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Catching a Falling Knife & The Stimulus

2/27/09

Have you ever dropped a two sided sharp knife and for a split reflex second thought about trying to catch it. Hopefully, that little alert light went off in your head and the best decision – wait till it hits the floor, was what you decided on.

As of today, our economy is like that knife, it is in free fall. Millions of Americans would love to reach out and catch that knife, just before it hits bottom, but their gut tells them otherwise. The savvy investor or consumer knows that if you buy a house, car, or stocks before the knife hits bottom, you stand a great chance of being cut.

One of the many things that anoys me about the Obama Stimulus package is their reluctance to let the knife hit bottom. Because this administration is trying to be all things to all people, he is preventing the knife from hitting bottom.

President Obama must stop interfering with the natural process of capitalism by buying up “toxic” assets, propping up companies that are on life support, and the soft socialism of supporting people owning homes that have never fit rational lending practices.

Credit markets must be allowed to flow, and I understand that, but to prop up companies that would be better off restructuring through bankruptcy courts is pandering to the populist crowd. Yes, I know, Bush did the same thing and so was he wrong.
President Obama and company, believe in capitalism. Let the knife hit the floor so we can do what we have always done – recover and rebuild.

Guy Midkiff

Published in: on February 27, 2009 at 8:50 am  Leave a Comment  

Red Light Cameras & Yellow Light Lengths

2/26/09

Recently I was invited to testify at a red light camera hearing, by State Senator Jim Lembke (R) of St. Louis, sponsor of Senate Bill 211,  which would ban the use of Red Light Camera’s in Missouri.

Link to SB 211:

http://www.senate.mo.gov/09info/bts_web/Bill.aspx?SessionType=R&BillID=588955

Unfortunately the bill died in committee, receiving only two votes. To describe my experience testifying as frustrating, is an understatement. I was given 2 minutes to lay out a case against red light cameras – which is impossible considering the complexities of the issue.

I simply asked the committee how Red Light Cameras prevent accidents at intersections? To know this answer, one most know why drivers plow through intersections and how sensitive this behavior is to external stimulus such as the threat of a red light camera ticket.

What “independent” research shows time and time again is that the vast majority of drivers that run red lights are distracted, for a myriad of reasons, and show no sensitivity to a camera. For the very small minority that intentionally run red lights, very few result in accidents because of “all way” red light sequencing. This gives opposing drivers an added degree of safety in the event a red light is ran.

To the credit of red light camera operators, this small subset of offenders, is sensitive to red light cameras. But again, these drivers, by and large, are not causing the horrific T-bone type accidents.

This brings me back to the conversation of yellow light sequence timing. All of our HW 100 intersections have yellow light sequence lengths of exactly 4.01 seconds – regardless of the approach speeds. And on HW 100 we have 45 mph and 55 mph opposing intersections.

This is problematic. Simply put, a car traveling 45 mph is traveling at 66 feet per second. Applying a standard co-efficient of friction (.7), a constant deceleration rate of 15 feet per second can be derived. What that means is that your average 4,000 pound car will take about 4.1 seconds  to decelerate to a complete stop.

But the problem, which is already obvious, gets worse. It takes the brain of an average person about 1 second to recognize the change from green to yellow and about another second for the brain to send a signal to the foot to begin braking.

In the best of situations, our yellow light should be set at 6.1 seconds for the 45 mph approach, certainly not the current 4.01 seconds.

The situation is even worse for the approach to Jefferson, on HW 100, from the west. This speed is 55 mph and is poorly marked, with no speed signs all the way back to the Washington West Elementary School intersection.

This fact alone, already causes apprehension and indecision on the part of the driver. The deceleration rate for 55 mph, is about 5.5 seconds, with an additional 2 seconds for recognition and response. This suggests a 7.5 second yellow light as opposed to the current 4.01. second yellow light.

Part of the problem is a complete lack of light length standards on the part of MoDot. I have brought this point up with MoDot management, in the past, and nothing has been done about it. MoDot determines light sequence lengths – not the City of Washington. I believe this to be an unsafe situation for roads and should be addressed immediately before someone is seriously injured.

And btw, these numbers can change by as much as 40% for an 80,000 pound tractor trailer, an elderly driver, or adverse driving conditions.

Now, try explaining this to a transportation committee in 2 minutes or less. And most regrettably, I didn’t have a chance to give the proper recognition to the gentlemen in the $4000 Armani Suits, seated behind me, from the red light camera companies.

Source Documents:
Vehicle Stopping Distance And Time
Longer Yellow Lights reduce accidents

Guy W. Midkiff
Ward III, Councilman
Washington, Mo.

Published in: on February 26, 2009 at 11:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

Camp Street Bridge – No STIM $$

2-25-09

I was just notified by the Mayor’s office that the Camp Street Bridge project will not receive stimulus package money. I do believe Camp Street Bridge is still ton the radar screen, though, for matching funds from one of the state entities.

We did receive just over $935,000 in street repaving funds. It will be interesting to see if there is going to be enough vendors to handle the asphalt needs for the nation, this summer. I see this as being a real problem.

Stayed tuned.

Guy Midkiff

Published in: on February 25, 2009 at 12:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Blog Exceeds 10,000 Hits!

I am happy to announce that my Blog went over 10,000 views, today.

Blog Stats Summary Tables

Total views: 10,107

Busiest day: 186 — Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Published in: on February 19, 2009 at 9:15 am  Leave a Comment  

Councilman To Introduce Ordinance on Restitution

2/5/09

During the last council meeting, Councilman Langoendorfer brought up an interesting conversation on restitution. Apparently there was an incident where damage was done to city property and the amount recovered from the individual that caused the damage failed to cover actual damages, leaving the city (taxpayer) with thousands in out-of-pocket expenses.

A quick paced conversation followed, where all the councilmen opined (myself included) as to the merit of formulating such an ordinance that would require restitution to be adequate to cover damages. The council voted unanimously to support Councilman Langendoerfer’s motion and the City Attorney will begin drafting the appropriate language for a new ordinance as soon as possible.

The balancing act will be making sure a judge still has the latitude to use as much discretion as possible in resolving such cases.

Published in: on February 5, 2009 at 8:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Join Backstoppers – Give to Fallen Police and Firemen’s Families

2/5/09

Chief Hahn, at the last City Council meeting, invited all of Washington and the City Council to join Backstoppers:

A Safety Net with No Strings Attached

Started in 1959, The BackStoppers provides needed support and financial assistance to the spouses and children of all local and county police officers, firefighters, publicly-funded paramedics and EMTs and volunteer fire protection units, who have lost their lives performing their duty. Deaths from natural causes, illnesses or injuries are outside the organization’s scope.

The BackStoppers provides assistance to counties served by Missouri State Highway Patrol Troop C in Missouri and Illinois State Police District 11 in Illinois.

Missouri State Highway Patrol Troop C Counties Served:

Franklin
Jefferson
Lincoln
Perry
Pike
St. Charles
St. Francois
St. Louis City
St. Louis County
Ste. Genevieve
Warren
Washington

I fully support and have joined this organization. To join, click on this link: Backstoppers

Published in: on February 5, 2009 at 11:21 am  Leave a Comment  
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Economic Recovery Program Coming to Washmo ?

2/5/09

During the February 2nd, 2009 City Council meeting, we were presented a wish list of what is euphemistically called “shovel ready” projects. Shovel ready is important because it means these are projects that can be  quickly approved, already have engineering and DNR approval. In short, shovels can begin digging immediately once approved by the Obama administration.

Here is list of Round One Projects:

  • W. Main and Grand Ave. resurfacing      $169,300
    W. 8th resurfacing                                        $290,000
    Clay resurfacing                                            $155,250
    Old H/W 100 resurfacing                           $42,000
    Camp St. Bridge construction                    $450,000

Round Two Projects:

  • Front and Elm Streetscape                                        $2,500,000
    H/W 100 widening to the west                                 $15 million
    H/w A to YY ditch & shoulder work                          TBA
    Old H/W 100 replace bridge                                       TBA

John Rhodes tried to pass a resolution that would remove the Camp Street bridge as a project. Ultimately, his proposal failed to gain council support and the Mohesky version passed, including all recovery items.

My thinking was that I would rather have a bird in hand than 10 in the bush. I commented that if we were to get approval for the Camp Street Bridge, I would go back to my constituents and seek their guidance for an up or down vote as to whether or not we should except the funding.

Most of my objection to the Camp Street Bridge was cost and justification. Many of my arguments are neutralized if the bridge is built free and “free” is what I really want to talk about regarding this subject of “stimulus.”

In the 1930’s America had their own version of the Obama stimulus package and it was called the “New Deal.” While many like to reconstruct history and romanticize about FDR and his “New Deal,” reality sometimes takes a back seat to popularized myths.

By 1939 Roosevelt’s own Treasury Secretary, Henry Morgenthau, had realized that the New Deal economic policies had failed. “We have tried spending money,” Morgenthau wrote in his diary. “We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work. . . . After eight years of this Administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started. . . . And an enormous debt to boot!”

The reality is that in early 1933, the unemployment rate was 25%. After 5 years of the “New Deal” and billions of “then” dollars spent, the unemployment rate was still near 20%. Big whoopty-do.

And as Obama attempts to create some 4 million government jobs for Americans, he will be re-tracing the exact same miss-steps and making the exact same mistakes as did FDR – growth will come from government not private industry, private industry that pays taxes and is the hallmark for innovation and true prosperity. Volumes have been written on how the New Deal eviscerated American competitiveness and created the hydra-headed monster of big business collusion.

In 1937 even Roosevelt admitted  the ineptness of his decision as a secondary depression crippled the economy. “The disappearance of price competition,” he said, “is one of the primary causes of the difficulties.”

I think, no, I know this is a bad idea. For a “very” short term gain, we will be strapping future generations of Americans with trillions of dollars in debt, as the treasury money presses go into hyper-drive. We will increase the government size in ways that can not even be imagined. If anyone thinks this is a good idea, go back and reread your history books. Look at New Jersey, now, a state that government has become the largest industry in that garden state, ditto for California. Citizens are fleeing those states faster than rats off of a sinking ship.

The same government that got us into this mess is now going to deliver us from it? I don’t think I am buying this horse hockey sandwich. This “Stimulus Package” was not good for America in 1933 and is not good for America in 2009.

Guy Midkiff. ………….. .COMMENTS BELOW SENT TO MY EMAIL ACCOUNT:

Guy,
I just wanted to vent a little on the Mayors comment on the Camp Street Bridge possibly being funded by the bailout funding. He said it will not cost the taxpayers anything. Where does he think its coming from? (THIS PORTION OF THE WRITERS EMAIL HAS BEEN REDACTED>>GWM)? It may be Federal Tax money or State Tax money but in the end it is still TAX MONEY.

Please forward.

Thanks,

Fuel Taxes

Did your know:

The federal tax on fuel is 18.4 cents per gallon, regardless of the pump price.

The state tax is 17 cents per gallon, regardless of the pump price, for a grand total of 35.4 cents per gallon purchased at the pump.

Missouri is estimating that the cash in the road funds will decrease from the current $1.8 billion to just under $560 million by 2010.

If I were a betting man, I think we could be looking at higher gas taxes in the near future.

Published in: on February 4, 2009 at 4:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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City Council Voted to Increase Water Rates

2-2-09

Last night we voted to increase water rates for Washington. We were given a presentation from the water works board, several weeks prior. In that presentation, we were told that the water department is predicted to run a deficit some time in 2010. Their recommendation was to increase water rates.

While I am very sensitive about raising the costs to citizens about anything, Washington has not had a raise in many years. If there is anything to like about an increase it was the fact that our senior citizens would be protected my keeping the increase to a $1.50 for the first 1500 gallons of water used. This will now cost $6.50 instead of $5.00. There will be a graduated increase in the 10% range for amounts above the first 1500 gallons.

Published in: on February 3, 2009 at 10:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

Just Another Reporter?

2-3-09

Last night, during city council, I glanced over at Ed Pruneau, Missourian Managing Editor, feverishness scribbling away on his legal pad. I will be upfront and say I don’t agree with some of what Ed writes but conversely, I do agree with most of what he reports.

But this is not my point. My point is one of consistency, dogged determination and endurance. For example, I was doing a topic search on the eMissourian when I realized Ed had been reporting – consistently – since as far back as I could search – 1999. And while I can’t say for sure, I would suspect he has been doing this beat for much longer.

Ed is a professional reporter and I think is talented enough to work for the New York Times (heaven forbid), if he would ever be so inclined. The community and I must respect the shear depth and breath of his work. Will some of the council and I sling stones at him from time to time? Yes, we most certainly will, when we think he gets it wrong. But this should not lead one to believe I do not have considerable respect for what he does. His boss buys ink by the tonne, I replace my laser printer cartridge once a year. The only way to defend my positions is in council and on this blog.

Keep up the good work Ed. Continue to be objective and call them like you see them. This is all one can ask for at the end of the day.

(Scroll down for comments on this post.)

Published in: on February 3, 2009 at 8:25 am  Comments (4)  
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Senate Bill 211 – End Red Light Cameras?

Senator Jim Lembke Introduces
His First Bills in Missouri Senate
Hopeful Senate Bill 211 Will Result in Stopping
Usage of Red Light Cameras

— State Senator Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis, introduced one of his
priority bills on the Senate floor yesterday (1/20). Senate Bill 211 would prohibit cities from using automated red light cameras to enforce traffic violations. “These ‘red light’ cameras are being used as revenue enhancers within municipalities and profit out-of-state companies,”
Sen. Lembke said. “The cameras can’t prove who’s driving the vehicle, and many people argue this method of traffic enforcement disregards a
person’s Fifth Amendment rights and forces self-incrimination. This is an example of big government and ‘Big Brother’ at its worst.”

While the starting salary for a commissioned St. Louis police officer is $37,514 a year, one red light camera costs around $56,000 a year to operate. Senator Lembke also introduced Senate Bill 210, Senate Joint Resolution 9, Senate Joint Resolution 10, and Senate Joint Resolution 11 on the Senate floor.

“I am hopeful these bills will make it onto the governor’s desk,” Sen. Lembke said. “While all of these items are important to me, SB 211 is one of my priorities this year.”

End of Story

From Guy Midkiff:
The primary argument for the devices, “safety”, simply is not accurate. In every incident where entities have proclaimed miraculous increases in accident statistics, there has been significant evidence of bias and a flawed application of analytical processes. Municipalities have sometime entered into unholy alliances with red light camera companies where greed and profit  have become the corner stone of their existence. Also, insurance companies – the usual generator of statistical “studies,” stand to add millions to their bottom lines, not to mention how much red light camera companies and municipalities can add to balance sheets and general revenue funds. Follow the money if you really want to know the truth about red light camera operations.

Your bill makes no mention of standards for camera installation and in fact there is no federal or state standard for intersection design criteria. In Washington, where we have two intersections with cameras, the yellow light length is 4.01 seconds – regardless of the approach speed. If anyone is serious about intersection safety then the first step is to match yellow light length with approach speeds.

If you look at data collected as a result of fatalities at intersections, what you will find is the real culprit for “deep red” light penetrations is caused by distraction and impairment. NO red light camera can stop this; they can only record the accident aftermath. It is also interesting to note that rear end collisions increase dramatically as local drivers are trained to brake aggressively at the first hint of a yellow light. They will do anything to avoid a $100 ticket, and when automobiles with dissimilar braking capabilities brake aggressively, the results are often disastrous.

Published in: on February 2, 2009 at 3:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Future Mileage Tax For Missouri?

The following is an article that I came across in the Post. The story is about using GPS’ in cars to monitor miles driven. It is ironic that only one year ago I wrote about this very subject. I wrote that it is not too far fetched having GPS installed in cars to automatically fine drivers that exceed the speed limit by….even 1 mph.  Now, Oregon will probably be the first to install the GPS systems in order to monitor all drivers, 24/7.

If big brother knows how much you drive, they know where you drive, how fast you drive and anything else related to your driving habits. This is the slippery slope argument that has always concerned me. Once government sinks their tentacles into you, they rarely, if ever, let go.

The Story: http://www.stltoday.com.


A mileage tax isn’t yet under consideration in Missouri or Illinois, but it is an idea that’s probably inevitable in the next two or three decades, said Pete Rahn, head of the Missouri Department of Transportation.

“We will end up paying for what we drive, where we drive and when we drive,” he said.

Rahn envisons a tax where “if you want to drive a Hummer, or whatever that vehicle might be 30 years from today, at 7:30 in the morning on I-70, you’re going to pay a higher rate. If you’re going to drive a Civic on side streets at 10:30 in the morning, you’re going to pay a lower rate.”

The obstacle isn’t technology, Rahn added.

“The hugest impediments to implementing this type of system are the privacy issues,” he said. “Americans don’t like the idea that someone, or the reality would be some machine, would know when you drove or where you drove.”

In Oregon, Gov. Theodore Kulongoski’s proposed budget calls for a task force to work out details of the plan. Eventually, GPS devices could be recording every mile driven, and possibly which routes motorists use. Motorists would pay a mileage tax at the pump in place of a gasoline tax. The state tested the concept in 2006 and 2007 with 285 volunteers and a handful of gas stations in Portland, Ore.

The idea of mileage fees is gaining traction. States such as Texas, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Ohio are discussing similar projects.

“What’s motivating us is this concern about the long-term viability of the motor fuel tax,” said Ken Buckeye, program manager for the Minnesota Department of Transportation. “Particularly now, the tax you pay for using the road is based on consumption of the wrong commodity. We think it should be based on consumption of the road.”

The concept also is gaining federal support. Last year, the National Surface Transportation Police and Revenue Study Commission established by Congress reported that a mileage tax should be “strongly considered as a long-term replacement for the current fuel tax.”

A study under way at the University of Iowa is looking at the technological and institutional issues, as well as potential public response, involved with mileage fees.

In states such as Illinois, California, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Iowa, legislators are considering raising the gasoline tax for the time being to fill budget gaps and potholes, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In Missouri, revenue from the 17-cent tax on gasoline and diesel fuel is expected to be $498 million, down from $520 million collected in 2008.

Opponent to the plan in Oregon made privacy a top concern. Many are concerned that a mileage taxing system could lead to government officials’ tracking their whereabouts.

“I see this as a privacy invasion,” one man commented on the Argus Observer website, a newspaper in Ontario, Ore. “Whose business is it how often and how much I drive my car?”

Jim Whitty, manager of the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Office of Innovative Partnerships and Alternative Funding, said the state had no interest in tracking people.

“The people who have spoken up are intense about it,” he said. “They’re very concerned about issues like privacy and whether green vehicles would be at a disadvantage.”

In the Portland test, vehicles and gas stations were equipped with technology similar to that in cell phones and electronic toll collection systems. When drivers pulled up to a gas pump, the vehicle equipment would broadcast the mileage traveled since the previous fill-up. The station charged the motorists 1.2 cents per mile rather than the state’s 24-cent gasoline tax.

The equipment did not pinpoint vehicle locations, but it was able to determine when a driver had left the state. It also kept track of what time of day the car was driven so a premium could be charged for rush-hour driving.

Lee Younglove, who volunteered for the pilot test, said he wasn’t concerned about privacy but had friends who were. He has come to believe a mileage tax is more equitable way of paying for roads and bridges.

“There are cars now that are plug-in electrics. They don’t pay anything,” he said.

For the time being, Oregon legislators are considering raising the state gasoline tax by 2 cents. The time frame for implementing a mileage tax, Whitty said, is at least six or seven years away.

If the state continues to move toward a mileage tax, equipment would have to go through another round of tests. Policy decisions would have to be made, such as whether to charge a higher fee for heavier, gas-guzzling vehicles.

And if electric cars grow in number, the state would have to find another place besides gas stations to charge mileage fees.

“Once we know their habits, we’ll create a system for them,” Whitty said.

ecrouch@post-dispatch.com — 314-340-8119

To see more of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.stltoday.com.

Published in: on February 2, 2009 at 2:52 pm  Comments (1)  
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Stimulus or PORK!

Something to keep in mind: Jobs are what is left when the work is over. At best, these represent work, not jobs.

Some highlights of the “stimulus” package according to USA Today and WSJ:

$544 billion in new spending

$125 billion for public education including $20 billion for school renovations and $79 billion to avoid education related layoffs

$87 billion for Medicaid

$30 billion goes to road projects

$27 billion to continue unemployment insurance benefits

$20 billion for food stamps

$20 billion to digitize medical records

$8 billion for renewable energies

$7 billion for modernizing federal buildings

$6 billion for mass transit

$5 billion for for the construction and repair of public housing

$4 billion for community activist programs such as ACORN

$2 billion for child care subsidies

$650 million for coupons for digital TV conversions

$400 million for global warming research

$335 million for STD prevention

$50 million for National Endowment of the Arts

* Republicans pushed the Democrats into dropping money for family planning and restoration of the National Mall

* the WSJ estimates that just 12% of the package could be considered a growth stimulus

$275 billion in new tax cuts

$145 billion: Tax cuts for 95% of working Americans, $500 for individuals, $1000 for couples and small business for 2 years

$23 billion: $1000 per child tax credit

$20 billion for company equipment write offs

$16 billion in “green” tax credits

$10 billion: $2500 credit for college

$6.9 billion for homeowner tax credits

Published in: on February 2, 2009 at 8:13 am  Leave a Comment