Turning vision into reality
It seems like only yesterday, actually 1983, that H.L. Culbreath, then the president of Tampa Electric Co., approached me for a gift to the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. Culbreath, along with Mandel "Hinks" Shimberg, had a vision in the early 1980s that Tampatown needed a performing arts hall, and the Culbreath/Shimberg combo made it happen.
Never before in the annals of Tampa history had such an endeavor been undertaken, but all it takes is a vision and a few folks stepping up to the plate. At that time I was a purveyor of services to TECO, and HL, as he was known, put the whammy on me and about 50-plus other citizens, and what is now known as the Straz Center for the Performing Arts was reality.
But it takes more than just gifts to make a cultural center successful. It takes leadership. Enter Judy Lisi in 1992. The center being in the black, an unknown amongst most arts halls, Lisi made that the color of the day. She is a super performer!
Fast forward to 2009, and David Straz steps forward with a gift that will sustain the center for many years. So as I look back to that day when HL put the touch on me, I am proud to say it was the best check my wife and I ever wrote.
The Straz Center has provided quality entertainment to all who enter and is an example of how a vision can become reality.
In light of the Chicago public school teachers' strike and recent stories about outlandish municipal employees' salaries accompanied by equally outlandish retirement packages, it occurs to me that, unless and until all of these retirement plans are converted to defined contribution and/or 401(k) plans, there should be federal legislation that sets a maximum retirement benefit payable to any government employee. That should include the president, Congress and military recipients as well.
I suggest that a limit of 50 percent of pay, to a maximum limit of 75 percent of the Federal General Schedule Salary for a GS-15, Step 10, would be a good starting point. That number for 2012 is $129,517 per year, and 75 percent of that is $97,138. Consider that those earning at these levels and above have had more than ample ability to fund additional retirement and investment accounts — as long as they have lived within their means. So, this limit should certainly never create a hardship.
It's fairly typical that municipal employees and military can retire at 50 percent of pay with 20 years' service. Some would argue we will lose quality employees if we don't continue to expand that cap. I would argue the "carrot" that will keep them on the job is the attained (increasing) annual salary (and benefits), plus that the future retirement benefit for most employees will continue to increase. Also, annual and sick leave should be used or forfeited. Payment for accumulated leave is an additional expense to the taxpayer that is not budgeted. When an employee fails to use it, he or she cashes in unused leave upon retiring, costing taxpayers millions. The Chicago public school system estimates it will pay out $52 million in 2012 for unused sick leave.
Excessive benefits are typically granted by elected officials who have promised generous benefits and pay to municipal employees' unions without regard for the ability to meet the obligations. When will this madness stop? Never, if we re-elect Barack Obama, who has promised continued allegiance to the unions that put him in office.
Stop Florida's bleeding
After reading the glowing reviews about living in Florida and the wonderful fees, charges and taxes in recent letters to the editor, one has to wonder what a great group these writers would make to welcome newcomers. Their warm greeting is, "This is Florida, Jack. You don't like our little greedy state? Go back to Michigan or New York or wherever you come from, and take your money with you." Wow — what a concept. Don't try to fix the situation. Let's just continue the bleeding.
More people leave this state every year than move to it. For years, that was not the case. In turn this puts a greater burden on the rest of us, a large group of which is on fixed incomes. We need to reverse this. We need to make Florida more attractive to potential home buyers and citizens from everywhere. Our cities and counties are running on shoe strings because the tax base has been dropping. Let's change some things to make Florida a better place, one that attracts newcomers, not writes epitaphs that tell everyone to go somewhere else.