Sunday, February 12, 2017

Another Mess in Tallahassee

Democracy, it is said, is like making sausage. The end result is sometimes good, but the process is always ugly.

That seems to be the case with the Florida legislature. The Senate is once again fighting with the House, and both are fighting with Governor Rick Scott. And the key fighters are all Republicans. Maybe that's part of the problem.

The latest skirmish involves the Senate threatening to sue the House over a rule change said to improve transparency. Transparency? In Tallahassee? Can't have that. And with money tight in spite of growing prosperity, the legislature is brawling over how to spend $83.5 billion, the budget proposed by Scott -- a sum greater than the GNP of most countries.

Here's an overview of the mess.

  • Education is getting shafted again. Florida ranks 41st among states in per student spending. Yet Scott is proposing an increase of only 3%, a boost that depends entirely on additional property taxes -- and that won't happen. More likely is a smaller or no increase, resulting in Florida losing even more ground to inflation. Little wonder we continue to lag behind much of the rest of the country. (Thank heavens my grandchildren are being educated in New England.)
         Then there is the university system, where our legislators want to trim the number of four-year 
         degrees and freeze tuition rates -- without any boost in spending. To be fair, Florida isn't alone. 
         The Wall Street Journal just reported Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska are making big cuts in 
         university funding.
  • Beaches aren't faring much better. Scott is proposing $60 million for maintenance and renourishment of all Florida beaches, a laughably small amount. That's on top of $77 million for repairs from recent storms ($803 million in insurance claims are being sought). That means localities will have to shoulder most of the costs -- again.
  • Pollution control, specifically the Lake Okeechobee mess, is getting a lot of attention in Tallahassee, but there's no consensus on what to do. Bills have been filed in the Senate and House (SB 10 and HB 761) authorizing purchase of 60,000 acres south of the lake for a reservoir to clean up runoff to the Everglades.
         Other legislators want, instead, to speed repair work on the Herbert Hoover Dyke so the lake   
         can hold even more polluted water. Still others want to buy land to the north to catch runoff 
         from the Kissimmee Basin. Scott, in an altogether different approach, wants to fund septic tank
         repairs, arguing (wrongly) that septic leakage is the main cause of pollution. Don't 
         expect much of anything to happen.
  • Gambling reform, another Tallahassee piƱata, is back on the front burner. Bills now filed would allow expanded card games (think blackjack) and slots for pari-mutuel operators. Depending on the bill, the operators either would or would not be allowed to shut down money-losing horse and dog tracks. Any new legislation would have to be accompanied by a contract with the Seminole casinos. Another morass.
  • Then there's the battle between the governor and legislative leaders over money for economic development and tourism. Scott wants $85 million to lure new businesses to Florida and another $76 million to market tourism. Leaders in both houses say no, Florida is growing fast enough without corporate welfare, and tourists are pouring in without prompting from taxpayer money.
  • Finally, there's my personal favorite: medical marijuana. Regulators want so-called patients to be under a prescribing doctor's care for 90 days before pot can be dispensed. Activists want no delay and no constraints on weed usage. Let's toke, dude. And the legislature is stirring the pot with two bills of its own -- all certain to trigger more lawsuits and confusion.
Sausage indeed!

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