.7 billion) in total holdings and investments. Total holdings and investments in these states comprised just over half (51.2 percent) of total holdings and investments for the United States.

The Florida pension system is overseen by the State Board of Administration (SBA), which was created by the Florida Constitution and is governed by a three-member Board of Trustees (Trustees), comprised of the Governor as Chair, the Chief Financial Officer and the Attorney General.

The basic problem is there are fewer paying into public pensions with a growing number taking funds out of the systems. The report looks at active public pension members versus beneficiaries over time. The ratios of member to beneficiaries are: 1991 2.8 to 1, 2001 2.3 to 1 and 2011 1.7 to 1. Public pension systems are unsustainable.

For a larger view click on the chart.

The Florida Retirement System (FRS) carries the bulk of the public pension system load in the sunshine state. Cities, counties, school boards and public hospital employees pay into this system. According to the MyFRS website, “The FRS Pension Plan funding valuation takes place annually, available December 1st and was 86.9 percent funded, as of July 1, 2012. You can view a chart that compares the plan’s actuarial liabilities to the plan’s actuarial assets for the past five fiscal years. The annual benefit payments to FRS retirees and beneficiaries (shown in white on the chart) are a part of the overall plan liabilities. The market value of the total assets of the FRS Pension Plan is updated monthly.”

The Census Department reports the following public pension data for Florida (in thousands of dollars): Total contributions of $4,993,460, total employee contributions of $349,947, contributions from the state government $875,190, and from local government $3,768,323. Contributions from state and local government means from Florida taxpayers.

According to the report in 2011 Florida’s public pension systems payed out between $20,000 to $24,999 on average.

Defined benefit public pension programs are a growing financial burden for cities, counties, school boards and public hospitals. If one pension system fails Florida taxpayers will be left holding the bag.

RELATED: Florida’s public pensions still bleeding taxpayers

What Is The Debt Ceiling and why should I worry?

[youtube]http://youtu.be/zVFFO64OAQ4[/youtube]

The following is from the Heritage Foundation:

new video by Bankrupting America uses humor to call attention to an issue that is anything but funny, and why it matters for every American household.

Recent Heritage research reveals how the rising national debt hurts American families, including:

  • Higher interest rates on mortgages, car loans, and other loans make it more costly for families and businesses to borrow money.
  • Higher debt and higher interest rates mean more tax dollars must be used to pay the government’s interest expense, leaving less money available for other priorities like national security and making it harder to keep future taxes from rising.
  • Less economic growth means fewer jobs, lower wages and salaries, and fewer opportunities for career advancement.

Over the next few weeks, Members of Congress will be deciding what their priorities for spending reduction will be in connection with any vote to increase the debt ceiling sometime this fall. The debt ceiling vote likely presents an opportunity for real spending restraint this year.

Anyone following the shocking IRS scandal has fresh and frightening evidence of the dangers of a massive, over-reaching, highly intrusive federal government. This is yet another reason to cut spending: Washington has a problem respecting fiscal sense and citizens’ freedoms.

The first step to solving it? Shrink the monster down to size with real spending cuts.

It’s a goal many claim to work toward, yet few seem committed to achieving. Choices presented by the debt limit debate can force both parties to trim down the federal budget—if they don’t get sidetracked.

HOLDING THE LINE: There are refreshing examples of principled leadership among members of Congress committed to getting spending under control. Currently, Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Mike Lee (R-UT) are working hard to prevent any backdoor effort to increase the debt limit without spending cuts.

Cruz_screenshotWhen it comes to holding the line on new spending, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) and five other Senators recently announced their intention to object to consideration of legislation that spends new money unless it also trims the federal budget in other areas. Their goal is to “no longer spend money we do not have to pay for programs we do not need.”

The secret to controlling spending: To get spending under control, you have to know where the dollars are spent.

Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security make up 45 percent of our national budget, as this recent chart shows. Millions of at-risk citizens depend on these programs, and Congress has yet to take the steps needed to reform and preserve them so they benefit those most in need and are affordable for current and future taxpayers.

To fix entitlements and get spending under control, only certain policy changes will make a difference. Key examples of transformative reforms are outlined generally in the landmark Saving the American Dream plan, and more specifically in “Six Bipartisan Entitlement Reforms to Solve the Real Fiscal Crisis.”

While members of Congress may be tempted to fold on the challenge of getting spending under control, now is the time that they as the leaders they were elected to be and deal with balancing the national budget in 10 years.

Read the Morning Bell and more en español every day at Heritage Libertad.

Are hedge fund managers moving to Florida a good idea?

Cheryl Carpenter Kilmek in BizPac Review reports:

“The word is out among hedge fund owners that Palm Beach County is the place to be. Kelly Smallridge, President and CEO of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County, says in the past two weeks she has been getting phone calls every day from New York hedge fund owners tired of high taxes and cold weather looking for a change.

Following a recent New York Post article that said, “The city’s hedge-fund executives are flying south — and it’s not for vacation,” Fla. Gov. Rick Scott sent a letter to hedge fund owners asking them to consider Florida, which prompted a tremendous response.”

But is this really good for Florida?

Florida has had its share of hedge fund managers gone bad. Can you say Ponzi scheme? For example, Scott W. Rothstein, is the disbarred lawyer and the former managing shareholder, chairman, and chief executive officer of the now-defunct Fort Lauderdale law firm Rothstein-Rosenfeldt-Adler. He was accused of funding his philanthropy, political contributions, law firm salaries, and an extravagant lifestyle with a massive $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme.

HedgeCo.net lists the following recent cases of hedge fund manager fraud:

Hedge Fund Manager Convicted by Jury In Black Diamond Ponzi Scheme

February 12, 2013 :

New York (HedgeCo.Net) – A Federal jury has convicted a certified public accountant Jonathan D. Davey, 48, of Newark, Ohio, of four criminal charges relating to an investment fraud conspiracy, the FBI reports. The federal indictment, returned in February 2012, […]

Charges Allege $311 Million Global Hedge Fund Fraud Scheme

February 8, 2013 :

New York (HedgeCo.Net) – An indictment was filed and an information unsealed today charging two business associates in the hedge fund management industry with defrauding institutional investors and causing collective losses of more than $311 million, announced United States Attorney […]

Witness in Rajaratnam Hedge Fund Insider Trading Case Gets One Year Behind Bars

February 1, 2013 :

New York (HedgeCo.Net) – Roomy Khan, a government co-operator in the biggest hedge fund insider trading conspiracy in US history, has been sentenced to one year in prison. Khan has pleaded guilty to passing inside information to Galleon Group fund […]

BCM Hedge Fund Analyst Sentenced in Manhattan

February 1, 2013 :

New York (HedgeCo.Net) – Jason Pflaum, a former research analyst with the hedge fund Barai Capital Management (BCM), was sentenced to time served, followed by two years of supervised release, for his participation in an insider trading scheme in which […]

Insider Trading: California Hedge Fund Founder Gets 2 Years Behind Bars

January 25, 2013 : Permalink

New York (HedgeCo.Net) – San Francisco hedge fund founder Doug Whitman was sentenced yesterday to two years behind bars after a conviction on securities fraud and conspiracy charges. Whitman Capital, the hedge fund he had presided over had about $100 million in assets. […]

Hedge Fund Fraud: Wireless Analyst Sentenced to 4+ Years

January 16, 2013 :

New York (HedgeCo.Net) – The securities research analyst who had publicly refused in 2010 to wear a wire in a hedge fund insider trading trading probe was sentenced yesterday to over four years in prison, Bloomberg’s HedgeWorld reports. John Kinnucan […]

California Hedge Fund Manager Jailed For Fraud

January 15, 2013 :

New York (HedgeCo.Net) – Albert Ke-Jung Hu, a silicon valley hedge fund manager, has been jailed for 12 years on charges of defrauding investors out of at least $6.5 million. “Instead of investing the money as promised, Hu “converted that money […]

Madoff: Doomed Hedge Fund Magnate Speaks Out

December 28, 2012 :

New York (HedgeCo.Net) – The master of manipulation, Bernie Madoff, second only to Charles Ponzi himself, sent out a Christmas memo claiming that “Insider trading… has been present in the market forever, but rarely been prosecuted.” “Markets have always focused on […]

2 Prominent Hedge Fund Managers Found Guilty

December 18, 2012 :

New York (HedgeCo.Net) – A New York jury has found Anthony Chiasson and Todd Newman, both former hedge fund managers, guilty of insider trading charges. The NYT reports: “The government built its case around the testimony of two key witnesses: Spyridon Adondakis, […]

Three Unregistered Brokers Charged For Improper Sales Of Hedge Fund Interests

December 10, 2012 :

New York (HedgeCo.Net) – The SEC has charged three brokers who raised funds for an Oregon-based hedge fund manager for failing to register as broker-dealers before engaging in securities transactions. “Broker-dealer registration is crucial to protecting investors from Ponzi schemes […]

SAC Hedge Fund Insider Trading Professor Resigns

November 30, 2012 : 

New York (HedgeCo.Net) – The Neurologist linked to the Alzheimer drug tests/hedge fund insider trading case, has resigned from his position at the University of Michigan. Professor Sid Gilman is accused of leaking data to SAC hedge fund trader Mathew Martoma. Gilman was paid […]

SEC Preparing Civil Suit Against Cohen’s Hedge Fund SAC Capital

November 29, 2012 :

New York (HedgeCo.Net) – A week after hedge fund trader Mathew Martoma was charged with insider trading, the SEC is going after the hedge fund in question, Steven A. Cohen’s hedge fund SAC Capital, according to people familiar with the situation. “In […]

Rubio Votes Against Continuing Resolution

After his vote against H.J.Res.117, a short-term Continuing Resolution to fund the federal government for six months, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio issued the following statement:

“Today, the federal government once again left one of its most basic duties unfulfilled – the passage of an annual budget. After four consecutive years of trillion dollar deficits and a $16 trillion national debt, the American people deserve for their elected officials to come together with an action plan to reduce spending and encourage real growth. Instead, Congress passed a continuing resolution that merely extends federal spending at its current levels and punts away the responsibility of governing to another time.

“As I’ve done before, I voted against this short-term continuing resolution because I believe that times are too dire to continue this inaction. We are treading water while the water is boiling. Congress has a responsibility to move America out of this mess by charting a fiscally responsible path for the future, starting with a responsible and balanced budget.

“Instead of working with Republicans to address this issue a long time ago, President Obama merely proposed partisan budget plans that left his promise of deficit reduction behind and were so flawed not a single senator in either party voted for them. In order to move America forward, we need Washington to live within its means and stop borrowing money to support a bloated federal government. We can’t say that President Obama’s leadership has failed this time, because the truth is he hasn’t led at all.”

Romney’s Chick-Fil-A Moment

Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney was video taped at a private fund raising event in Boca Raton, Florida. During his remarks he noted that today a large number of Americans are dependent on government and would likely be voting for President Obama.

Erick Erickson, CNN commentator and Editor of RedState.com, called this “Romney’s Chick-Fil-A moment”.

Erickson writes, “Just a few months ago, Dan Cathy of Chick-Fil-A, gave an interview to a Christian publication that asked him about the Chick-Fil-A Foundation’s support of marriage. Cathy defending his position and spoke about his family’s faith. CNN.com picked it up and ran a story that Cathy had come out against gay marriage.”

“The Chick-Fil-A controversy animated a whole lot of people. It just turned out that the people it most animated were the people who agreed with Dan Cathy. So it is, I think, with Mitt Romney’s comments,” noted Erickson.

The question is will Romney take advantage of it and use it as his defining moment? Will Romney fully embrace his position of wanting less government and make good his pledge to reduce dependency on government?

Kate Obenshain, in Divider-In-Chief, writes, “Obama’s governing coalition is made up of the very rich and those dependent on the government in some way.” Obenshain notes in 2008, “The only income group Obama lost in the general election was those with household incomes between $50,000 and $75-000 – the middle class.” In 2008 “Hillary Clinton was seen as the middle class candidate”.

Obenshain writes President Obama characterizes the Republican philosophy as, “We are better off when everybody is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules.” That is what Governor Romney essentially said on the video.

Will he stick with it as conservatives like Rush Limbaugh want?

According to Limbaugh, “This could be the [golden] opportunity for Romney and for that campaign to finally take the gloves off and take the fear off and just start explaining conservatism. Start explaining liberty to people and what it means, and explain that they don’t have to be in that 47%.”

Limbaugh noted during his radio show, “We don’t want 47% of the country thinking that there’s no hope for them.  We don’t want 47% of the country giving up.  And, like I say, I don’t think all 47% are made up of people who are dependent, but I know what Romney was trying to say to these people.  He was basically telling these people that we have reached a crossroads in this country.”

The Heritage Foundation reports, “It is true that nearly half of all tax filers—those who are filing an income form with the IRS—pay no federal income tax. It’s also true that millions of Americans receive direct government support in a host of ways, including income, food, housing, medical care, school lunches, and more.”

In 2009, 47 percent of all tax filers paid no federal individual income taxes, and in 2011 that figure was 46 percent. This raises a crucial question, as Heritage’s Alison Fraser points out: “Should nearly 50 percent of Americans really be exempt from funding the most basic constitutional functions of government—along with education, food stamps, energy, welfare, foreign aid, veterans’ benefits, housing, and so forth?”

“The problems we face today are there because the people who work for a living are outnumbered by those who vote for a living!” – Dan Cofall, Wall Street Shuffle August 1, 2011.

Obama at Loyola University 1988 – “I actually believe in redistribution”:

Watch the video of Mitt Romney commenting on the 47% in Boca Raton, FL:

RELATED COLUMNS:

Obama, the great divider by Jeff Jacoby

Column: Romney’s answer to editorial

Shocking! A US Presidential candidate tells some home truths!

Government Dependency Rises As Number of Taxpayers Declines

Romney Tells the Truth: Conservatives Applaud, Media and Dems Go Nuts

The New Slavery Of Obamanomics

WARNING: Taxmageddon Coming to Florida on 1/1/2013

According to the Heritage Foundation, “On January 1st, 2013, there will be a $494 billion tax increase on you. This is the highest single-year tax hike in U.S. history. We call it taxmageddon.”

“Taxmageddon is coming from a variety of income tax rates increases, a higher death tax, new taxes from Obamacare, and many more. These tax hikes will primarily hit the middle class, with the dreaded Alternative Minimum Tax being the worst offender. You need to see the details to grasp just how bad it is,” states the Heritage Foundation.

The Heritage Foundation has broken out these federal tax hikes by state, so Floridians may see how bad taxmageddon is for them. According to the analysis Florida will see a total federal tax increase of $34.37 billion. With an average income per tax return of $65,085 that results in an average federal tax increase of $3,669 per tax return.

To view the impact of Taxmageddon on you and your state please click here.

Danger: Energy Economic Zone Ahead

Government is famous for wasting time and money all at the expense of taxpayers. The greatest waste has been attributed to the “green movement” and its efforts to save the planet by controlling human activities, such as emissions of CO2. This political and uniquely unscientific movement has led the Florida legislature to create comprehensive planning legislation, implement caps on carbon emissions and most recently create an Energy Economic Zone (EEZ) pilot project.

Sarasota County has established by ordinance an Energy Economic Zone. The first public hearings on the EEZ pilot project in Sarasota County are being held in September. Citizens and business will learn what the EEZ is all about. But what is end purpose of an EEZ? What will be accomplished by establishing an EEZ in Sarasota County?

My answer: The greatest expansion of local government power over your and my pursuit of happiness.

Here are ten reasons why I believe the Sarasota County EEZ will fail:

1. Any governmental expansion of power always meets with stiff public resistance and the EEZ is meeting stiff resistance. The EEZ has been denounced with bi-partisan support in Sarasota County. Neighborhood associations, anti-growth proponents and Democrats are standing shoulder to shoulder with TEA Party groups, 912 Project members and the Republican Party of Sarasota Executive Committee to denounce this project and its attempt to control the lives of citizens.

2. Economic zones do not work. County Commissioner Nora Patterson in an e-mail to an opponent of the EEZ states, “Our existing enterprise zone [in Newtown] is truly a depressed area and I can tell you in advance that the overall situation has not improved, in fact quite the opposite given the economic downturn.” So Commissioners know that enterprise zones do not work from the Newtown failure. Why throw good money after bad? Because it feels good to do so. The EEZ is being driven by ideology, not by any proven method to create jobs or expand the economy in Florida.

3. One of the purposes of the EEZ is to create energy efficiencies and thereby reduce energy usage. This is a FALSE premise as greater efficiency leads inextricably to greater energy usage. This phenomenon is called the “rebound effect”. Increasing the efficiency of lighting encourages us to illuminate more. This means that we need more energy, not less to meet future demand, expected to increase by 30% over the next decade. The EEZ concept is a fallacy, even if the five sitting County Commissioners believe in this fallacy, it is still a fallacy.

4. The incentives provided in the ordinance as currently written are not defined. This makes the ordinance open to broad interpretation by staff in its implementation. We have experienced what happens when bureaucrats are given the leeway to implement policy in Florida. This has happened with numeric water standards being imposed on the state by the Environmental Protection Agency. Placing Draconian standards on water quality to save us from ourselves. Standards that cannot be met!

5. The incentives are front loaded without regard to clearly defined end results. Under the current proposed ordinance businesses would be awarded incentive grants in addition to tax abatements for job creation. The business would promise to create new “green jobs”. This is a failed model, see reason #2 above. You and I do not pay a business until the job is done. In this case County government is so trusting that they will pay upfront for a promise of future job creation. The County has tried this recently with Sanborn studios. Sanborn Studios closed its Lakewood Ranch facility in December 2011 after just one year in operation. The company that promised to produce Hollywood movies, TV shows and create more than 100 jobs in Sarasota got a $650,000 grant from Sarasota County. It is good to learn from experience right?

6. The EEZ is “crony capitalism” writ large. Crony capitalism is a term describing an economy in which success in business depends on close relationships between business people and government officials. It may be exhibited by favoritism in the distribution of legal permits, government grants, special tax breaks, and so forth. The proposed ordinance establishing an EEZ is the ultimate example of crony capitalism. Government picks the winners and losers, not the free markets. This always leads to corruption and political favoritism.

7. Government does not create jobs! The great myth is that government can via incentives create something from nothing. Jobs are created only when a business cannot meet the market demand for its products or services. That is an economic fact. What can government do to help create a market for a product or service? Nothing, absolutely nothing. What government can do best is to do the least. That is to say government is best that governs least. Protecting property rights is the role of government.

8. All of the County Commissioners are Republicans dedicated to limited government and the U.S. Constitution. The Republican Party of Sarasota Executive Committee passed a resolution condemning “local ‘sustainable development’ policies such as Smart Growth, Wildlands Project, Resilient Cities, Regional Visioning Projects, and other ‘Green’ or ‘Alternative’ projects.” The EEZ falls squarely into all of these categories! A copy of the full resolution was presented to each Commissioner.

9. The County’s attempt to establish an EEZ has led to at least one law suit. According to Kathy Attunes, “The EEZ and attached Enterprise Zone incentives are separate statutes. It can be argued that the Enterprise Zone statutes exist independently of the EEZ statute (377.809), and these state Enterprise Zone statutes apply independent of any local eligibility requirements and a $300,000 cap. The EEZ green standards and $300,000 cap are not outlined in the Enterprise Zone statutes; the statutes do not mirror each other. We are concerned that the EEZ statute and linked Enterprise Zone incentives are in conflict, which potentially sets the County up for litigation brought by businesses who have met Enterprise Zone criteria but not County EEZ standards. We do not want the BCC to proceed with a program that opens the door to a flood of untargeted Enterprise Zone tax breaks, and the possibility of having local control negated by state statute.” I agree more litigation will follow.

10. Finally, this is just bad public policy and a waste of taxpayer money.

There are many other reasons why the EEZ is bad policy for Sarasota County but in the interest of brevity I have listed only my top ten.

I do not need nor want government telling me how to save energy. I am perfectly able doing that on my own. If I wish to waste energy then I will pay an economic price for that behavior. That is how personal freedom and free markets work. Government forcing choices upon me is morally wrong. The EEZ is morally wrong!

Citizens Insurance Under-fire for Rate Increase

Hundreds of thousands of Florida homeowners are receiving notices from their insurance carriers stating, “You are paying more for your policy due to an emergency assessment from Florida Citizens.”

Florida Citizens Property Insurance Corporation is the state-run insurer that provides insurance to individuals who are unable to secure coverage through other insurance carriers. Those covered are often in high-risk or coastal areas. The emergency assessment is “necessary to enable Florida Citizens to pay claims they received from past hurricane seasons.” The emergency assessment is for the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund (FHCF). The rate increase was passed in July, 2012. According to SunSentinel.com, “Personal residential policies would receive a 10.2 percent statewide average increase, including 10.5 percent for homeowners and 9.7 percent for renters.”

For one homeowner who contacted Watchdog Wire – Florida the emergency assessment on their $160,000 home was $200 per month or $2,400 a year.

Florida has many senior citizens who live on fixed incomes, have seen their investments dwindle and property values drop. A rate increase of this magnitude is problematic for many others who have homes in Florida but live in other states.

To make matters worse it appears that senior officials at Florida Citizens have been spending lavishly while passing on the costs to Florida homeowners. The Florida Citizens website states, “We will demonstrate steadfast adherence to our values and ethical code of conduct.” However, after combing through hundreds of expense reports from the last three years, a team of writers from the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald found executives at the state-run insurance company were living the high life on the company’s dime.

According to investigative reporters Susan Taylor Martin, Jeff Harrington and Toluse Olorunnipa from the Times/Herald, “Chief financial officer Sharon Binnun spent at least $70,000 on travel from January 2011 to June 2012. During trips to Manhattan, Binnun stayed at hotels that cost up to $500 per night. In an April business trip to Bermuda, she upgraded to ‘gold’ status at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess, bringing the cost of her room to $633 per night.”

“Former Citizens president Scott Wallace, general counsel Dan Sumner and board chairman Carlos Lacasa indulged in meals that often cost three times the limit put on rank-and-file staff. Wallace flew first-class to London for a meeting with insurers. Travel costs for Citizens — a government corporation run by a board appointed by Gov. Rick Scott and other state leaders — are projected to more than double this year, from $1.5 million to $3.4 million,” note Martin, Harrington and Olorunnipa.

Florida Senator Mike Fasano is having none of these shenanigans. He has sent a letter to Governor Scott and the cabinet asking for an investigation of Florida Citizens. The Tampa Bay Times reports, “Citizens’ top executives and board members have been shameless in the way they lavishly spend tax dollars on travel and related expenses,” Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said in a statement. “While crying poor mouth they stay in posh hotels, eat expensive meals, and engage in international travel. While so many of their customers are struggling to cut their personal budgets so they can pay their ever increasing premiums, Citizens’ higher-ups are living high on the hog on the public dime.”

This prompted a letter from Barry Gilway, the new President/CEO and Executive Director of Florida Citizens, stating, “As a government entity operating in an international industry, Citizens walks a fine line between fiscal stringency and the need to conduct business internationally on behalf of all Floridians. We also recognize that there is always is room for improvement and that we have a duty to achieve efficiencies in everything we do, whether in Tallahassee or London.”

The next Cabinet meeting chaired by Governor Scott is scheduled for September 18, 2012. Some have questioned the fiscal soundness of Florida Citizens should a major hurricane hit the state.

Former Mayor Responds to Sarasota County School Board Raising Taxes

David Merrill, businessman and the former Mayor of the City of Sarasota, Florida, sent the below email to all Sarasota County School Board members.

School Board Members,

I urge you to reject the proposed increase in property taxes for schools. You can eliminate the need for the extra taxes by cutting wasteful policies and programs, and you have failed to make the case that the money will actually improve the education of our children.

Instead of looking to more taxes, you can find more than enough savings to eliminate the need for the taxes by replacing your credential-based compensation system for teachers.  Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education, and Bill Gates have said we need to find the money to improve our schools by eliminating the waste and inefficiency from the type of compensation system that you use. Yet, other than perhaps for some new-hires, Sarasota’s teachers’ salaries are set from a salary table with two variables: advanced degrees and years of teaching.

In 2010 Arne Duncan said, ”There is little evidence teachers with masters degrees improve student achievement more than other teachers.” Despite this information, Sarasota pays for more advanced and special degrees than any other district in Florida. A full 67% of Sarasota’s teachers have a degree above a bachelor’s degree.  While some advanced degrees may be appropriate, does giving two-thirds of the teachers at Phillipi Shores Elementary School higher salaries because they have advanced degrees really do anything to help our children learn the alphabet and the multiplication tables?

When it comes to teacher longevity, Sarasota’s teachers have the 7th highest average longevity out of the state’s 67 school districts. However Harvard Professor Paul E Peterson’s study titled “It’s Easier to Pick a Good Teacher than to Train One: Familiar and New Results on the Correlates on Teacher Effectiveness” reports that there is little increase in a teacher’s effectiveness after the first three years of teaching.  But you continue to increase teachers’ salaries based solely upon the number of years that they’ve been teaching, when, instead, we should pay them based on a performance evaluation like other professionals.

Some of you may say that you know these arguments, but politically you can’t cut teachers’ pay.  Therefore, in the absence of courage to confront the teachers union, your argument is that you have no choice but to increase taxes.  But, based on FCAT and EOC Assessment scores, you can’t show that you have been good stewards of the half-billion dollars you have collected from the referendum-initiated school tax since 2002.

Looking at our FCAT history, Sarasota’s ranking among Florida’s school districts on the high-school Reading FCAT and Math FCAT are lower today than they were a dozen years ago.  For the first three years of the high-school Math FCAT back in 2000, 2001, and 2002, Sarasota’s score was either the second or the third highest in the state. Likewise, for the first two years of the high school Reading FCAT in 2000 and 2001, Sarasota’s scores were either second or third in the state.  When the school-tax referendum passed in 2002, everyone looked forward to new and innovative educational strategies to build on our excellent school district, but, instead, the school district immediately went into an inexplicable funk, from which you’ve not yet recovered.

(I use the FCAT scores from the highest grade in high school that the test is given because they include the cumulative learning from lower grades, and they are the closest measure of the performance of your finished product, the high school graduate.)

Sarasota’s Ranking on High School FCAT among 67 Districts

2000
2001
2002
2003
2004
2005
2006
2007
2008
2009
2010
2011
Math
3
2
3
10
11
12
9
10
11
12
6
6
Reading
2
3
6
16
12
16
9
13
12
12
6
9
Science
n.a.
n.a.
n.a.
n.a.
n.a.
11
8
11
12
10
11
9

 

Fortunately, we’ve begun to regain some of our former glory.  On the recent Algebra EOC Assessment, Sarasota had the second highest score, which may be the beginning of getting back to where we were 11 years ago.

Unfortunately, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars of supplemental taxes that taxpayers have given you since 2002, Sarasota’s high school student’s FCAT scores are still determined more by Sarasota’s favorable demographics than the school district’s extra efforts.  As you know, demographic factors such as adult personal income, percentage of free and reduced lunch, adult educational levels, and student racial composition are good predictors of a district’s FCAT scores when considered together.  In fact, there is a good argument that our county and city commissioners are more responsible for Sarasota’s FCAT scores than the school board since the commissioners’ policies have had the most influence on our demographics.

If you were to chart these demographic factors for Florida’s school districts, most school districts’ FCAT scores would fall within a narrow band of where one would expect to find them based on their demographics.  However, when districts deviate from their demographic prediction, it’s possible that their school district is doing something different from the other districts.

Accordingly, there are three districts on the high school FCATs who have challenged Sarasota’s scores, but who shouldn’t be able to based on their demographics alone. These districts, Sumter, Gilchrist, and Wakulla, all have less attractive demographics for adult income and educational levels compared to Sarasota, and their free and reduced lunch percentages are either similar to or higher than Sarasota’s.  Even with these unfavorable demographic characteristics, and along with having less money per student, fewer teachers with advanced degrees, less teacher experience, and lower teacher pay than Sarasota, these lower-income districts have achieved some impressive FCAT scores. They are obviously doing something right given what they have to work with.

District
County Adult Data
2011 11th Grade Science FCAT Students
Teacher Data
2011 High School FCAT Scores
Personal Income
% College
% High School
% Free-Lunch
% White
Advanced Degrees
Median Salary
Science
Math
Reading
GILCHRIST
$29,682
15%
72%
48%
92%
33%
$42,829
322
339
324
SARASOTA
$52,331
34%
87%
38%
72%
67%
$55,264
317
339
322
WAKULLA
$28,711
22%
78%
35%
82%
37%
$37,042
317
338
322
SUMTER
$24,836
17%
77%
45%
71%
33%
$42,365
320
334
317
FLORIDA
$38,210
23%
76%
45%
47%
41%
$45,723
307
329
309

 

If you could show a similar pattern of consistently having higher test scores than our demographics alone would predict, you could make an argument that you are efficiently and effectively using your resources, and that giving you more resources could lead to even higher test scores. However, you can’t make the argument because our high school students don’t consistently outscore the districts with similar or more favorable demographics.

On the 2011 FCAT tests, there were six districts that outscored Sarasota’s combined test scores and who also have demographics at least as favorable as Sarasota’s.  (I’ve excluded Gilchrist, which is shown above.) The districts are St. Johns, Okaloosa, Brevard, Seminole, Martin, and Santa Rosa. Each district has its favorable and unfavorable demographic factors, but they would all be considered similar.

Some key characteristics for these districts are shown on the table below.

District
County Adult Data
2011 11th Grade Science FCAT Students
District Data
2011 High School FCAT Scores
Personal Income
% College & Prof. Degree
% Free-Lunch
% White
Teacher Advanced Degrees
Teacher Median Salary
All Gov. Revenue Per Student
Science
Math
Reading
ST. JOHNS
$ 48,640
40%
13%
84%
41%
$44,370
$        9,360
324
344
332
OKALOOSA
$ 41,024
33%
23%
74%
42%
$48,779
$        9,245
328
342
330
BREVARD
$ 37,284
33%
25%
67%
43%
$42,421
$        9,226
326
341
326
SEMINOLE
$ 40,133
40%
31%
60%
48%
$43,301
$        8,910
318
343
327
MARTIN
$ 51,723
33%
25%
71%
41%
$43,677
$      10,739
321
340
326
SANTA ROSA
$ 34,838
32%
28%
80%
37%
$42,729
$        8,791
317
338
331
SARASOTA
$ 52,331
34%
38%
72%
67%
$55,264
$      11,961
317
339
322

 

Although the demographics are similar, as the chart shows, the Sarasota’s median teacher pay is 25% higher than the average of the other districts, and Sarasota takes in 28% more tax revenue per student than the other districts on average, or about $2,500 per student.  And, yet, with more lower-paid teachers and far fewer financial resources, these other districts have typically outscored us.

To put a better perspective on the magnitude of this disparity in revenues between districts, Sarasota has about 40,000 students, so a difference of $2,500 per student amounts to $100,000,000.  That’s how much Sarasota could save each and every year if we matched the average budget of the other six districts above.  Or, said another way, that’s how much money we could save if our school district were as efficient and effective in delivering high-scoring high-school graduates as other top districts – like we used to be a decade ago.

The table below summarizes the calculation for the extra tax burden that Sarasota taxpayers must fund annually above what the other top districts on average must pay.

Calculation of Sarasota’s Extra Tax Burden Relative to Top-Scoring Districts
Sarasota’s Per-Student Tax Revenues
Avg. Tax Revenue of 6 Higher-Scoring Districts
Higher Tax Burden for Sarasota Per Student
Sarasota’s Student Enrollment
Sarasota’s Total Extra Tax Burden
$11,961
$9,379
$2,583
41,076
$106,078,770

 

So, the questions before us are whether or not Sarasota has the potential to be the top school district in Florida, and whether we need to collect an extra $100,000,000 in taxes to do it.  And I’ll answer the first question with an unequivocal “Yes!”  And I’ll answer the second question with a “Hopefully not”.

The first question is easy to answer because we right there at the cusp a decade ago.  Back then, before the extra taxes started gushing in, our high school kids were just shy of having the highest scores on the FCAT.  In fact, it was the promise of being the top school district that got the voters to rally behind the property-tax increase in 2002 after having voted down a similar referendum in 2000.  Our recent 2nd-place score on the Algebra EOCA shows that we still have the potential, and it’s not unusual in the lower grades for us to have top FCAT scores.  By effectively using the financial resources that the public has given you, you can overcome any demographic advantages that even a district like St. Johns enjoys, and our high school students can be the very best in the state.

However, the reason I don’t support a continuation of the extra $100,000,000 in taxes is because the need for it is purely remedial. There are only two reasons that the extra taxes are needed.  One possibility is that you have failed to develop a school district that is as efficient and effective the school districts that are currently at the top of the FCAT rankings.  The other possibility is that our city and county commissioners have failed to create an economy that provides enough jobs for high income, college educated workers.  After all, it’s their children who get the top scores.

But continuing the extra $100,000,000 in taxes drains our economy of productive resources and makes our community-development plans more difficult. Other districts that don’t have to pay it are gaining a competitive advantage over Sarasota.  Over a decade, the cumulative impact of draining this much money from our economy is huge.

In less than two years you will have another vote to extend the property tax for schools.  (It only provides about half of the extra $100,000,000 in taxes that you collect.)  I predict that you will fail unless you do two things.  First, you must develop a compensation system that rewards our many excellent teachers and eliminates the bad ones.  (Ever read RateMyTeachers.com?  We still have bad teachers.  My 7th grade son just got one of the worst ones at his school.  Why is Ms. Friedland still allowed to teach?)  Secondly, you must restore Sarasota’s high-school test scores to their rightful place at the top of all districts.  Unlike a decade ago when we were Number 2, with all your extra resources, we need to be Number 1.

Finally, with $100,000,000 more than the average of the other top districts, you don’t need more money.  You need a better plan.  Arne Duncan has said that schools need to do more with less.  I suggest you show your understanding of the new reality by voting down your proposed tax increase.

Best regards,

David Merrill
Arox Land Development, Inc
700 Bell Road
Sarasota, Fl  34240