For Whom the Toll Tolls, II

“It doesn’t hurt to ask,” Monroe County, Florida’s, commissioners said about adding a toll on U.S. 1 into the Keys.

“Some statutes have changed, tolling mechanisms have changed, a lot of things have changed,” Commissioner Heather Carruthers of Key Weird told the Keynoter. 18-Mile StretchShe introduced a resolution to explore the logistical and legal aspects of a toll at the board meeting on Wednesday. Commissioners endorsed the resolution on a voice vote.

Ms. Carruthers says there are a lot of big-ticket items looming for the Keys and their only recourse is to raise new, um, revenues.

That’s kind of refreshing. Most politicians promise to cut spending when they raise taxes. Our commishes make no such false promises.

Still, riiiight.

In For Whom the Toll Tolls we noted that Monroe County already collects about $700,000 in tolls each year on the Card Sound Bridge and spends about five times that much to keep the bridge up. They are in the midst now of a $2 million “upgrade” to change over from human toll collectors to the Sunpass system.

We can guess that they would install the border crossing^H^H toll booth on a wide spot in the 18-mile stretch that connects Florida City with Key Largo.

FDOT Florida Traffic Online shows 20,500 vehicles traversed the 18-mile stretch on an average day in 2016. At a buck a car (more for boat trailers and 18-wheelers bringing beer) that’s an easy $7.5 million. Ka-ching!

It would cost my neighbor Joe a couple of bucks more to go the Cleveland Clinic.

It would cost Rosie Martin a couple of bucks more to come to work. Rosie is a cashier at Kmart in Marathon. Like many store employees who work in the Keys, she can’t afford to live in the Keys so she commutes from Homestead.

It would cost the Borden Dairy delivery driver more than a couple of bucks extra to get to Walgreens with a truckload of milk. Guess where I get my milk?

And it would cost every tourist a couple of bucks more to visit.

A record 5,466,937 million visitors traveled to the Florida Keys in 2015. About one million of them were day trippers.

What do you bet the toll will have to be two bucks or more?

What do you bet the toll will cut the number of day visitors in half?

I have to put a new roof on my little house, rebuild my seawall, buy flood and wind and fire insurance, and build the not-so-Perfect-Travel-Trailer. A new toll will raise the prices on every bit of material that goes into each of those projects.

I can’t raise taxes or charge a toll on my driveway to cover those looming “big-ticket items.” I guarantee I can’t do them all in a single year, either. Imagine that.

 

Protective Nanny or Protectionism?

SWMBO grew up in Wisconsin where they would put her in jail for selling a homemade cookie. I’m eating one of her oatmeal cookies right now and am here to tell you that law would have deprived her neighbors from heaven on a plate.

Factory CookiesRufus has always called her “Cookie Lady.”

Wisconsin is one of just two states to ban the sale of home-baked goods (New Jersey is the only other). If SWMBO were to sell her brownies or cookies or muffins from her own kitchen to the public there, she could go to jail.

The Wisconsin law requires bakers to buy a license. The license requires a commercial kitchen, health inspections and, of course, fees. Cottage Food laws or regulations generally include some form of kitchen inspection, a zoning permit, a business license, restriction on pets, and more.

“Protecting other businesses from competition is not a legitimate government interest.”

Wisconsin’s commercial bakers claim the ban evens the playing field for the licensed businesses by removing the unfair advantage for home-based cooks. Still, the state allows the sale of other homemade foods such as jams and canned goods, all made on regular stoves, so I’m thinking state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos puts homemade jam on his muffins.

Worthy of note, Wisconsin and New Jersey are not the only states with “Cottage Food Laws.” Many states require some form of kitchen inspection, a zoning permit, a business license, and restrict pets if you home bake cakes, cookies, pies, and breads, make jams and jellies, popcorn or candies, and more.
Vermont banned brownies to turn kids on to kale and gluten-free paleo lemon bars.
New York City‘s public schools allow PTAs to hold fundraisers that include homemade baked goods only “once a month or weekdays after 6 p.m.”

Delicious news: three Wisconsin farm women challenged that state’s law last year. A LaFayette County judge sweetly overturned the law last month after the women’s attorney argued that the state Supreme Court has ruled that “protecting other businesses from competition is not a legitimate government interest.”

In his oral ruling, the judge said that the ban mainly served business interests.

Naturally, the Department of Justice says the state is considering an appeal.

 

For Whom the Toll Tolls

The storied Card Sound Bridge is an old, tall, toll bridge that connects mainland Florida to Monroe County. It is one of only two roads enter or leave the Florida Keys (the other is the Overseas Highway, U.S. Route 1) and the only one that costs cash.

Building Card Sound Bridge, 1926
The current causeway and bridge opened to traffic in 1969 as State Road 905A. By the 1980s, the state transferred the road and bridge to county maintenance although Monroe County pretends it is still a state highway with FDOT route signs along the shoulders.

The bridge carries 1,900 vehicles per day at a varying toll, nominally $1 but with an upcharge for more than two axles and discount to as little as a quarter with a ticket book. The toll is waived upon evacuating the Keys for hurricanes or in instances in which US 1 is impassable.

Guesstimating that all the tolls average out to a buck, the Card Sound Toll Authority collects about $700,000 annually to operate the toll booth, maintain the toll facilities and grounds, and mow and cut the brush on the right of way along Card Sound Road.

According to County Administrator Roman Gastesi’s Budget Message, “The Card Sound Toll Authority is responsible for operating the toll booth 24 hours per day/7 days a week, maintaining the toll facilities and grounds, and right-of-way mowing and brush cutting along Card Sound Road. Revenues from the tolls are reserved for maintenance of the Card Sound Bridge and road. The Toll Authority is now a part of the Engineering Services & Roads Department.”
Monroe County budgeted $3,448,648 for the Card Sound Toll Authority this year. That’s up 110.8% from the $1,635,705 budgeted in FY2016.

[For the record, $3,448,648 for one road is nearly twice the total municipal budget for the Town of North Puffin including the entire highway department there.]

A $2 million plus project to convert the toll booths there into an automated “Sunpass” system could break ground as soon as August 1. The Monroe County Commission has approved a $1.79 million construction contract plus an engineering contract for $263,700 more.

The Modern Card Sound BridgeThe toll booth staff will be fired July 31 and the toll booths could be demolished the next day. No tolls will be collected during reconstruction, until the system becomes active next February. The “All Electronic Tolling System” will connect to the Sunpass to collect tolls through those transponders or toll-by-plate.

Money collected at Card Sound allegedly goes toward maintenance of the aging 65-foot-high bridge and adjacent roads. Tolls have been $1 per vehicle for decades but “the electronic tolling could make price increases easier to implement.”

Say what?

How hard is it to tell the toll collector, “Charge $1.25”???

Liz Arden reminded me, “When people handle money, they notice increases in price. When they don’t handle it, they don’t notice it. That is what ‘easier to implement’ means in this context.”

Ah.

More telling is the price of this particular boondoggle. If the toll authority collects $700,000 and spends about five times that much annually, how are We the Overtaxed People going to pay off the $2 million “upgrade”?

 

Lying Liars #2,749

Welcome to the first day of Spring, the day when day and night are the same length and politicians tell you one is the other.

“The affordable health care’s purpose was to lower costs, expand access, and improve benefits,” Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said on Face the Nation yesterday. “It has succeeded in all three.”

It has succeeded? Succeeded? Really?

Let’s take how Ms. Pelosi knew the facts and said just the opposite. Out here outside the Beltway, we call that “Lying.”

• “[Its purpose was to] lower costs…
Health care cost Americans $2 trillion in 2008; ObamaDidn’tCare grew it every year so health care will cost Americans $3.6 trillion in 2017. Alabama premiums jumped 28% from 2015 to 2016 for individual plans purchased through the marketplace. They went up another 36% this year. The cheapest “Bronze” plan here in south Florida costs $4,660 this year, almost double the unsubsidized cost in 2013. A Bronze plan comes with a $6,000 medical and $500 prescription deductible and $12,500 out of pocket maximum costs. And your premium skyrocketed anyway! True believers can’t accept those facts but the NY Times does.
Nancy Pelosi - Pants on Fire
• “[Its purpose was to] expand access…
Enrollment tumbled in 2016 at a faster rate of decline than in 2015 as people got kicked off for not paying premiums. UnitedHealth Group dropped out of almost every ObamaDidn’tCare market.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated in 2016 that ObamaDidn’tCare would leave 27 million uninsured through 2019.

• “[Its purpose was to] improve benefits…
Slightly true. Some of the 20 million folks who never had insurance before ObamaDidn’tCare definitely got better benefits. Anything more than nothing is “better.” The rest got stuck with far less. And for the 75 million Americans who got their insurance through large companies in 2013, according to NBC News, ObamaDidn’tCare caused companies with the most generous plans to cut benefits.

Lying liars who lie a lot.

Ms. Pelosi’s definition of “success” seems a wee bit different than ours, I’m thinking.

“[The Unaffordable Care Act] should be respected for what it does,” she said.

We’ve seen what it does. In that, for once in the past nine years, Ms. Pelosi told the truth.


No matter what the true believers think, ObamaDidn’tCare — the original Unaffordable Care Act — is disintegrating. It’s collapsing politically. It’s collapsing financially. It’s collapsing medically.

As we learned last week, the new Unaffordable American Health Care Act doesn’t address the biggest issue: cost. It needs bring costs down and to do that it needs to address [wait for it] American Health Care. So far it doesn’t do that any better than what we had foisted on us in 2013.

 

Pardon Me

Mr. Obama issued 273 pardons and commutations yesterday. He cut Bradley/Chelsea Manning’s 35-year sentence to time served. The now-transgender soldier was convicted of Espionage Act violations and other charges for leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks. The White House announced that Mr. Obama “has now granted more commutations than any president in this nation’s history.” In fact, they proudly noted that is more than “the total number of commutations issued by the past 12 presidents combined.”

Julian Assange said “Manning should never have been convicted in the first place…” Manning “is a hero, whose bravery should be applauded.” Mr. Assange said he would not fight extradition if Manning was freed.

“It was the right thing to do,” my friend Fanny Guay said. “The Right’s claim that Manning’s leaks cost lives was false.”

Yeah, OK.

Looks like the only secrets the Left care about are the Sony memos and salary worksheets.

“No, that’s not it,” Liz Arden replied, double teaming me. “Only people who do it for the right reasons.”

So it would be OK for the Russians to release the RNC emails but not Hillary’s?

“That’s it!”

It’s required that I release my tax return but illegal to publish a teacher’s salary?

“Exactly!” Ms. Guay said. Ms. Arden did the happy dance that I was finally getting it.

But, wait. I taught at Vermont colleges.

“Oh, then you’re protected,” Ms. Guay said.

Now I do get it. I notice that Mr. Assange is still in the Ecuadorian embassy. He’s still a protected good guy. Except for the little matter of the DNC emails.