Wednesday, March 28, 2007

'Taken for a ride' in Florida


Selling out the public interest

March 28, 2007

Stephen Goldstein
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Copyright 2007

Warning: Unless you put up a roadblock this minute, soon Florida Republicans will "Dubai" all the state's assets.

Once again, Elephants in the Florida Legislature have sold their souls, assuming they ever had any. Routinely, they barter the public interest for a buck.

This time, in a scheme that only Halliburton could hail, House Republicans just passed H.B. 7033, giving private companies virtual monopoly ownership of most of Florida's toll roads. (Democratic state Reps. Susan Bucher and Keith Fitzgerald told me they were outraged.)

That's right! If the scheme becomes law, corporate interests will be able to make a profit by levying the fees you pay to drive on most current, and all future, toll roads. In addition, the state could use eminent domain to take private land for new toll-road construction, then turn it over to private companies. The bill even prohibits any local, non-toll roads from being built that would "compete" with those of for-profit companies.

It's a one-way street: Politicians pumping public dollars into private hands, but no guarantee that the state will ever make a penny. It's a dead end for democracy: Your elected officials selling the public interest in sweetheart deals that could last for 50 or 75 years, or longer.

According to the sponsors of 7033, the state doesn't have enough money to build the roads we need to keep up with the pace of development. So, it must look for "creative" and "innovative" financing measures -- buzzwords for profiteering.

What they don't want you to figure out is that they intentionally put us in the financial rut we're in, as part of their grand scam to stay in power, gut government, and foster corporate-socialism to pay back their crony campaign contributors.

Here's how they take you for a ride: (1) Republicans know that a growing state like Florida needs more money, but they win elections by promising to lower, or not raise, taxes. (2) Then, because they don't give state government the money they know it needs, they say we must turn its functions over to the private sector to save money. (3) Then, for-profit companies do their dirty work, taxing the public with higher fees.

It's duplicity in search of a rationale for raping the public -- really a Republican tax increase, palmed off on the private sector, because elitist Elephants have good reason to believe Floridians are dumb.

For almost a decade, voters have let a Republican governor and a Republican-dominated Legislature do everything in their power to privatize government -- public education, prisons, foster care, you name it -- all of which have failed to save money and deliver better services.

But by setting out to privatize our public toll roads, Republicans may have made a strategic error. Their previous schemes have affected only segments of the population, most that too few care about. This time, they've sold out everyone. This time they have tried to sell our souls.

Our roads are concrete symbols of American freedom. Throughout our history, government has fostered their growth and development. They have been vehicles to open up territory and unite us. Most are toll-free. From Federal Highway to Route 66, they have assumed unique personalities. Dwight Eisenhower's vision of the Interstate Highway System uniquely linked this country for strategic military and commercial purposes.

Nothing is more American than knowing that you can get into your car and head out for the open road, going wherever you want to go, even if you have to pay a toll now and then. The slogan "See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet" not only sold cars, it helped "make" Florida -- and the nation.

Our roads are our lifeblood: It is un-American to let private businesses profit by levying road tolls.

Wreak your road-privatization rage on Republicans. Tell key officials to dead-end privatizing public toll roads: Gov. Charlie Crist (850-488-4441); Sen. Carey Baker, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee (850-487-5014); Senate President Ken Pruitt (850-487-5229); House Speaker Marco Rubio (850-488-1450).

The toll-call you make today will be a pittance compared to the piles of private road tolls Republicans will make you pay.

Stephen L. Goldstein's commentaries appear on alternate Wednesdays. E-mail him at

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