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4/7/2010

Columns > Happytown

Happytown

 

While we have already held up a malfunctioning stage light to the gutted (and arguably faulty) premise of the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts (“Keeping up appearances,” March 25), we did not trouble you with the geeky economic cat’s cradle of just how that whole $129 million in bond issues could be a reasonable proposition in these tough economic times. The truth is, it isn’t. How do we know that? Because we (don’t) always read punchy insider publications of record like The Bond Buyer, also known as the “daily newspaper of public finance,” the home of the irresistible online “bonddesk muniticker.” Awesome.

On April 1, the publication was not pulling an April fool’s joke when it ran with the headline “Orlando back for more TIF BABs.” Shocked as we were to learn the city is back at that trough, we read on through the coded text and learned a few things.

First off, “TIF” means tax increment financing, while “BABs” are Build America Bonds, a federally subsidized outgrowth of Obama’s stimulus package. What Orlando and its crazy sister DPAC are doing involves both of these things woven into a concentric circle of debt service, and though it’s all completely above board (even “popular” in municipal circles), the use of BABs and TIFs and protracted maturing dates and other things we don’t understand does not erase the fact that the Community Redevelopment Agency funds being used to back the DPAC bond issues aren’t there, and may never be.

Still, last year’s $51 million in BABs issued by the city ended up saving the city 8.5 percent of what it would have had to pay over the life of the bonds had the BAB program not existed, prompting city treasurer Christopher McCullion to effuse to The Bond Buyer, “We were very happy with the sale in September, particularly because the BAB option was available to us.” Got it?

But in the world of bonds, you are nothing without your rating, and the issuance of the new $71.4 million set of bonds this week caused Fitch Ratings to downgrade Orlando’s grade from a stellar A-plus to a still-good A. (The city retains an AA rating by Moody’s Investor Services and an A rating from Standard & Poor’s). Worse still, the Fitch rating revised Orlando’s bond outlook from “stable” to “negative” with the new issuance. 

So, basically, just like that new credit card you needed to obtain that LCD TV your lifestyle requires, the city’s desire for a useless rental hall is diminishing its credit report. The reasons for the decline are obvious: a decrease in debt service due to the absence of pledged revenues and the potential for a continued tax base decline. Wordy, but obvious.

Treasurer McCullion could only react by calling the city’s foray into “negative” territory “confusing,” mostly because Fitch is the only one of the three agencies doing it. Also, Fitch intends to return the “plus” to our “A” at the end of April “by recalibrating credit ratings,” according to The Bond Buyer. The “negative” connotation may be harder to shake. In other words, we can’t afford this thing. And math is hard.

Speaking of math! Orange (and Seminole) County teachers aren’t gonna take it anymore.

Several dozen of them assembled March 30 outside the Winter Park office that Republican State Rep. Dean Cannon shares with dermatologists to wave signs at passersby in a show of displeasure at the looming Senate Bill 6 and its near-twin, House Bill 7189. 

“We’re screwed. There’s no other way to say it,” opined Carl Howard, board member of the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association, as he handed out signs to red-shirted protesters.

Cannon’s office gave out a written statement affirming his support for HB 7189, saying that it will reward the “best teachers,” rather than making administrative jobs the only route to better money. The statement notes that the bill would also tie administrators’ and principals’ pay to school performance ratings.

Cannon’s statement says the legislation won’t cut current teachers’ pay, but will start new teachers in a new pay scheme in 2014. He says that teachers’ raises would be based half on students’ test scores and half on “other factors relating to the instructional practices used by the teacher.” Those specific factors are yet to be determined.

Florida Education Association President Andy Ford fired back, saying that the bills would effectively kill tenure by making teachers’ contracts only as good as their “effectiveness rating.”

Robert and Lori Verter – he taught years ago, she’s been at Lovell Elementary in Apopka for 27 years – say the legislators are just looking for a way to blame classroom teachers for educational shortcomings.

Teachers want people to call legislators, and especially Gov. Charlie Crist, in a last-ditch effort to stop the bill. But they’re not alone; the Florida Gifted Network – parents pushing for more attention for the sharpest kids – has piled on, warning that legislators were cooking up “a terrible new plan for gifted education” which would “weave gifted students into general education with the intention of eliminating gifted programs.”

Proposals would put more kids in “gifted” programs without increasing funding, and would make local districts instead of the state pay some of those costs, the group says. It, too, asks parents to call and harangue legislators.

This week in why who you fuck matters, Exodus International – Orlando’s own conversion summer camp for the jackhammer lisps of the newly straight – felt it was important to take a stand on something other than your personal life and its failures. They just want to make it clear that they don’t hate gay people in that “I think you should die” way; they just don’t want you to be gay anymore, Nancy. 

What prompted this unlikely March 29 press release was the news that the National Association of Social Workers of Uganda had issued an endorsement of the proposed Ugandan law criminalizing homosexuality. If the law passes, gay sex would be punishable by life imprisonment at a minimum, and the death penalty at the max. According to the social workers, “There is justification for Uganda to put in place appropriate legislation to comprehensively prohibit homosexuality.” 

Alan Chambers, president of Exodus, responded with a limpness not unlike that of Vatican these days, saying, “Although the NASWU seems genuinely concerned in helping those struggling with same-sex attraction, the organization fails to see that Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009 – as any legislation that criminalizes homosexuality – does more to hurt than help homosexuals.”

Thanks for the backhand, Chambers. See you in the bathroom stall.

We never wanted to be in a fraternity. Then this happened: 53 cars got towed from the UCF Kappa Sigma house during the indoctrination seminar by spittle-flecked loon Glenn Beck March 27!

WFTV (Channel 9) reported the controversy after a Beckhead called in to gripe “conspiracy!” Apparently the frat boys put out an “event parking” sign before the event, pulled it away once everybody was inside and speaking in tongues, and then somebody called a towing company to scoop up all of their Libertarian vehicles of discontent. All told, Orange County Towing and Recovery scored $6,600 off of the wingnuts, while Kappa Sig just won a half-chub from us. Why? Because we love our country.

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