Last week, Orange County commissioner and mayoral candidate Linda Stewart did something that few contenders for higher office would think wise in an economic downturn: She proposed a billion-dollar tax increase to fund LYNX, this region's terrible mass transit service.
"We really need a dedicated funding source," Stewart tells Happytown™. "Things are not getting any better."
For decades, LYNX has struggled with an uncomfortable reality: It has no dedicated funding source, so it has no constant stream of revenue to rely on. Its money comes from local governments, and it has never been what you would call "well-funded." Consequently, LYNX has never risen above mediocrity.
Last year, amid the declining property tax revenues that came with Amendment 1, local governments cut back their allocations to LYNX. In turn, the agency slashed its routes and raised fares. It's still getting by thanks to $30 million in stimulus monies that paid for long-overdue construction projects, but because of its deficient service, ridership is down. In short, LYNX is hurting.
Stewart wants to fix that. On July 8, she dispatched a letter to Mayor Rich Crotty — the potential Republican congressional candidate she hopes to replace next November — asking him to at least consider giving LYNX its own funding source through a gas tax, a sales tax or both.
A half-cent sales tax increase would generate $3.5 billion over the next 20 years, more than enough to cover LYNX's budget (it's just under $130 million in the current fiscal year). Of course, this would require a countywide referendum, and for those who recall the disaster that was Mobility 20/20, that's not a welcome prospect.
Alternatively, the county could (with an equally unlikely supermajority vote) raise its gas tax. An extra 5 cents per gallon would take in $26 million a year, which is more than half of the roughly $40 million a year that Orange County gives to LYNX.
Stewart stresses that she's not advocating for a tax increase; she wants the county commission (which includes her chief opponent, Bill Segal) to talk about it. And she suspects that there's more community support for such a tax hike than supposed.
She points to a May 2009 survey commissioned by Metroplan Orlando in which 62 percent of respondents supported increased investment in public transportation. In that same survey, however, just 45 percent voiced support for an increased sales tax, and only 35 percent supported a gas-tax increase. The most popular funding option, a rental-car tax, would require the state legislature's assent.
The Metroplan survey features a particularly ominous statistic: Asked how they generally want transportation projects funded, the most common response — 41.5 percent — was "pay for what you use." For LYNX riders — many of whom are already cash-strapped — that means higher fares.
But world-class cities — a phrase our elected officials love to toss around — have workable mass transportation systems. "We can't ignore it," the always-effusive Stewart declares. "We can't hide behind our mothers' skirts."
Attention, area fatasses: You're not alone. According to a recent report from the Trust for America's Health, nearly one-quarter of Florida adults are obese, and a third of our children are obese or overweight.
What's most depressing about the report is that Florida's about average. Good news: We rank 39th (out of 50 states and Washington, D.C.) in adult obesity — hard to believe if you've ever been to an area Golden Corral — and compare favorably to the lardbuckets in Mississippi and Alabama, which rank first and second in obesity rates (33 percent and 31 percent, respectively). Not-so-good news: We're 17th in juvenile jumboness.
But here's the deep-fried carrot: According to another study by people who clearly have never lived here, Florida ranks high in something called "brain health," an amalgamation of variables that's supposed to tell you how well the old noggin is functioning. We are 12th! And that's even including our little problem with Alzheimer's, on account of all the olds who live down here.
Most of the top 10 brainiacs are in New England states that eat a lot of fish, which this study likes — but even with our aversion to book learnin' we're doing all right.
Why? According to the folks at Life's DHA ("committed to the discovery and commercialization of life-science based products that promote health and well-being throughout life") who created the index, there are three reasons: We eat fish, most of the people with Alzheimer's die of something else and we have "high involvement in religious/spiritual activities."
Being Jesus-freaky correlates with having a healthy brain? Haven't these people ever heard of Sarah Palin?
Even as legendary pitchman Billy Mays rests peacefully in his Pennsylvania grave, we feel compelled to resurrect his name one last time. Why? Because marketing never dies.
See, a little while ago, Twitter was spawned from hell and with it came the unexpected benefit of morbid curiosity, courtesy of Billy Mays' son Billy Mays — or "@YoungBillyMays" for you hash-tagging hoors — and ever since his initial post about his father "not waking up this morning," following his tweets has become a spectator sport.
In the hours leading up to the Discovery Channel's July 9 airing of Pitchman: A Tribute to Billy Mays (which we watched, of course), the young Mays was urging his followers to hash-tag "#BillyMaysTribute." "EVERYONE retweet please! — Let's make it trend! Tell all your friends!" he maniacally typed. It worked; the topic went all the way up to No. 2 on the Twitter trending list. Fine, but more disturbing were updates like, "Prepare to laugh your ass off and cry your eyes out (And hear my music in the `background`)."
You see, young Billy has a band, unremarkable instrumentalists Soft Words Traverse, and like most people in bands that nobody would ever hear unless somebody famous in their family died, he has decided to rush-release three of his songs to iTunes and Amazon to capitalize on the moment.
"I caught some negative comments about me getting my ‘15 minutes' out of this and it kinda got to me. Couldn't be further from the truth," he tweeted in his defense. Voyeurism feels dirty.
Speaking of people that we always talk about, Eli Tobias of Black Chapel Tattoo Studio is back in hot, inky water, only this time it's not in tony Winter Park. Now Eli's Cocoa Beach location is under fire.
According to Florida Today, the city hopes to restrict tattoo businesses — and only tattoo businesses — from being within 2,000 feet of each other. The plan follows previous Cocoa Beach regulations forbidding indoor furniture and kegs from the beach in the last four years, which makes you wonder about residents of Cocoa Beach, doesn't it?
Tobias claims that certain city planners have said that people sporting tattoos are a "blight" and that the all-powerful city manager, Charles Billias, has taken to personal attacks on Tobias, yelling at him "like I was a 5-year-old" when Tobias was ordered to stop showing his logo on a tent at the beach.
The city will have to hold two public hearings before the regulations go through, and Tobias says that he's been told that businesses already in operation will be grandfathered in, but that's not stopping him from making a statement. He's planning on assembling at least 200 people to voice their outrage at the as-yet-unannounced public hearing. Cocoa Beach residents: Get those couches on the beach and your tattooed babies down to City Hallfirstname.lastname@example.org