Friday, January 12, 2018

My Wish List for 2018

Last year was a traumatic one by almost any measure, full of political venom, nuclear threats and general unhappiness -- unless you were fully vested in the stock market.

Everyone looks forward to a better 2018. What would make it better? Here's my wish list.

I wish government leaders would put state and country ahead of personal politics. 
Here's an example. The Trump administration just rescinded its plan to allow oil drilling off Florida's coast. That's a good thing, right? Not to Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, who called it "a cynical move" and "a political stunt." Nelson is apoplectic because he lost an important campaign issue. Forget about what's good for Florida. That's clearly secondary to Nelson's political ambitions. He would have gladly accepted the risk of another oil spill in exchange for a finger-wagging issue to jack up his environmental base.

I wish the Florida legislature would get serious about education funding.
Past sessions have paid little more than lip service to public education, where Florida ranks 40th among states in per-student spending. Also lacking has been serious support for state colleges and universities. Here's a radical idea. Instead of trying to satisfy everyone and end up satisfying no one, concentrate spending on one or two big things. Make a real impact in one or two areas. And one of those should be education.

I wish Collier County would begin to address our mental health and substance abuse crisis.
Much has been written about it. It's no secret anymore. Treatment facilities, though effective, are woefully limited. Halfway housing for those  treated and released is non-existent. Over a third of our jail space is taken to house the mentally ill and drug addicted. State funding is a joke; Florida ranks 49th in spending for mental health, just ahead of Idaho. And an opioid crisis is in full bloom at our doorstep. How about fixing the problem with a temporary sales tax? I'm told county officials are proposing a whopping $10 million in capital for mental health facilities out of a total of nearly half a billion over a seven-year period. $10 million is little more than a rounding error. It won't begin to solve the problem.

I wish local government would stay local.
Last year "home rule" came under fierce attack in Tallahassee. Three bills, including one inexplicably authored by our own Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, would have subjugated many local decisions to the state. Mercifully, the bills were all defeated. But the battle isn't over. This year, SB 574, HB 521 and HB 17 would preempt localities from making decisions on things like tree removal and redevelopment of blighted areas. Those are local issues best addressed by local authorities. Maybe I'm missing something, but this seems like a no-brainer.

I wish we would stop whining about our lack of economic diversity.
For as long as I can remember, there has been a push to diversify the economy in Collier County. Arthrex aside, there has been a perceived need to go beyond our big three -- construction, tourism and agriculture. Chambers of commerce have agonized over our vulnerability, county commissions have taken half-baked measures to address it and ill-conceived projects have come and gone, among them Jackson Lab and a spring-training stadium for the Atlanta Braves. The point may be finally dawning that we don't need more diversity. We're growing based on what we do well -- construction to house a flood of northerners and to build the supporting infrastructure; tourism that includes "medical tourism" to treat an aging population; beaches and the arts and fine restaurants and more. The greater Naples area continues to be ranked near the top in job growth and economic strength. We don't need to change much of anything.

I wish we would trust science and technology.
It's self-serving I admit, but as an aging chemist I have to believe facts are more important than opinions. Let's look at all of the data on climate change. Let's insist on a factual reading on our ability to shoot down North Korean missiles. And locally, let's understand the dangers, if any, of oil-well stimulation, including fracking. The hysteria over fracking has become knee-jerk political, where any examination of the facts is considered an environmental threat. Just so in the current legislative session, where SB 462 and SB 834 would ban such technology in Florida. This in spite of the fact that aquifer contamination, the biggest risk from fracking, has never occurred here and there is no evidence that it would. If not a ban, what should be done? Declare a moratorium on well stimulation, and conduct a thorough study based on the actual geology in oil-bearing regions. Use science. Find out if there is a risk. Then impose regulations based on those findings.

I showed my wish list to a neighbor who got a good laugh out of it all. "You," he said, "obviously still believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny." That's the kind of abuse we old scientists have to endure. But he's probably right. It's unlikely any of my wishes will come true. But it's a cathartic exercise. I urge everyone to try it. A wish list probably stands a better chance of success than New Year's resolutions.

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