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Martinez's ethics fall short of what voters should expect

A Times Editorial
Published April 9, 2005

Re: Martinez aide wrote Schiavo politics memo, April 7.

Filling Florida legend Bob Graham's shoes was never going to be an easy task for Republican Sen. Mel Martinez, but nobody could have expected this catastrophe. His performance in office has been an absolute embarrassment and he is quickly ripping apart the spirit of common-sense politics in Florida.

Since leaving the Bush administration and announcing his run for the Senate, good ol' Mel has been a living, breathing puppet for the White House. But the problem is deeper than just his role as loyal lapdog. His ethics fall well short of what we expect from our leaders and he seems to have no clue as to what is going on around him.

In 2002 he played dumb when builder groups wrongfully funneled money to him. When Betty Castor was unfairly slimed for her handling of Sami Al-Arian, Martinez was clueless as to who was behind the attacks. He remained strangely silent when Ezzie Thomas, an individual who worked for Martinez's past local campaigns, was arrested for violating campaign laws. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer was arrested for his relationship with Thomas; why not Martinez?

Sen. Martinez is again pleading ignorance to the infamous Terri Schiavo memo. The memo, which labeled Schiavo "a great political issue," originated from Martinez's office. Although his chief legal counsel wrote the memo, the senator claims he never saw it. Of course! The question is: Did Martinez really never see it, or is he being dishonest? Either way, we have a serious problem.

Floridians deserve better than Mel Martinez. We don't expect perfection, but how about a little decency and honesty?

Kevin King, St. Petersburg Blame it on the aides

Re: Martinez aide wrote Schiavo politics memo.

That Mel Martinez just seems to have unbelievably bad luck selecting aides. It was not Martinez but a senior aide in his office who wrote the heartlessly opportunistic Schiavo memo.

I seem to recall that it was also a senior campaign aide responsible for the shameless and slanderous memo that made false claims trashing former Rep. Bill McCollum in the days preceding the Republican primary.

Both those aides accepted full responsibility for their reprehensible actions and resigned. Well, thank goodness Sen. Martinez himself has clean hands. It was his succession of wayward aides that did it, all on their own. Right, Mel?

Robert Sterling, St. Petersburg An embarrassing revelation

Re: Martinez aide wrote Schiavo politics memo.

The cheeks of conservative demagogues and pundits across the nation are burning today. Virtually every right-wing Web site, columnist and blogger has either condemned the infamous "Schiavo memo" to be a fake or prejudicially speculated upon the possibility. And now the embarrassing truth has come out.

Yes, it is none other than our own Tom DeLay wannabe and sycophant extraordinaire, Sen. Mel Martinez, who is responsible for the memo - or at least should be. Unsurprisingly, Martinez denies any knowledge of the matter even though he had "unbeknownst to" himself handed Sen. Tom Harkin a copy of it. Slippery Mel claims the memo was ("unilaterally" and unknown to him, of course) propagated by one of his aides who has since fallen on his sword for the boss. I might actually buy the story had Martinez not already revealed his true and sleazy nature during the Republican primary for his current position.

Hopefully almost all of those who voted Martinez into office are by now as red-faced as the conservative hacks of the blogosphere and regretting their choice. They certainly should be.

David Carroll, St. Petersburg Report was misleading

Re: Lured employers now tax Medicaid, March 25, and Wal-Mart welfare, editorial, March 27.

On behalf of the Florida Retail Federation, which represents the second-largest employment industry in the state, I am deeply disappointed that the St. Petersburg Times' reporting on the number of retail employees qualified for public health care either ignores or underplays several salient points.

Job creation reduces the number of residents who rely on Medicaid, and entry-level jobs help people move toward self-sufficiency and away from dependence on public aid. A casual reader of the Times, however, might be left with the incorrect impression that retail companies actually increase dependence on Medicaid when they create jobs.

It is the nature of the retail industry that many jobs are low-skill positions filled by people just entering the work force. In our experience, we find that most new employees quickly improve their skills and move on to better positions with higher pay and improved benefits, leaving the Medicaid rolls forever. Retailers have played a large part in facilitating the welfare-to-work transition of thousands of residents living in poverty.

Because retailers are among the largest employers in Florida and the United States, they are naturally ranked high on many lists, from total wages paid to total corporate donations to charity. Reporting that Wal-Mart, or any other large employer, has a high number of employees eligible for Medicaid, without a proportional comparison with any other employer, is a misleading tactic.

When retailers benefit from economic-development incentives, those benefits are passed on to the state's residents in the form of more jobs and higher tax revenue to fund public services. Suggesting that this type of economic growth is bad for the state defies logic.

Rick McAllister, president and CEO, Florida Retail Federation, Tallahassee Incentive programs have value

Your article (Lured employers now tax Medicaid) and subsequent editorial (Wal-Mart welfare) was a misrepresentation of the facts and a disservice to your readers.

Gov. Jeb Bush is strongly committed to creating a thriving economy that encourages high-value jobs with opportunities for all Floridians. Yet you discredit important incentive programs that enable our state to be competitive in attracting value-added jobs to communities where they are most needed. Under the performance-based contracts the state has entered into with Wal-Mart, over 1,000 new high-value jobs will be created in DeSoto and Baker counties - jobs that would have gone elsewhere had it not been for incentives programs like Florida's Qualified Target Industry (QTI) tax refund and Enterprise Zones.

The two Wal-Mart distribution center projects you mention in your article are paying 164 percent of the local average wage. Put another way, if the average worker in DeSoto and Baker counties makes approximately $22,000 a year, employees at Wal-Mart's distribution center would make $36,000. And, without Wal-Mart's commitment to locate and expand into Florida, 1,000 of our rural residents would be without those jobs.

The QTI tax refund and incentive programs like it are an investment in the state and local community. In fact, for every dollar the state returns to the company in the form of QTI tax refund, the state gets $12 back. In the case of these two Wal-Mart distribution centers, the state has paid $1.35-million in tax refunds, which will realize a return of more than $16.2-million. And, let us not forget, no refund is given if the company does not meet its contractually agreed upon commitment to create and maintain a set number of jobs. It is that simple.

The St. Petersburg Times appears to denigrate the value of these jobs, and the impact they will have on the local communities. Yet, the employees will tell you how glad they are to have these jobs, which pay above the local average and provide extra income to spend where desired. In turn, the commercial activity associated with projects like these helps transform neighborhoods in distress, and creates important local opportunities, putting infrastructure to work, filling unoccupied space, building new operations, and creating economic momentum. Wal-Mart's capital investment in Baker County alone could increase the local tax base by approximately 10 to 15 percent. Despite your sensational reporting, we will continue to work with the governor to attract high-value jobs through programs like the QTI Tax Refund program and Enterprise Zones because they make a difference in our state's competitiveness, and they make a difference in people's lives.

Darrell Kelley, president and CEO, Enterprise Florida Inc., Orlando Lap belts alone are dangerous

There is a common misconception that all seat belts are safe.

This is especially true with a state law requiring the inclusion of lap belts on school buses. Nothing is more important than the safety of our children. But there are numerous studies, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report, which conclude that lap belts alone provide little protection to students and increase the incidence of serious neck injuries and possibly abdominal injury among young passengers. Lap belts in combination with a shoulder harness do provide additional protection but greatly reduce the seating capacity of school buses.

That's why I am sponsoring SB 734, which would make it optional rather than mandatory for school districts to purchase school buses equipped with seat belts. This bill and a House companion bill, HB 343, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, would modify a law passed in 1999 that requires districts to purchase buses equipped with lap seat belts.

Let's look at some facts regarding what can be an emotional issue:

Riding a school bus is extremely safe. Compartmentalization, rollover protection, special loading/unloading lights and multiple emergency exits make school bus travel approximately eight times safer than travel in other types of vehicles.

In 2002, NHTSA concluded a two-year study on school bus safety that stated "lap belts could increase the incidence of serious neck injuries and possibly abdominal injury among young passengers in severe frontal crashes."

In late 2002, Congress passed a law that bans the installation of lap belts in most cars.

Lap/shoulder restraints provide the most protection but reduce school bus capacity between 25 and 50 percent. This would require districts to purchase a large number of new buses, add more routes, hire more drivers, provide more maintenance, etc.

My bill simply gives local districts the choice. They can purchase buses with or without lap belts. I want nothing more than to protect our children, but I would hate to see them injured by obsolete technology that is outlawed in most automobiles.

Sen. Paula Dockery, Lakeland Bush's Social Security scheme

I have asked this question of the media and Congress and never have seen or heard an answer.

If and when King George and his mean-spirited buddies privatize Social Security, there will be a sum of money in a person's name (personal account). If people have serious financial problems such as poor health, education or heavy debt, would they not be able to access their own personal accounts?

Oh, they say, "You won't be able to touch it"... until the first court decision that says, "It's their money and they need it."

Wall Street will siphon off huge amounts from the money the government is about to borrow. Then, when people start to take their money out of their own accounts, it will be the beginning of the end of Social Security. That is what they have wanted since the beginning, and they can blame the people for ruining Social Security!

John Culkin, St. Petersburg Ignoring the current crisis The Medicare program is financed by enrollees paying premiums into the Medicare Trust Fund, which pays medical expenses. Over the years, premiums collected have been in excess of payout requirements, creating a cash surplus.

It has been the practice of Congress yearly to divert this excess cash and use it for funding of federal budget expenditures not related to Medicare activities. Such expenditures run the gamut from financing foreign wars, defense and State Department budgets to domestic programs such as farm subsidies. In exchange, the Medicare Trust Fund receives federal IOUs for future payment. Does this pattern sound familiar - a la the Social Security program?

According to Medicare trustees, Medicare began higher payouts in benefits than received in income last year (as compared to 2017 forecasted for Social Security). Premiums already have increased 17 percent this year and are forecasted to go up another 12 percent. A quote from a recent trustee report: "Medicare's financial outlook has deteriorated dramatically over the past five years and is now much worse than Social Security."

Ho-hum. Neither President Bush nor the Republican leadership in Congress has outlined any comprehensive, high-priority legislative program to address this impending financial meltdown. Apparently the current "crisis" public-relations traveling show by President Bush to promote a "savings" program for a selected few (which may or may not be successful 40 to 50 years from now) is more important than addressing today's needs to continue providing affordable health coverage for our senior citizens.

Larry Dosh, St. Petersburg Not too sharp

Re: The drop in taxpayer compliance, editorial, April 2.

The editorial writer cites Internal Revenue Service statistics that show "in 1966, the IRS did nearly 2-million individual audits. In 2000, that number fell to 618,000. High-income audits dropped even more sharply (emphasis mine), from 210,000 to 100,000 during those same years."

In percentage terms this might read: The drop in total individual audits was 69.1 percent. High-income audits dropped less sharply, 52.4 percent. If the writer intended to imply the IRS was showing favoritism to high-income filers, his implication is not supported by the data shown. In fact, it tends to the opposite.

J.C. Weiler, Tierra Verde A Times carrier's good deed

I want to publicly thank my St. Petersburg Times carrier for a kind deed done for me. I am handicapped and so have a mailbox on my front porch. The U.S. Postal Service allows this so that I do not have to walk down a long front lawn and cross the street (or drive around in my car) and retrieve my mail.

Recently I took a couple pieces of mail to be picked up and, in the process of leaning my cane against the post, I knocked it off the porch. I was fearful of trying to go down the step to get it because I didn't want to risk falling so I left it, hopeful someone would come and pick it up for me. I was able to get back into the house. I have a spare cane inside and used it when I went out later in the day to get my mail. I thought perhaps the postal carrier would see it and put it on the porch but even though she had to step over it, she didn't touch it.

The next morning, when I went out to get my Times, I found my carrier had picked it up and put it right at my door. How I appreciated it! When you have to rely on others to do some of the most elementary things sometimes, it means a lot to have them see your need and help you out.

So, whoever you are, please accept my heartfelt thanks for a good deed you didn't have to do but did, and made this old lady feel so good!

Barbara Leary, Ruskin

[Last modified April 9, 2005, 07:10:29]

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