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Thomas Michalski
Government spending runs amuck
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The government, at all levels, squanders billions of dollars on questionable endeavors that leave many of us scratching our heads.

Tax dollars are spent on such things as sidewalks along Florida’s rural highways that are scarcely used and even overgrown in places with weeds while other more prioritized improvements receive little or no attention.

An excellent example is the barricaded Friendship Trail Bridge between Pinellas County and Tampa that was so popular with cyclists, walkers, skaters and anglers. Part of the original Gandy Bridge, bureaucrats closed the trail due to salt water corrosion. Instead of seeking ways to pay for the necessary improvements to keep it viable, our esteemed public servants are instead groveling for cash to tear it down.

More than 60,000 people each month used the popular conduit, but pencil pushers claimed that it would cost up to $40 million for the necessary repairs. Although originally designed for auto and truck traffic, it appears that some in government believe that all that human weight caused by junk food ingestion ... and that of skateboards and bicycles ... will cause the bridge to plummet into Tampa Bay.

Meanwhile, millions of dollars are wasted to plant palm trees along Florida’s interstates. Taxpayers, for example, footed the $270,000 landscaping bill for perennial ground cover and 65 Washington and date palms on I-275 near the Howard Frankland Bridge.

Financed jointly by St. Petersburg and a Florida Department of Transportation highway beautification grant, the trees ... costing between $2,000 and $8,000 each ... have in some locations become eyesores due to poor maintenance. But the DOT claims the floras will still “create a welcoming and enjoyable experience for Floridians and visitors.”

So would a rejuvenated Friendship Trail.

The Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail, or the Pinellas Trail, is another pricey endeavor that winds from Tarpon Springs to Gulfport. One elaborate pedestrian bridge at Park Street and Tyrone Boulevard in St. Petersburg soaked taxpayers millions of dollars. So steep are the slopes at either end that many people continue to use the street level sidewalk.

The trail was built on the old Atlantic Coast and Seaboard Railroad tracks. Government officials also warn that it traverses through several high crime urban locations in Tarpon Springs and St. Petersburg. There are costly plans on the political drawing board to eventually link all of Florida’s trails into one.

Many of these improvements come from federal and state subsidizes. The thought process is that because the feds or the state is picking up the tab than its not costing local taxpayers a dime. That’s not quite accurate. Big bucks are absorbed to rename buildings and other sites after politicians. When Congressman C.W. Bill Young passed away they named the Bay Pines VA Medical Center after him at an untold cost to pay for all that new stationary, signage, etc.

Now there are plans to identify Park Boulevard in Pinellas Park as the Congressman C.W. Bill Young Memorial Highway. He already is memorialized with a military installation, a dam and an industrial plaza. The money for these dubious undertakings still comes out of our collective pockets.

Here are some of the more absurd projects that have been authorized by the feds:

• The U.S. Air Force spent $35 billion for aircraft such as the C-27J transport, only to fly them direct to the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base storage facility in Tucson, Arizona, where they scorch in the hot desert sun.

• Not to be outdone, the U.S. Army spent $300 million to build a massive blimp called the Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle to provide surveillance over Afghanistan battlefields. The project has been scrapped.

• Police departments received $82.5 million for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected tactical vehicles. Equipped with machine gun turrets, bulletproof glass, and armored siding, the High Springs, Florida cops, for example, are among those to receive these military-grade trucks.

• Then there is the $914,000 study by the National Endowment of the Humanities to explore why people like to read romance novels and watch movies of a sexual nature. (Isn’t that called porn?) Or the $385,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to Yale University to study why the sexual organ of a male duck is shaped like a corkscrew. Huh?

• The National Institute for Health also handed out $335,500 to determine why women get angry with their husbands. I can answer that question at no cost to the taxpaying public. It’s because we men do and say stupid things to anger our significant others.

• The government also spent roughly $10,000 in Michigan for talking urinal cakes. That’s those little round things we see in men’s rest rooms. Just what do they say, anyway?

Can all these billions of dollars in government waste be used for more meaningful projects? Sure, but then that would terminate pork barrel programs designed to make politicians look good at the expense of taxpayers.

Poking fun at government spending would be hilarious if it were not so appalling.

Thomas Michalski is a retired Tampa Bay Newspapers editor. He can be reached at
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