Friday, February 18, 2005

Tort Reform

The tort attorneys got a mild setback today by our elected officials. Chalk this small win up to George Bush and the Republicans. Had Kerry-Dean ticket been elected, this rape of businesses would have continued because the Democrat ticket was beholden to this group of vultures. I’m not going to elaborate on this sorry situation but I hope the asbestos vultures are next to get their comeuppance. My parents and we nine kids lived in a house built in 1925, in which all the water pipes where wrapped in exposed asbestos that flaked off and would be swept from the floor in the basement. My entire family outlived the average human life span, without suffering any effects of asbestos and at no time would any of us tried to blame the makers and sellers of this product.

I firmly believe that most of these asbestos lawsuits were initiated by the tort attorneys to pad their own pockets with little regard as to whether any one suffered by inhaling asbestos. Of course, some did suffer and some died early but they were the ones who were exposed to asbestos fibers five days a week. They are deserving of compensation but not all those others who were encouraged by the torts to join in class action lawsuits where the major dollars went in the vulture’s pockets.

The tobacco lawsuits were mainly tort driven and the major recipients of the huge monetary windfall were not the so called victims but the attorneys and the states. The addicted smoker was left paying a higher cost for his or her smokes. Expect tobacco costs to go higher to offset the massive settlements assessed the makers and to help offset the states massive deficit budgets. Part of the settlements made between the manufactures and the states was an agreement to not let any new discount tobacco companies come in to sell a cheaper product. What a rip-off!! These settlements made between the states and tobacco companies go down as one off the greatest legal frauds of all times. The addicted and in many cases poor people are left to help the manufactures pay the settlements.

Back in the early 1930’s our grade school teacher taught us how smoking deteriorated the lungs but most of the kids felt invincible and went right on smoking. Those smokers I grew up with are mostly all gone by now. Some of them may have joined in class action lawsuits even though they were taught the consequences of their actions but became smokers anyway.

Let’s hope over the next four years more common sense in litigation emerges from the decisions made last November. Let’s also hope that people start taking better care of their health. The media talks about the consequences of abusing ones health but many people ignore the warnings or think they are invincible. Boy, will they find out the price they will pay as they get older!!

Most tort attorneys win settlements of their cases without a trial because the companies being sued can’t afford a wrong decisions made by ignorant judges and the massive penalties assessed by some juries and/or judges. Many of these lawsuits are nuisance or frivolous and laws should be passed making the attorney and client liable for all court costs.

Today’s signing of this tort reform bill is a small step forward with a long way to go before the legal systems we now operate under, are considered democratic and fair.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

The Answer Is Always Yes

An article in the February issue of Forbes is must reading for every tax payer in Peoria. The article is entitled “The Answer Is Always Yes” and asks the question “Where do politicians get the crazy idea that the world need another Convention Center? From the experts, of course”! The article goes on to say “over the last decade cities’ annual capital spending on centers has doubled to $2.4 billion. The projects are frequently backed by expensive feasibility studies from consultants that rarely give a thumbs-down. Seven million square feet will be built in the next few years including Peoria, Illinois. Unmentioned in the ribbon cutting is that the space will be impossible to fill. Attendance has fallen at most centers, this attendance being stolen by such destinations as Orlando and Las Vegas”. The article continues “trade show attendance peaked in the mid 1990. Shows in general are far less relevant. Consolidation in industries has left a smaller pool of exhibitors. So why concrete being is poured in Jackson, Miss., Peoria, Il. and Spokane, Wash? Politicians, playing local hero, are incapable of finding reasons not to build”. The article goes on to give a case history of Portland, Ore., that lost $5.5 million last year on their expanded Center. The Portland Center director is quoted as saying “We lose a lot of shows because we don’t have a big hotel. But it doesn’t pencil out for a private company. A hotel here would need a lot of help”. The article also says St. Louis made a huge convention expansion in 2003 projecting 800,000 rooms per night but are actually only getting half that number of hotel guests. The failure to meet expectations has left St. Louis in a severe financial situation.

The article continues “The assumptions that go into feasibility studies are the problem. Out of 75 potential projects reviewed by the firm Portland hired, only 4 were deemed unfit. Advisors conclusions often fly in the face of logic. Cities are often told that they can overcome obstacles like frigid weather by “specific marketing efforts”.

The article continues by saying “that the failure to fill space is an advantage to show managers who have the upper hand in negotiating”.

I heard today that the estimated cost of our local expansion has jumped from $55 million to $63 million. An article in the JS on 1/25/04 pegged the expansion costs to be 50 million so costs have already risen by more than 25%.

I again suggest you read the February 18 issue of Forbes magazine. Might influence who you vote for next Tuesday but it is probably too late. As they say, “the die is cast” and the future will determine whether Peoria becomes a destination or whether we are spending our way to becoming one of the highest taxed communities in the United States.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

City Elections

With election time only days away I will make these following comments to the voter:

Beware of mayoral candidates that say “I have a vision”. It’s likely they do and it’s likely to cost the taxpayer a lot of money. I will give you a good example; in the recent park board race for president, the incumbent was supported by those who felt he really did have a “vision”. Problem was that his vision is costing the taxpayer a lot of money now and more in the future. Let’s examine his visions:

The RiverPlex - losing over $6000.00 a day with no relief in site.
The new zoo – with the current zoo losing $400,000.00 a year, count on an expansion of 30 million to lose over $1,000,000.00 a year.
The new softball complex – promised as part of the “vision” but going nowhere and by the time it is built, if ever, neighboring communities will have captured most of the tournament revenue, so expect this complex to be a large money loser.
The “vision” of a new skateboard park – built as a Mickey Mouse facility and hidden at the back of Becker Park. See if you can find it and post on this site your opinion of the facility itself and its location. (Visit a real skateboard recreational site in the center of Mineral Springs Park in Pekin and compare).
A new Park Board Administration headquarters will need to be found as soon as the Children Playhouse is placed in the current administration office.

All these “visions” by the reelected PPD incumbent, have already caused the following to happen: $13,000,000.00 in new borrowed money over the past four that will need to be paid off by future genera rations
Park services cut and the cost of programs increased.
No park service is free to the local taxpayer these days. We pay for it in increasing property taxes and increasing fees.

Property taxes will be raised by the Park District to pay for all these “visions” and expect it to happen before the end of 2005. According to Park Board members, it is inevitable.

So beware of keeping an incumbent in office just because they say they “have a vision”. The challengers have visions too, only their visions appear to be more realistic and affordable to this community.

Also beware of incumbents who say “I don’t need input from the voter because they elected me and they expect me to make all decisions for them”. (Think Water Company buyout referendum and efforts made by the incumbents to keep this referendum off the ballot).

If you recall, I preferred neither candidate in the recent campaigns for the presidency of the United States. I voted for George W. and believe I made the right choice. I feel somewhat the same way about who would do the best job as Mayor of Peoria. I would have preferred a stronger more proven realistic leader to have stepped forward. But these rare people see what the local media does to them and do not wish to tarnish their established reputations by being attacked with little means to attack back. Also, the incumbent will probably spend in excess of $100,000.00 on his campaign. No one wants to compete on this scale.

In summation, the mayoral incumbent wants to be reelected to pursue his “vision”. The big money is following the incumbent because they believe in his “vision” and are financially well off to not suffer if some of the “visions” don’t pan out. In fact, many will benefit financially, but many will find the cost of living inflated to pay for these “visions”.

Those that stand to benefit from any type of speculative spending of the taxpayer’s dollars will follow “the money and the visions”. As I was told by one developer and one union leader, “we don’t care what you build or where you build it; just build it, because it means money and jobs for us”.

I don’t have a “fire in the belly” for any candidate but his is how I see it: The incumbent wishes to be reelected to continue the “community vision”. A lot of the “visions” have not panned out and they are numerous.(Think RiverPlex, Ballpark, Gateway Center, One Technology Plaza (now renamed, I believe), Cubs Food, Damons, and RiverStation to name a few. The County has vacated the space they were conned into buying at One Tech Plaza and is trying to sell or lease this vacated space.

Eric Turner proudly touts his efforts to successfully bring the RiverPlex and the Chiefs ball club to the riverfront. (Both are big money losers)

Bruce Brown is a nice guy and a good restaurateur. I believe he lost me when he said the voter should support a buyout of the water company. I believe the referendum will try to tell the city to stick to their core businesses and let the “for profit” entrepreneurs run the utilities. But remember, the referendum is NOT binding. (Don’t be fooled by foreign owned as being a problem because at the first sign of war with France, the government would nationalize the utility). Also, is Caterpillar to only manufacture and sell domestically?

Jim Ardis has a lot of merit and is a nice guy. Many people are worried about his close ties to the unions which is apparent, but then they need to examine the close ties of the incumbent to big money and power which is more than apparent.

All things considered, my wife and I will vote for Ardis who has shown no indication of trying to stop planned and productive growth in Peoria. Remember Tim Cassidy saying “elect me and save our parks”? Well, he is saving them all right by borrowing more money, cutting services, raising fees and raising property taxes!! The mayoral incumbent is saying the same thing, “elect me or the City is doomed”. Remember, you can have it all, but someone will pay for it!! I believe Jim will build the infrastructure to attract people to come and stay in Peoria without taxing us out of the City.

As to the City Council election, those of you who complained loudly about the way the Council reflected on the community, now is your chance to make some changes. I believe there are a number of new candidates running that could do a better job for the community than most of the incumbents and I pick Bob Manning as my favorite. The balance of the challengers are largely unknown to me but I hear good things about Van Auken and Lewis.

Because of the slow recovery (to me) from my surgery, I have not had the energy to do much participating in the upcoming elections. I salute all for running and we will know in the future whether or not we made good choices. Good luck to all.

As a postscript I should add that all three incumbents for the Park District Board are running unopposed, only mentioned once by any newspaper and that was after the nominating petitions were closed. After all they “only” have a $44,800,000.00 budget and a superintendent who makes 40% more than the Peoria County Administrator who manages a $97,000,000.00 budget!! Who cares??

Anyway, get out and support your choice and lets have at least as good a voter turnout as they had in Iraq!!