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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Tax Exemptions, Local Newspapers, and a Few Other Notes Too!

Did you notice that one of our local papers ran a list of tax exemptions that disappeared with the beginning of 2014? One was the $250 (maximum) that schoolteachers could (for a few years) deduct when they buy classroom supplies. Teachers no longer will get this credit, which they richly deserve because most school boards are too stingy to allow them a budget for such, and most teachers buy what students need out of their own pockets. But debt-crusaders in Congress can brag that this raises a few million in revenue to help balance the trillion-dollar debt.

I went from reading that to internet news, specifically Daily Kos, which everyone should read for news that doesn’t get covered in mainstream papers. In a coincidence, an ad on Daily Kos asked me to sign a petition to repeal the tax-exempt status of professional football. Gee golly gee whiz! We have taken away a mere $250 credit for teachers while allowing the billionaires who own football teams to get away with tax exemptions on their mega-profits! I had no idea that this was true until I checked it out and discovered that it is a fact. And we further subsidize them by taxing ourselves to build stadiums and practice fields and infrastructure to support the traffic they generate!

Where are our priorities? At the prices for tickets, very few of the taxpayers who pay for this play place can afford to see games. Right-wingers love to talk about ancient Rome and how it was ruined because of “bread and circuses,” by which they mean dependency on government. But then as now, very few Romans actually could attend those circuses and cheer on the gladiators or lions that killed the enemies of the ruling class. Indeed, much of Rome’s population were slaves, many of them white people captured in wars with northern Europe. It was not dependency on government that doomed the empire, but constant war and inequality of wealth. Poor people as far away as England paid tribute (taxes) so that upper-class Romans could enjoy the equivalent of professional football.

* * *

I regularly read both Tampa Tribune and the Tampa Bay Times, so when I began to write about the paper that printed the list of repealed tax exemptions, I wasn’t sure which it was. I went to the recycling to be sure, but as expected, anything this substantive was in the Times. Sunday’s Trib did have a notably new appearance, however, as its typeface for 2014 is much more bold – nor did the extra ink rub off on my hands, as it did a decade or so ago.

That superficiality, though, will not atone for its ideology. On the same front page that featured the new ink, the publishers announced that they were adding another columnist – another middle-aged, white, male columnist. They haven’t had a woman for years, not since the community-oriented Judy Hill, nor a black since Joe Brown, who was a firm conservative. But this new column, they proclaimed, aimed to provide a right-of-center perspective. As if Mother Trib lacks that!

I am so disappointed that the new California-based owners continue to misread our community. When our Tampa paper was owned by men who lived in Richmond, I expected an Old South perspective, but I hoped that the new California buyers would introduce policies more reflective of national elections. It hasn’t happened, as the Trib’s editorial writers continue their knee-jerk negativism to almost everything proposed by President Obama or Democrats.

Do they not understand that Tampa’s mayor and City Council are all Democrats? Don’t they know that under Mayors Bob Buckhorn, Pam Iorio, and Sandy Freedman (none of whom ever endorsed a Republican for president, unlike Dick Greco), Tampa has made tremendous progress – and paid its bills. Especially Mayor Pam cleaned up a fiscal mess left by the not-really-a-Democrat Greco. He led those mostly young Republican men who sported “I Got Mine” bumper stickers on their SUVs and voted to tear down the old stadium and build a new, smaller, and more exclusive one. It probably was the only tax increase that they ever voted for in their lives, and it further enriched professional football.

I may be wrong, but I’m going to predict that if the Tribune continues down its current path, it will go the way of the old Tampa Times. We subscribed to that, too, as long as it existed – but we always skipped its obsolete editorial views. To the Trib’s new owners: Tampa is and long has been a cosmopolitan town with a diverse population. The Old South and its axiomatic conservatism departed from here many decades ago. We have a more progressive daily paper in St. Petersburg, and there is a reason why its circulation is increasing while the Trib’s declines.

As a historian, I hate to see our hometown newspaper die. Founded in 1895, earlier than the Times, it was a much better paper than the Times a hundred years ago. The Tribune’s coverage of women’s right to vote, for example, was enthusiastic, while the Times was scornful. The St. Pete-based paper grew with the century, though, and went on to employ many Pulitzer Prize winning writers – including Dan Ruth, whom they lured from the Tampa-based paper.

Yet the affection I still hold for Mother Trib is clear in that appellation. What I would like most of all is for real Tampans to re-buy it and employ younger minds to give full coverage of the many stories beneath the surface in our large and complex communities. Rivalry between news sources always is a good thing for democracy, and I’d like to reform Tampa’s almost 120-year-old daily newspaper – older even than LaGaceta. There’s no chance that the Manteiga family will let that heritage die, and we should similarly reclaim our other heritage from owners who apparently don’t understand our diversity.

* * *

I know I promised last time to continue with thoughts from President Kennedy’s speeches during his 1963 visit to Tampa, but this week has been a bear. I’m vowing never again to cross the Georgia line in winter, as I came back from visiting family with a cold – and had two sets of out-of-state company as soon as we got home. There simply wasn’t time to research the information in his economic speech, let alone to find the comparable stats for today. I’ll do it later.

Meanwhile, I’ve been escorting visitors around town and been delighted to see their enthusiastic reactions. Last night’s tour was of USF, downtown, part of the Bayshore, and Ybor. Over and over again, these sophisticated people from the snobbish part of Maryland (its eastern shore, where colonial aristocracy still reigns) proclaimed their surprise at Tampa’s treasures. The lighted bridges, the five downtown museums, the Straz Center, UT, and the Riverwalk all were greeted with amazement. Both friends are retired educators, and they were astonished by USF. Although they were vaguely aware that hubby taught there for 35 years, they could not have named his institution.

We ate at the Columbia – for the fourth time in a month – because, as we told our guests, when they tell people that they have been to Tampa, people will ask if they ate at the Columbia. It was a Sunday, so there was no flamenco dancing, as there had been when we took other guests there for our traditional Christmas Eve. I’ve seen that floor show dozens of times, but this was the best ever. Two dances were completely without musical accompaniment, as pounding shoes and castanets provided all the rhythm that was needed. Led by a no-longer-young Hispanic woman, the troupe is equal to performances at Washington’s Kennedy Center or any artistic venue in the nation.

* * *

Final thought: if Governor Rick Scott leans on the trustees at Florida Atlantic University to appoint fellow Republican Jeff Atwater as president, Atwater will vacate his position as Chief Financial Officer. Presumably this is in the bag, or Atwater would not have issued a press release announcing his availability. Governor Scott can appoint Atwater’s replacement as CFO -- but if he has as much difficulty finding a candidate as he has had with the post of lieutenant governor, the office may be vacant until the November election. I say fine; let the professional staff run it. But if he does appoint someone, the governor effectively will have two of the four Cabinet votes, a flaw in our state Constitution that should be corrected.

My follow-up thought: Mayor Pam should run for CFO. I’ve talked to her about this before, so she needs to hear from others of you. Newcomers may not know that back in the 1990s, when Pam Iorio was on maternity leave from her position as a county commissioner, she found millions of dollars in revenue that the county administrator had hidden in the budget while he argued for a tax increase. She modernized the office of Supervisor of Elections when she was elected (nearly unanimously) to that job and then cleaned up accounting in the mayor’s office. With her keen eye for hidden budget items, she would be an excellent CFO for Florida, and I hope you will encourage her.

Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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